President Joe Biden has tapped Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to multiple media reports.
If confirmed by the Senate, Brown will succeed Army Gen. Mark Milley and become the first Air Force general to hold the position since Gen. Richard Myers stepped down in 2005—and only the fifth Airman in the 73-year history of the job.
Politico first reported Brown’s likely nomination May 4. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal have all subsequently reported the news as well.
An F-16 fighter pilot by trade, Brown would bring nearly four decades of military service to the nation’s top military job, including stints as a commander in the Pacific and Middle East. He would also be the second Black service member to serve as Chairman, following Army Gen. Colin Powell, who served as chairman from 1989 to 1993.
After commissioning in 1984, Brown instructed at and commanded the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, then led fighter wings in South Korea and Italy before taking on key positions in major commands at the heart of U.S. national security.
In 2014, Brown was the director of operations for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, shortly after Russia invaded Crimea; from 2015 to 2016, he commanded U.S. Air Forces Central as the U.S. and its allies conducted an air campaign against the Islamic State group; and from 2018 to 2020, he led Pacific Air Forces just as the U.S. shifted its strategic focus from counterterrorism in the Middle East to deterring China in the Pacific.
Shortly after ascending to Chief of Staff of the Air Force in 2020, Brown articulated his vision for the service in a document titled “Accelerate Change or Lose,” a phrase that became his mantra for cutting bureaucracy and promoting innovation across the service.
“I’d rather be uncomfortable than lose. That’s exactly why I wrote ‘Accelerate Change or Lose,’” Brown said in March. “As Airmen, we must think differently about what it means to fly, fight, and win. Because we know that our speed, agility, and lethality are exponential force multipliers to any global military operation.”
As part of that approach, Brown has urged Airmen to adopt a faster, more risk-tolerant mindset in pursuit of new tactics and technologies in order to defeat China and Russia in a possible conflict.
In March, he unveiled his future operating concept to inform the Air Force’s future force design, emphasizing the importance of Airpower in any conflict.
In addition to his push to cut bureaucracy, Brown has also made removing gender and racial disparities from the Air Force a top priority, as the Department of the Air Force has ordered sweeping reviews into the state of those disparities.
Prior to his confirmation as the first ever Black Air Force Chief of Staff, Brown released a video in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and the ensuing nationwide protests about racial bias. In that video, which generated national headlines, Brown discussed his own challenges while rising through the predominantly-White ranks of the Air Force fighter pilot corps.
“I’m thinking about the pressure I felt to perform error-free, especially for supervisors I perceived had expected less from me as an African-American,” Brown said in that video. “I’m thinking about having to represent by working twice as hard to prove their expectations and perceptions of African Americans were invalid.”
As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brown will face both social and strategic challenges, as the military not only strives to stay ahead of China but also struggles to attract new talent at a time where declining propensity to serve is hurting recruitment numbers across several of the services. Though the chairman has no operational command authority over the armed forces, Brown would be the top military adviser to President Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
As a native Texan, Brown also brings decades of experience smoking Texas brisket low and slow, as well as a lifelong love for the superhero Spider-Man.
Brown’s likely selection as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs would also create a vacancy for the Air Force’s top job.