Chatter Builds About Gen. 'CQ' Brown Candidacy for Chairman of Joint Chiefs

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Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. delivers a keynote speech “Airmen in the Fight” during the Air and Space Forces Association 2023 Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colo., March 7, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Eric Dietrich)

AURORA, Colorado -- Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall likely sees the writing on the wall.

During his speech at the Air and Space Force Association's Warfare Symposium, Kendall complimented his Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Charles "C.Q." Brown, while acknowledging something that D.C. insiders have speculated for months: The senior leader is a top contender to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"Gen. Brown is an exceptional leader with broad strategic perspectives and a thoughtful, measured approach to any problem set," Kendall said in his remarks. "I'd hate to lose such a great partner, but there is a chance somebody who outranks me considerably might see those same attributes in C.Q."

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President Joe Biden is expected to announce his nominee for the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs this year. The job is currently held by Army Gen. Mark Milley, whose appointment ends Sept. 30.

Traditionally, the role rotates among the service branches, and the Air Force is overdue. It has been nearly two decades since the last airman, Gen. Richard Myers, was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Many thought Air Force Gen. David Goldfein would get the job in 2018, but then-President Donald Trump picked Milley instead.

Brown is seen as a strong candidate, namely because of his background as a command pilot with 130 combat hours and his previous roles as commander of Pacific Air Forces and as air component commander for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command -- experience that is notable as tensions rise with China.

It was shortly before being confirmed as the Air Force chief of staff that Brown rose to national prominence after releasing a video that discussed the racism he had personally experienced while serving. That video, produced in the wake of the national racial reckoning that happened after the murder of George Floyd, kicked off a round of discussion about the continued scarcity of senior officers of color in the services and drew attention to the accomplishments of Brown, one of the disproportionately few Black generals in the country.

An Air Force official, who spoke to Military.com on condition of anonymity to speak about Kendall's comments, said the reference to Brown's future career is a bittersweet recognition for the Department of the Air Force.

"He's immensely talented, and you recognize that as a potential," the official said. "The most painful thing about leadership is giving it away, but if it were to happen, it would be for the right cause."

Brown's keynote address at the Air and Space Force Association's Warfare Symposium on Tuesday felt, in part, like a campaign rally highlighting not only his vision for the service, but also his own personal leadership philosophy.

His speech's theme "Airpower Is the Answer" took on the format of a game show where the answer and applause line to every question was "airpower." The speech ended with a clip from the hit TV show "Jeopardy" where a "Daily Double" asked who was the first African American general to lead a military service branch.

The answer to the question, of course, is Brown. The chief of staff told the crowd the contestant ended up getting the question wrong, and reminded airmen in the audience that they need to play to win.

"I as your chief, we as an Air Force, can't get this wrong," Brown said. "We have a responsibility to get the answer right. ... Airpower is the answer.

Brown also took a selfie with the entire crowd from the stage, encouraging airmen to do the same.

When asked by Military.com what he thought about Kendall's comment in his speech, Brown responded by saying his current job is as the Air Force chief of staff, and that is what he remains focused on until something changes.

"I'm not going to speculate, and I'm not the decision-maker on that decision," Brown told Military.com. "I'm going to continue to do the job I have until someone tells me otherwise."

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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