‘A Proud, Butt-Kicking American Airman’: Biden Introduces Brown as Pick for Chairman

It’s official: President Joe Biden has picked an Airman to be his top military adviser.

At 1:52 pm on May 25, Biden walked out of the West Wing and into the Rose Garden alongside Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. to formally announce he is nominating the Air Force Chief of Staff to become the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Introducing Brown to many Americans who may not know him, Biden had a simple message:

“Gen. Brown is a proud, butt-kicking American Airman.”

Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III stood beside the two men as Biden went on to lay out the reasons he selected Brown after months of anticipation.

“Gen. Brown is a warrior descended from a proud line of warriors,” Biden told the crowd, which included service chiefs and Defense Department leaders. “He knows what it means to be in the thick of battle and how to keep your cool when things get hard.”

Biden then recounted one episode that illustrates Brown’s calm and measured demeanor.

In 1991, Brown was flying an F-16 that caught fire over the Florida Everglades. Forced to eject, he landed far from civilization. Luckily the water was not too high and he was eventually rescued, Brown previously recounted to Air & Space Forces Magazine.

“That’s a lot of fun, huh?” Biden said. “Well, I tell you what, he was back in the cockpit the next week with a new call sign, ‘Swamp Thang.'”

Brown has 3,000 hours of flying experience, including 130 combat hours. The son and grandson of veterans, Brown has command experience in the Middle East, Europe, and, perhaps most importantly, the Indo-Pacific. Prior to assuming his current role, Brown was the commander of Pacific Air Forces.

“He plays to win and that’s obvious,” Biden said. “That mindset is going to be an enormous asset to me as commander-in-chief and to the United States of America as we navigate challenges in the coming years.”

Brown is set to replace Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, subject to confirmation by the Senate. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs does not command any troops but serves as the president’s top military advisor. Brown’s experience in the Pacific, where the Air Force is rapidly adapting, stood out to Biden, the president said.

Through his career, Brown “gained the respect of our allies and partners around the world who regard Gen. Brown as a trusted partner and a top-notch strategist,” Biden added.

In a roughly 15-minute speech, Biden praised Brown’s efforts to modernize the Air Force for a near-peer fight and praised the way Brown has articulated the need to think differently.

“Over the past three years as chief of staff of the Air Force, Gen. Brown has become known for his signature approach, Accelerate Change or Lose,” Biden said.

“Accelerate Change or Lose,” Biden repeated for emphasis. “General, you’re right on. As I’ve often said, our world is at an inflection point where the decisions we make today are going to determine the course of our world for decades to come.”

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, who has long-praised Brown as a like-minded thinker, looked on with a smile.

Milley addressed reporters at the Pentagon before the Rose Garden event after a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and said Brown had “all the knowledge, skills, and attributes” needed to serve as Chairman.

“C.Q. is absolutely superb,” Milley added.

In a lighthearted moment, Milley and other senior military leaders took a group photo after the event—save for Brown, who followed Biden, Harris, and Austin back into the West Wing.

“We’ll photoshop C.Q. in,” Milley quipped.

Brown enjoyed strong support in the Senate when he was nominated for Air Force chief, getting confirmed in a 98-0 vote. And while Sen. Tommy Tuberville is currently blocking unanimous consent votes on senior military promotions because of his objection to the Department of Defense’s policy that funds out-of-state travel for those who seek an abortion, Brown’s new nomination could go to an up-or-down roll call vote, as Milley’s did when he was approved 89-1 in 2019.

“C.Q. is a fearless leader and an unyielding patriot,” Biden said. “I urge the Senate to once again confirm Gen. Brown with the same overwhelming bipartisan support for his new role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

Biden’s announcement came on the third anniversary of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, which sparked nationwide protests. The president also noted the nation is coming up on the 75th anniversary of the desegregation of the military.

If confirmed by the Senate now, Brown would be the second Black service member to serve as Chairman, following Army Gen. Colin Powell, who served as Chairman from 1989 to 1993.

The George Floyd protests unfolded as Brown was still awaiting confirmation to become the first Black Air Force Chief of Staff, and he released a forceful video at the time recounting his experiences as a Black fighter pilot and officer.

“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 the video. “I’m thinking about having to represent by working twice as hard to prove their expectations and perceptions of African Americans were invalid.”

Biden praised the strong nature of Brown’s message at the time after Floyd’s killing.

“It took real backbone, and it struck a chord not only with our military members but with Americans all across the country,” Biden said.

The president said he could rely on Brown to be “a thoughtful, deliberate leader who is unafraid to speak his mind, as someone who will deliver an honest message that needs to be heard, and who will always do the right thing when it’s hard.”

“That’s the number one quality a President needs in a Chairman,” Biden said.

If confirmed by the Senate, Brown will be only the fifth Airman in the 73-year history of the job and the first since Gen. Richard Myers stepped down in 2005.