RALEIGH, N.C. -- Surrounded by family members, military leaders, lifelong friends and hundreds of colleagues from across the nation, Maj. Gen. Elizabeth Austin closed the chapter on a 39-year Army National Guard career.
Austin, who served as Army Materiel Command's assistant deputy commanding general - National Guard, took the stage of the North Carolina National Guard's Joint Force Headquarters Dec. 1, flanked by her husband and state Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Gregory Lusk.
To her husband of 35 years, who is also a retired Army colonel, Austin said it was only fitting that he join her on stage.
'You encouraged me to do more, you sacrificed for me and made the transition from Soldier to Army spouse,' she said.
When Austin took on her leadership role at Army Materiel Command, the state's adjutant general noted that the North Carolina National Guard, where she began her military career, was never far from her mind.
'On behalf of the North Carolina National Guard and a grateful state, we genuinely thank you for your service,' Lusk told Austin. 'We know you will still continue to serve, but on your timeline.'
Maj. Gen. Janson Boyles, adjutant general of the Mississippi National Guard, recognized Austin's influence went well beyond the state of North Carolina.
'Her fingerprints spread throughout all the states,' he said. 'She has been a mentor to officers in the state of Mississippi and they think the world of her.'
Austin's career began shortly after high school as she found herself working full-time through alternating college semesters to pay for her education. A professor introduced her to the National Guard, and she enlisted in 1978 as a way to pay for school, with no thoughts of making it a career.
She pursued her commission through Officer Candidate School and graduated as a second lieutenant in 1980. She served a year as a traditional Guard Soldier before transitioning to full-time support staff. She held various command positions throughout her career, deploying in support of Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and was the first female to command a battalion in the 30th Infantry Brigade.
In 2011, Austin became the first North Carolina Guard Soldier to achieve the rank of brigadier general and remains the state's highest ranking female officer.
At the Army Materiel Command, Austin connected the National Guard to real-world missions that supported readiness. She also worked as a liaison for the command to the director of the National Guard Bureau.
'One of the missions I'm very proud of is Operation Patriot Bandoleer,' Austin said. During five iterations, National Guard Soldiers from dozens of states transported ammunition from prepositioned stocks from ports in California and North Carolina to depots across the country.
'National Guard units do the planning from onset to end, coordinating across states to move the stocks out,' Austin said. 'It provides readiness training for our National Guard and moves the ammunition for Army Materiel Command.'
Austin also helped establish the command's Reserve Component Mission Support Office that connected Guardsmen and Army Reserve Soldiers with opportunities to participate in active missions, from repairing small arms to performing maintenance on equipment stocks overseas.
Before her most recent role, Austin also served in a dual-hat position connecting the Army Materiel Command and Southwest Asia as U.S. Army Central's logistics chief.
Army Materiel Command's Commander Gen. Gus Perna said Austin's impact on the command would be enduring and felt for years to come.
Coming up in what she called a 'man's Army,' Austin said she was grateful to retired Lt. Gen. Patricia McQuistion, who served as a mentor and coach, and to others who had looked beyond her gender to provide opportunities because they recognized something in her.
Austin noted the many changes she had seen in the Army over her career, including uniforms and the transition to opening combat roles to females.
'I was able to break the 'brass' ceiling in the North Carolina National Guard,' she said, noting that now women have more opportunities to stand on the same footing as men and be a change in the organization.
She also credited the noncommissioned and warrant officers who served with her over the years and influenced her leadership style.
At her retirement ceremony, dozens of civic leaders, current and former colleagues took to the stage to speak of Austin's impact over the years. They described her as fearless, loyal and supportive.
North Carolina Guard Lt. Col. Karen Schlobohm noted Austin had set a great example as someone who did not have to sacrifice her marriage or family for a successful career.
'She has given us an example of being a Soldier, a really great mom and wife, and doing all three things exceptionally well. She has forged a path and set one heck of a standard.'
Austin's daughter Julie, an Army major, emceed the packed-house ceremony. As Julie directed her mother where to stand on the stage, Austin joked she was the only Army major who could tell a two-star general what to do.
'I'm so very proud and I stand in awe of you every day,' Austin said to her daughter as she choked back tears. 'Your tenacity, drive and undying devotion to your Soldiers ... I'm honored to have you standing on stage with me as a fellow Soldier.'
In her retirement, Austin said she plans to spend time with her husband and family and grandchildren.
'I've been away from home often in the last five years,' she said. 'I have traveled a lot, but my husband and I would like to do some leisure travel.'