Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin participated in a meeting virtually on Tuesday -- his first public appearance since his secretive hospitalization -- with the 50 nations providing Ukraine with military assistance.
Austin appeared on a live stream of the video conference of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group made public by the Defense Department. He did not directly mention his hospitalization in his remarks.
"It's great to see you all again. As you can tell, I'm joining from home today," Austin said in his initial remarks in the monthly meeting. "I'm feeling good and looking forward to being back at the Pentagon very soon. And I'm grateful for all of your warm wishes. So thanks for working across the time zones to join us for the 18th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group."
Austin, 70, was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland on the night of Jan. 1 following complications from a prostate cancer procedure on Dec. 22. Neither hospitalization was revealed publicly by the Defense Department.
A political firestorm developed when Austin's hospitalization in January was finally made public four days days later, and it became known that not even President Joe Biden had been made aware of the hospitalization.
Congressional committees have pressed Austin for answers about why his hospitalizations were kept secret. The House Armed Services Committee has asked Austin to testify.
Austin was released from the hospital on Jan. 15 and has been working from home -- though it remains unclear when Austin will return to work at the Pentagon.
Dressed in a dark suit, Austin read his prepared remarks from a desk in front of a white wall adorned with the Defense Department's seal and small U.S. Ukrainian flags placed atop a white printer.
Austin urged the members of the contact group to continue providing military assistance to Ukraine, namely air defense systems to counter Russia's missile and drone barrages.
"A sovereign and secure Ukraine is critical to global security and we must not waver in our support for Ukraine," said Austin, who did not make a direct mention of the administration's stalled effort with Congress to secure more funding for Ukraine.
"Let's be clear, our work for Ukraine's struggle against tyranny makes all of our countries more secure," Austin said. "If we lose our nerve, if we flinch, if we failed to deter other would-be aggressors, we will only invite even more bloodshed and more chaos."