According to multiple media reports, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.—often simply called “CQ”—is expected to be nominated by President Joe Biden to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military’s top job.
Much of the coverage surrounding Brown’s upcoming nomination, which has yet to be officially announced, has focused on the fact that he will be just the second Black chairman ever, after becoming the first Black service chief in U.S. history.
Beyond the historic nature of his nomination, Brown brings an extensive resume to the job, and the events and conditions that shaped his career will now come into play as he serves as Biden’s top military adviser and helps shape the future of the American military. Here are
Experience in Key Theaters
Brown has firsthand knowledge, at multiple levels, of the European and Pacific theaters. He was an F-16 pilot and served as a wing commander at both Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, and Aviano Air Base, Italy. Later, he was deputy commander of U.S. Central Command and head of Pacific Air Forces. Brown’s knowledge of the issues—and first-person contacts with key foreign military leaders in both regions—will likely inform how he advises Biden to handle pressing issues like Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and China’s continued aggressive actions towards Taiwan and other countries in the Pacific.
Up-Close Look at Leadership
Early in his career, Brown was aide-de-camp to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald Fogelman, getting privileged insight into the big-picture issues of manning, training and equipping the world’s preeminent Air Force. Fogelman’s choice to leave the post early—because his advice was not being heeded by the other leaders of the Pentagon—undoubtedly made an impression on Brown that top leaders must act with integrity.
‘Airpower Is the Answer‘
The Air Force hasn’t had one of its own as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 18 years, and advocates are likely hoping Brown may find some success in funneling more resources to the service after years of other branches getting more investment once classified “pass-through” funding for other agencies is removed. That could be especially crucial given the Air Force’s role in a potential conflict with China.
Only a few months ago, Brown made clear how strongly he believes in airpower’s importance during a keynote address at the AFA Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colo., repeatedly coming back to the refrain of “Airpower is the answer.”
Few U.S. military operations can succeed or even begin without the Air Force, Brown said in that speech. Since World War II, no matter what the conflict, America has relied on airpower, from the Doolittle Raiders in the months after Pearl Harbor to Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and even defeating ISIS in Syria. And airpower will remain vital to U.S. operations in the future, Brown told his Airmen.
Signature Air Force Efforts
Brown came into the CSAF job with guns blazing, immediately issuing an edict that the Air Force had to “Accelerate Change or Lose”—a phrase that became his motto.
To that end, he launched or advanced a number of initiatives, such as the Agile Combat Employment concept, which calls for handfuls of fighters and other platforms to play a shell game, swiftly picking up and moving from one location—likely an austere airstrip—to another, to confound the precision missile batteries of an advanced adversary like China.
Related to that effort, Brown also pushed the idea of “Multi-Capable Airmen” who can perform duties outside their typical speciality, to reduce the footprint needed to operate and move between those austere locations. He also has repeatedly urged lower-level Airmen to make their best judgments by knowing their commander’s intent, in the event that communications with leadership are cut off.
Other initiatives include “Integrated by design,” which puts the sharing of information, coordination with partners and allies, and interoperability of forces at the forefront of all planning, and standing up “A-staffs” at the wing level to better coordinate with the top leadership’s A-staff organization.
Brown has acknowledged that his ambitious efforts most likely won’t be fully realized until the end of his expected four-year tour as Chief. In August 2022, he said it has proved harder than he expected to change thinking within the ranks, particularly among some senior leaders.
Brown’s acknowledgement of the difficulty in changing minds—in that August 2022 interview, he bluntly gave himself a “C” grade—is indicative of his direct personal style.
He’s likely to press the other Joint Chiefs to be direct as well and hold them to account. Brown has a reputation for withholding comment until the end of a meeting, but he’s also publicly stated that he dislikes when anyone tries to have “the meeting after the meeting” to steer the agreed course in a different direction. Like Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, Brown insists on seeing data that backs up a course of action and reportedly has little patience with arguments of “gut instinct” or “tradition.”
Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs regularly appear before Congress, and Brown offers a relatively successful relationship in that regard—through extensive classified briefings, he has persuaded key lawmakers to go along on with plans to retire what he calls “no longer relevant” platforms, like the A-10, to make room for new ones.
After he had been nominated to be CSAF but before his confirmation hearing, Brown released a personal video message about race relations within the Air Force in the wake of nationwide protests over racial bias. The video went viral—and was considered gutsy by many. Most nominees go into “safe mode” for months before their hearings, avoiding any statements that could be considered controversial. In the end, his unanimous confirmation by the Senate clearly indicated the move was respected.
With the backing of Biden, Brown will likely push for a more inclusive U.S. military that looks even more like America, seeking ways to put military personnel more in touch with the people they defend, so groups not well represented in the military ranks can see it as an option.