President Joe Biden announced Thursday he is nominating Air Force General Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an appointment that would make him the second Black officer to hold the highest post in the U.S. military.
“General Brown has built a reputation across the force as an unflappable and highly effective leader—as someone who creates an environment of teamwork, trust and an execute with excellence,” Biden said, during an afternoon ceremony held in the White House Rose Garden with Brown at his side. “You’ve been an essential leader in making our nation and our force stronger. You’ve made history.”
Brown, 60, is an F-16 fighter pilot and four-star general with leadership stints in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East before taking over as Air Force chief of staff in 2020.
If confirmed by the Senate, Brown would be the second Black Joint Chiefs chairman after Army General Colin Powell, who served in the role from 1989 to 1993. It would also mark the first time in history that the Pentagon’s top two leaders, along with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, were Black men.
“He is an incredibly capable and professional officer,” Austin told reporters at the Pentagon before the announcement. “What he brings to the table, to any team, is that professionalism, that deep experience, and war-fighting—and I have personal knowledge of that.”
Brown is set to succeed retiring-Army General Mark Milley as the president’s top military adviser at a time when the Biden Administration is juggling a range of global challenges, including aiding Ukraine in its war with Russia and navigating the increasingly tense global competition with China. As the former commander of Pacific Air Forces, Brown is well acquainted with the challenges stemming from Beijing. In 2020, he developed an “Accelerate, Change or Lose” initiative within the Air Force to maintain military superiority over adversaries.
Born to an Army family in San Antonio, Brown became an officer after completing his undergraduate degree in engineering at Texas Tech University in 1984. Ten years later, he earned a master’s degree in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Over his career, he logged more than 3,000 ﬂying hours, including 130 combat hours, steadily rising through the ranks to earn a brigadier general’s star in 2009. He’s served as a wing commander at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, and Aviano Air Base, Italy. He was operational director of strategic deterrence and nuclear integration at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, during the Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. A year later, he oversaw the daily bombing campaign against ISIS as the top air commander in the Middle East, and in 2018 took control of Pacific Air Forces.
Brown’s broad background, as well as his reputation as a bold leader, is expected to limit opposition in the Senate, whose approval is needed for the appointment. The Senate confirmed Brown 98-0 to become chief of staff of the Air Force after former President Donald Trump nominated him in 2020.
A potential obstacle to his confirmation is Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville’s blockade of Pentagon nominees over the Defense Department’s abortion-travel policy. Roughly 200 senior civilian and uniformed nominees are on hold because of the Alabama senator’s opposition to allowances paid to cover travel to obtain abortions—a result of last year’s Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade. (The military does not pay for the procedure itself.)
But Brown’s support for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within the military may also draw attention from conservative lawmakers, who routinely criticize the Pentagon for policies they deem to be a “woke” agenda. TIME listed Brown as one of the world’s most influential people in 2020 after he took a stand against systemic racism in a viral video posted after George Floyd’s death. “I can’t fix centuries of racism in our country, nor can I fix decades of discrimination that may have impacted members of our Air Force,” Brown said in June 2020 as then-President Trump considered ordering the U.S. military to quell racial-justice protests. “I’m thinking about how I can make improvements personally, professionally, and institutionally.”
It was a candid public statement for an officer in such a senior position, particularly one who had yet to receive Senate confirmation. But to those who know him, it was representative of Brown’s character. Two months later he became the nation’s first Black chief of a military service and cemented his status as a leader who’s not afraid to speak his mind—even if it’s not expedient to do so.
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