Air Force Gen. 'CQ' Brown Is Nominated as the Next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs

Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. speaks during a meeting at the Pentagon.
Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. speaks with Lt. Gen. Shihab Jahid Ali, commander of the Iraqi Air Force, during a meeting at the Pentagon, Arlington, Va., May 15, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Eric Dietrich)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles "C.Q." Brown was nominated by President Joe Biden on Thursday to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the country's top uniformed officer.

If Brown is confirmed by the Senate, the post will be handed over from an Army general to an Air Force general with experience in the Pacific region, where the U.S. is hoping to counter China. Brown, who has been the Air Force's top officer since 2020, will also be the first Black service member to helm the Joint Chiefs in 30 years.

"For the future in the Indo-Pacific, Gen. Brown has built a reputation across the force as an unflappable and highly effective leader, and someone who creates an environment of teamwork, trust, and executes with excellence," Biden said.

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The Joint Chiefs job is currently held by Gen. Mark Milley, who was appointed by President Donald Trump but eventually ran afoul of the former president. Milley's term as chairman ends Sept. 30.

The announcement ends months-long speculation and chatter that Brown would be nominated. He was seen as an ideal 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.

Biden highlighted Brown's Texas roots, his father's military service and that the Air Force general who knows how to smoke a "mean brisket." The president also mentioned Brown's call sign, "Swamp Thing" -- a reference to an incident in which he had to eject from his burning F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet and parachute into the Florida everglades.

"While General Brown is a proud butt-kicking American airman first and always, he's also been an operational leader in the joint force," Biden said. "He gained respect across every service of those who have seen him in action and have come to depend on his judgment."

Many Air Force officers and military experts praised Biden's choice. Dave Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and dean of the nonprofit Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told on Thursday that Brown's experience in the Pacific will be a notable pivot from past leadership.

"His real-world experience in the Pacific theater will help transition U.S. military leadership from dominance by Army generals with a counterinsurgency and Mideast-focused set of experiences to a focus on the challenges of operating in the Pacific and countering the advantages that China holds," Deptula said.

Biden has made diversity in his administration a priority, and he appointed the first Black secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, early in his term. The last Black officer to hold the role of Joint Chiefs chairman was retired Gen. Colin Powell, who held the role from 1989 to 1993 during the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations. Powell died in 2021.

Brown's confirmation as Air Force chief of staff in 2020 made him the first Black officer to lead the Air Force, as well as the first Black service member to lead any of the branches.

Beyond Brown's military resume, he has not shied away from talking about race as the U.S. has grappled with unrest and the military looks to attract as wide a range of recruits as possible.

Shortly before his confirmation as the Air Force's top officer, 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 in Minneapolis, kicked off a round of discussion about the continued scarcity of senior officers of color in the services.

The likelihood of Brown's nomination as Joint Chiefs chairman had been openly acknowledged by Air Force leadership. During a March speech at the Air and Space Force Association's Warfare Symposium, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall complimented Brown and acknowledged that he could be moving up the ladder.

"Gen. Brown is an exceptional leader with broad strategic perspectives and a thoughtful, measured approach to any problem set," Kendall said. "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."

An Air Force official spoke to on condition of anonymity following Kendall's speech and said the reference to Brown's future career was 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."

However, Brown's confirmation could drag on in the Senate, especially as Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., continues his months-long hold on hundreds of military nominees.

Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, the former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an emailed statement that he anticipates Brown will ultimately have bipartisan support.

"The Senate Armed Services Committee will conduct a thorough and complete confirmation process and hearing, and I fully expect Gen. Brown to be confirmed on an overwhelming bipartisan basis -- once he leaps over any procedural hurdles currently in place for senior military nominations," Punaro said.

Traditionally, the chairman 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 joined the Air Force in 1984 and was a distinguished graduate of the ROTC program at Texas Tech University, according to his service biography. In his nearly 40-year career, he has also held numerous leadership positions, ranging from commanding a fighter squadron, the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, two fighter wings and U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

"He is thoughtful and listens before weighing in on an issue -- a rare and valued virtue among senior leadership," Deptula said.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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