Updated: May 25, 3:15 p.m. ET.
Lauded as a changemaker when he led forces in the Pacific, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown will bring his extensive knowledge of China all the way to the top as President Biden’s pick to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“If you’re sitting comfortable, you’re probably not changing,” Brown told Defense One in March.
If confirmed by the Senate, Brown, who became the first Black American to lead any U.S. military branch when he was sworn in as Air Force chief in 2020, would succeed Army Gen. Mark Milley as chairman. Brown would be the second Black person to be chairman, following the late Colin Powell. Politico first reported that the general was expected to be Biden’s pick.
Other military officials, such as Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger, were rumored to be potential candidates for the job.
Biden formally announced his intent to nominate the Air Force general on Thursday at the White House.
“General Brown is a proud, butt-kicking American airman, first and always, he’s also been an operational leader in the joint force. He gained respect across every service, from those who have seen him in action and have come to depend on his judgment. More than that, he gained the respect of our allies and partners around the world, who regard General Brown as a trusted partner, and a top-notch strategist,” he said. “General Brown doesn’t play for second place. He plays to win and that’s obvious. That mindset is going to be an enormous asset to me as commander and chief of the United States of America, as we navigate challenges in the coming years.”
Biden also noted that the Senate had confirmed Brown’s nomination to be Air Force chief of staff by a vote of 98-0, and urged senators to confirm him again with the “same overwhelming bipartisan support.”
When Brown joined the Air Force in 1984, he planned to do “four years and get out.” But he stayed after his initial squadron tour, and along the way, the Texas Tech University graduate has held a myriad of positions, including commander of Pacific Air Forces, head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, F-16 instructor, and fighter pilot.
As commander of Pacific Air Forces, Brown instituted the concept of “agile combat employment,” then expanded the concept throughout the Air Force as chief. That concept, as well as his “Accelerate Change or Lose” doctrine, is part of the service’s pivot towards higher-end aircraft and technology that officials say are needed to keep up with China.
“The PRC has watched us and has developed their capability to challenge us. What we’ve got to do is make sure we’re staying ahead of that pacing challenge,” Brown said during an interview with Defense One as part of the annual State of Defense series.
As the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brown would navigate the U.S. military through increasing tensions with China, the war in Ukraine, and a divided government that may be forced to renege on its debts by GOP lawmakers seeking budget cuts.
Whether it’s on-time appropriations or the debt-ceiling fight, “it just impacts our ability to make sure we stay ahead of our pacing challenge,” Brown said Monday during a Council on Foreign Relations event.
Brown’s nomination comes as the Pentagon continues to examine racial inequality in the military. About two months before Brown’s swearing-in as Air Force chief of staff, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. Days after, Brown released an emotional video, titled “Here’s what I’m thinking about.”
“I’m thinking about my Air Force career where I was often the only African American in my squadron or, as a senior officer, the only African American in the room. I’m thinking about wearing the same flight suit with the same wings on my chest as my peers, and then being questioned by another military member, ‘Are you a pilot?’”
The Air Force is working to build a team for every service member—“no matter their background,” Brown told Defense One.
“What I will tell you is when people join our military, they want to look around and see somebody who looks like them. They want to be part of a team [and] feel like they’re included,” Brown said. “They don’t want to join something that they feel like you’re put as an outcast.”
In 2020, Brown launched investigations into potential biases in the service’s promotion process and made changes to make it more equitable. The following year, he opened the Air Force’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office.
To address the Air Force’s recruiting challenges, current service members need to build relationships with younger generations to share the “tremendous opportunities” that military service provides.
“I believe that young people only aspire to be what they see. And if they don’t have a chance to see the opportunities in serving in the military, then they’re not inclined,” he said Monday at a Council on Foreign Relations event.
Biden’s announcement also opens up the position for a new Air Force Chief of Staff. Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, the head of U.S. Transportation Command, and Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, the commander of Pacific Air Forces, are considered candidates to replace Brown.
Marcus Weisgerber contributed to this report.