Watch, Read: CSAF’s Fireside Chat with Mackenzie Eaglen

Watch the video or read the transcript of the fireside chat with Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., Chief of Staff of the Air Force; and Mackenzie Eaglen, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, during AFA’s 2021 virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium.

AFA Chairman of the Board Gerald R. Murray: “It’s my pleasure today to introduce the Chief of Staff the United States Air Force, Gen. [Charles]. Q. Brown [Jr.]. Gen. Brown’s vision of accelerate change or lose is seen throughout this week’s symposium. His action order calls for the Air Force to speed up its decision making processes. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the strategic power competitions between the US, Russia, and China. And it states that the service must be ready for future budget constraints by developing affordable, analytical, defensible, and congressionally supported for structure. Joining Gen. Brown to moderate this fireside chat is Mackenzie Eaglen. She is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness. General Brown and Mackenzie, over to you.”

Mackenzie Eaglen: “Good morning, Chief. How are you feeling today?

Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.: “I’m doing great.”

Eaglen: “Thank you for joining us today, and all of our viewers. It’s a pleasure to be with you. I’m going to jump right in and talk about the most important, I think, priority for any Chief, which are people, and Airmen and their families in particular. I think there’s a shared consensus in Washington about there being a window of opportunity to address a variety of social challenges confronting America, but particularly the United States military in particular. We know that the Secretary of Defense has ordered a stand down of 60 days to talk about extremism, racism, and diversity in particular. We know that some active and former service members participated in the capital riots on January 6. And of course, I don’t need to remind you that you’re the first black Chief, you’re making history in the job. You’ve spoken up after the death of George Floyd, you’ve talked about having sons in your, in their 20s. And so I’m wondering if you can talk about specific ideas, you know, you’re in the job less than a year now. You’ve been handed a full plate. Can we start with extremism and racism in particular, and your thoughts on what you can do that’s tangible going forward?”

Brown: “Sure. Well, first of all, I appreciate you being with me today, Mackenzie. It’s a real pleasure. What I often think, and I’ve thought about this really, throughout my career: It’s the oath I took when I first came in. As a matter of fact, as a freshman at Texas Tech, the first night I had to take an oath when I got my ROTC scholarship. And then the oath I took when I got commissioned. My father commissioned me, and so it was pretty, pretty important, and following, you know, history of service. But it’s also our core values of the United States Air Force. And I really, I use that as my foundation to think about all these, these social factors that you’ve outlined. And I think about that for our Airmen as well, about what right looks like. And it’s us that, all of us that rose our right hand to take an oath to serve and support and defend our constitution of the United States against all enemies. And then our core values. And between the two of those, that really, as I said, sets the foundation. And then from there, I’d look at, I’m also, and I laid this out in ‘Accelerate change or lose,’ is the environment where all Airmen can reach their full potential. The Airmen and their families. And what, what detracts from our Airmen and their families from reaching their full potential are some of these social detractors, where there’s extremism, or racism, or racial disparity. And so as we look at extremism, so we have the stand down. And what I found over the course of the summer, normally with a stand down we’re going to need to do, and the stand down, less so with a stand down, but the conversation that happened over the course of the summer really opened some eyes. And not only did it open eyes, but it also gave an opportunity for those that may have felt a little bit oppressed, or didn’t really, their voices were oppressed, a chance to speak up. And so I think that’s probably valuable, because it actually allowed us an opportunity to identify that we do have a problem. And as good as we are as the United States Air Force, we still have the reflection of society, and in society, some of these things exist.

“With that, the steps we’re taking really on extremism piece, I think we’re in the first, first part of this. And there was a DOD Diversity and Inclusion Task Force led by former [Air Force] Secretary [Barbara M.] Barrett, and we had 15 different recommendations; the last two of the 15 were on extremism. And that report came out in late September. And so even before the events of January 6, this was already on the mind of the force, and it’s on, you know, even more so now, after the sixth. I’d also say, you know, the meaningful things we were able to do on racial disparity and racism is the independent review, racial disparity review that we completed and published back on 21 December, and there’s several steps in there. One, the culture, how we do our talent management and, and how we look at those aspects of how we take care of Airmen and families. And the last piece of that, you know, the first review was really focused on African Americans. Just this past week, we announced we’re going to do a second review that opens it a little more broadly to other ethnic groups and gender. I really wanted to, with Secretary Roth, Acting Secretary [John P.] Roth and Gen. [John W. “Jay”] Raymond, use that. You can’t judge improvement if you don’t know where you, where you are. And so part of this is to be able to use the first report and the second, the second report to kind of set a baseline, so we can actually have something, a benchmark, to start from, to ensure we’re going to improve. And that’s what my focus is, and putting in your various programs under review with our Diversity and Inclusion Council. I think all those are aspects that will help us improve. But I often think it takes leadership as well. It’s just not a good program. It takes some level of leadership and action by our Airmen, as well.”

Eaglen: “So, you just raised the Diversity and Inclusion Council specifically, and the task force, of course, as well, led by former Secretary Barrett. Can you share with the audience what you’ve learned from those findings, and if there’s any new ideas that can be implemented in the near term?”

Brown: “Well, as we went through… diversity and inclusion councils were being run by, Gen. [David] Goldfein started those, reenergized them, when I was still as the PACAF commander. And I was, as a senior African American officer, I was part of that council. Now I get a chance to help share that council. And what I found is, we we’ve moved from talking about demographics to actionable type items. We’ve stood up barrier analysis working groups that represent different diverse groups of our Air Force, and through that, they have a voice to feed information into us. And one really good example is women’s hair. The women’s initiative team, I mean, they had a full-out campaign. Photos, I mean, I got the complete package. And by the time I got the package, I go, so what else do I need to do, because you know, the staff was still going to staff through the package, but we got full … yeah, well, you know, ponytails and braids, they can go longer than we’ve done in the past. And that’s an example of where, you know, listening to our Airmen, hearing their voices, and be able to take action on those. And it’s addition to, how we take a look at the opportunities, and going back and looking at some of our, you know, for example, access to pilot training, or rated career fields, to look at the methodology we use. And one example that I was not aware of until a couple of years ago, is, for those that are trying to get a pilot slot, if you have private pilot time, that bumps your score. OK, and if you don’t have the money to do that, you may not have the opportunity to bump your score. I know for a fact, when I was in high school, my parents didn’t have money for me to get private pilot time. At the time, I wasn’t interested in being a pilot, but even if I was, that was going to be out of the question. And that may put some of our diverse backgrounds at a disadvantage. And, and I think those are areas we’re looking at, to change some of our policies, because we may be excluding different parts of our force, unknowingly, just because it’s a pattern, or something we’ve had in place for a number of years. And that’s been really the beauty of the summer and this review is, we’ve actually taken a look at some of these, and found that there may be some things in there that are actually preventing some of our Airmen, not from giving them the opportunity to give them advance like we want to give them, to reach their full potential.”

Eaglen: “Well, I sure am glad after your first semester in ROTC when you thought for a moment you might get out, that you stayed in. I‘ll just leave it at that. Now, are any of these points, particularly just pivoting quickly back to diversity and extremism, racism, excuse me, and extremism? Because I think this will come up again, in our question about sexual violence. If you think that the UCMJ is a viable path to address some of these issues, or for policymakers to amend the UCMJ?”

Brown: “That was, that was one of the recommendations. That was, I think, the 15th recommendation of the 15 I highlighted, to look at UCMJ. I think there are aspects of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that actually play into this. Good order and discipline. And if you have detractors in our organization that make it uncomfortable for you to come to work each day, that impacts good order and discipline. I do think we have to take a look at, you know, the definition of extremism. And that’s been a conversation as we get ready for our stand down. You know, how do you define it, and we’ve done some good work, we’re sending out to our leadership teams to help, when we have, working with the Office of Special Investigations. And a psychologist that actually outlines what it is, because there’s a little bit of a gray area there. And depending on where you know, where you stand, you may not see extremism, and you know, we want to be able to identify the characteristics of what extremism looks like. And so that, I mean, that’s important that we understand that. To go with UCMJ, to make any determination, or how you might use UCMJ and in make it stick it, if, in fact, extremism has been found inside the force.”

Eaglen: “I thought at his nomination hearing, Secretary of Defense [Lloyd] Austin’s story of being in the 82nd Airborne and experiencing it firsthand was powerful, and how it was sort of missed, you know, in the early stages.”

Brown: “And that’s the thing, particularly at a leadership level, you may be sheltered from some of this information, you just don’t see it. Or it’s kept in a low profile, and it spikes at a certain time and you get surprised, and that’s the point. We don’t want to get surprised.”

Eaglen: “Exactly, like any good boss. So, along these lines of, you know, health and well being of the force, you know, rising suicides a concerned in the Air Force, they’re a concern across the uniformed services. They’re even a concern in some cases, in the National Guard, depending on the service, and over the past two years, the number of Airmen dying by their own hands is rising. It’s something your predecessors also grappled with. The former Chief and Secretary, I remember running out to the Air Force Academy this time last year when there were two suicides in a week at the Academy, at the start of the, the pandemic. So this is obviously a challenge across your organization, but for you specifically, I know that you’re thinking about this. There was a stand down, ordered by your predecessor also to talk and address suicide and suicide prevention, and resiliency. So are you continuing what he started? Are you thinking differently about this? How can you make it better, particularly as the pandemic drags on for a whole year?”

Brown: “We are continuing. So the resiliency tactical pause, where we were able to allow kind of a one-day or stand down over a period of time, we’ve encouraged our units to continue to do those. And so part of this is team building, getting to know the Airmen that you work with. And how do you know if an Airman is having a, tough to know if an Airman is having a bad day if you don’t know him, you don’t spend time around him. It’s even more challenging in a pandemic, when you’re doing most of, some of these things virtually, you don’t have that same human connection. And so that is one part of it. The other is, from a prevention standpoint, is, we’ve taken some of our training and made it family friendly. And back in the fall, the intent was to actually get some training out, not make it with all the acronyms, all the, you know, military briefers, but really invite family members to some of our suicide awareness training, because they may be the first sensor in some cases. You know, a family member who spends a lot of time around somebody, knows them, and knows that there’s something that that’s bothering him, or eating at him. And you’re more, maybe more inclined to share, if you’re struggling with something, with a family member. And giving them the tools of who to call, what to bring, bring folks in. The other is, we started Operation Arc Care back in November. And it’s really a focus of all of our resiliency tools that we have across the Air Force, and we have a number of them. I think the challenge we have is, they may be spread out across the force. And so what we don’t want to have is an Airman who goes to office to office to office and then falls through the cracks because they get tired of trying to find help. And what I’ve asked our team to do as we do this, and we’re working to look across all our resiliency tools and agencies that support, and then, come April, we want to actually kind of figure out how we consolidate those. And some bases have already been able to do some of that. Then make that more universal across the force, so that we don’t have Airmen falling through the crack. And we make it easy. I told them, let’s think about the life of an, the day in the life of an Airman. If you had issues, how difficult would it be for you to actually go talk to somebody. If you’ve got to go through six steps to get there, you may give up after a couple steps. We don’t want to do that. We want to catch them on the first step. And this is why family members and, really, the rest of the folks they work with have to, the Airmen they work with. We need to know each other, and the better we know each other, the better we can be a sensor to prevent future suicide.”

Eaglen: “I agree with that. You need a battle buddy, so to speak. So returning again, briefly to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, I raised sexual violence. It’s something that has come up repeatedly in the confirmation hearings for Secretary Austin and now Deputy Secretary of Defense, Dr. Kathleen Hicks, members of the Senate raised this issue more than I think I’ve ever heard it come up on Capitol Hill. They’re advertising now to leaders in the Department that Congress is poised to go ahead and change the UCMJ as it specifically relates to sexual assault and sexual violence, saying, you know, basically, we’ve given you about a seven year window. You know, however many Chiefs ago, they said no, we want to keep the commander in, essentially, in the in the loop, in the decision making process when there are cases filed and complaints made. And Congress is not, they’re only seeing the numbers tick up. Men and women, of course, are victims of sexual violence. I think it’s probably underreported for both. But as of late, there have been some high-profile female murders and deaths, in particular, as a result of sexual violence. Obviously Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood, but Senator [Mazie] Hirono, raising, the SASC hearing with Dr. Hicks about a Navy sailor who’d been found in a Dumpster, just that week prior. So it continues to happen, it’s not just at Ft. Hood. And you know, there have been a variety of surveys talking about this. So, I want to talk about how to help victims, but I first want to hear your thoughts on how to just prevent this, before there’s a victim. What do you think that can be done so that people don’t become victims? And then, of course, your thoughts on, is it finally, if Congress says, we are going to take the commanders’, we’re going to change the authority of commanders, your thoughts on that, if you have any?”

Brown: “Well, the most important thing, and we’ve, we focused on, you know, support to the victims, we’ve focused on accountability. I think we really need to increase our focus on prevention. And again, it goes to the environment where all can reach our full potential, and how do you take those detractors out of the, out of our units, and it really takes strong leadership. You know one of the things to think about is we can build a, you know, as I said, there’s a lot of good ideas that come out the Pentagon, not all the good ideas that come out of the Pentagon are good ideas when they get to the field, to our Airmen. And it really requires leadership. So I can, we can craft a very good program inside the Pentagon and feel good about ourselves. But it takes leadership at the lower level. And this is why the dialogue has to happen with our leadership of how best to do this, and with our Airmen. They’re most impacted by this, because they’ll give us good feedback. And that’s one of things I enjoy. When I travel, I usually have a lunch or a breakfast with Airmen, with a group of Airmen, and we spent time talking. And, you know, one of the areas that they highlighted to me was, they really, they just want their leadership to care. And if they care, then they will actually pay attention to these kinds of things and root it out before it happens. And so that’s important, I think the other thing that we, one of the areas we are doing to kind of assess, or at least help us better understand ourselves. And it started really in our basic military training, is an assessment. So you don’t have kind of a one-size-fits-all training, you really kind of talk to the Airmen, talk to them about their background, their previous experiences, and so you have more tailored training to better prepare them as we walk into these types of … to help prevent, because the bulk of our sexual assaults happens in that younger demographic, you know, 17 to 24. And the better we can prepare them, and the junior leadership above them, the better we can, we can actually prevent some of these from, from happening in the future.”

Eaglen: “So, the Secretary of Defense, he’s talked about the pacing threat is China, he talked about his about his priorities. And he’s talked about, you know, his priorities, including, you know, departmentally why, but also personally, and sort of as a department, it’s, you know, pandemic relief and response, it’s climate change, diversity and inclusion. But then personally, he’s talked about, of course, defending the nation broadly, taking care of people, and teamwork. And it seems coronavirus, though, is front and center, that even the White House wants more leadership and assistance from the Department of Defense. Obviously, it’s usually in a supporting role to state and federal and local authorities, but I’m wondering, you know, how the Air Force is doing, how you’d grade your service? And what changes do you see going forward for the Air Force, because, let’s say the pandemic recedes somewhat this year, and things get back to some sort of new normal or relatively new normal. What’s different because of COVID. I know in basic training, at boot camp, for example, the Marine Corps found that screening for all upper, for COVID has eliminated all upper respiratory infections from boot camp, so no one goes to sick call anymore. I would think that would be something you’d want to keep, right?”

Brown: “Well, you know, one thing the, since, really, about this time last year as we really started getting into pandemic, the beginning parts of a pandemic, the Air Force not only taking care of ourselves, but our Total Force being able to support, from a COVID perspective. My hat’s off to our, our medical professionals inside of our not just the Air Force, but across the Department of Defense, Total Force, because they really stepped, stepped forward. And, you know, as we walked into this, we all had pandemic plans, but not to this level. I don’t think any of us ever expected this, is 100 year event. And so my hat’s off to not only our medical officials, but really all our Airmen. Because we had, actually, we kept the mission going. And I’ve been asked the question, ‘What did you quit doing as an air force?’ I don’t know that we really quit doing anything, but we’re doing a lot of things differently. And, and that’s what I take away from this experience. Sometimes you have to have a, kind of a, somewhat catastrophic event. As tragic as COVID is, but it really helps us to reflect on how we do things day to day. And we’ll find there’s some things that we’re doing probably better than we were before, in some cases. But I also think there’s some stressors as well, particularly for our dual income, dual military families, small children, school-aged children. Those are factors that many of us, you know, weren’t thinking about just over a year ago. As I look to the future, you know, what I see is that at some point we’ll get past this, it’ll change, I think some of the dynamics that, how we work through things. But we’ve got to stay focused right now. And that’s, you know, as this new administration and new secretaries, defenses come in, are focused on COVID and COVID mitigation, in getting vaccines. As a matter of fact, I had my second vaccine on Friday, and, but we’re still gonna have to wear a mask, we’re still going to have to social distance. Because we have to get everybody to a point, not just in the United States, but you’ve really got to think of around the world. And so our focus has to continue.”

“The one thing I wanted to make sure we continue to do, though, is look at the things that we’re able to do differently. And let’s not gravitate to what we were doing before COVID and take a step backwards, particularly if it’s a positive step, that actually makes us better as an Air Force. And I think there are some areas that, you know, we’ve been innovative. And innovation is not all about technology, sometimes. You just think about our basic military training. We dipped a little bit, we opened up a second location, and we kept on going. We’ve been fairly successful to keep the bulk of the force safe. You know, we’ve had folks that have gotten, gotten COVID. But by and large, very, very few deaths from, from our Active-duty members, challenge maybe for some of our civilian force, and that that’s been disheartening. And uh, but we’ve got to continue to work through this and continue the mitigation going forward at the same time, thinking of new ways of how we would do our mission that will help us post-COVID.”

Eaglen: “I’m really glad you raised that, because sometimes it feels like—I’m a mother of four young children—and sometimes it feels like people making pandemic choices are not, don’t have young children in their home. Of course, the Department of Defense and its contractor work force are essential workers, right? You are as important as the grocery store clerk and the garbage man. And many ways, even in other ways as well. And yet what I, a lot of military families were raising concerns to Congress early in the pandemic saying we’re essential, and yet we don’t have child care. We need to go to work, and yet, how are we, if we’re not… I know that’s something that that’s been of great interest to, to military families. So let’s pivot please, to ‘Accelerate change or lose,’ your vision statement and document. I’ve written about it, I’ve thought about it, I’ve read it several times. I thought it was fantastic in its frankness, in its brevity, which is hard to do at your level, I think sometimes. We talked about this in the greenroom. And you know, it’s focused on Airmen, of course. You have a series of action orders that came out of that, so not just this vision statement, you left it on the table, but you have specific tasks associated with how to move forward with your ideas. So if you could talk a little bit about how you developed it, and you know, your thinking behind it, and how you’d grade yourself so far?”

Brown: “Sure. Well, as I knew I was coming in to be the Chief, you know, and having talked to some previous Chiefs and other service chiefs, you’ve gotta figure out what is your timeline to get things done. Four years may seem like a long time, but it’s not a long time, I’ve already been in a job almost seven months now. And from that perspective, you can either wait a year to study, or you can go, here’s what I think needs to happen. And so I had a small team that work with me to write ‘Accelerate change or lose,’ we had some outside entities that work with us as well, even on a title, and we had a couple different titles, and some good feedback and actually want to ‘Accelerate change or lose,’ because I really felt that we needed to move faster in certain areas. And if you wait too long to study, that you can always study the problem. You know, someone had told me once, anything you don’t want to do, you just continue to study. And so what I really wanted to do is actually lay a marker down and be very candid about it, because that’s just the way I’m open, transparent, maybe to a fault sometimes. But I wanted to lay that out. But then at the same time, wanted to go, ‘What are the things I want to focus on?’ And these are things I’ve always thought about, you know, our Airmen, which is the, you know, the beginning of the, with action, or a I’ve always hated bureaucracy, I like, it just frustrates me, it really frustrates me to watch how slow things happen sometimes when we know we can do better. And it’s not just that at my level here at the Air Staff, but it’s out in the field as well, and I just sent a letter to Airmen here this week on that very topic.

“Then I think about competition in the aspect of, this was really built on my time with the national defense strategy, walking into the Pacific Air Forces about six months after the national defense strategy came in, and just felt like we were not probably moving fast enough and understanding our adversary enough to what makes them tick. And then I just also thought about, you know, as my job as the, as the Air Force Chief of Staff is, we’ve got to look to the future. And if I can’t explain what the future looks like, and where we need to be, and the risk associated with not making that change, then I’m not gonna be successful as a Chief. So how am I doing? I’ll let the folks in the field to judge a little bit. I there’s always room for improvement. I think there’s some positive things, but I also think we’re changing a bit of the culture of the Air Force about how we approach some of these. And a cultural change takes a bit of time, and you will have some naysayers, you’ll have some friction points. But I’ve got to be, as I’ve always said, be persistent and consistent on the focus I have. And you can get through what I call the five stages of no: Hell no, no, we’ll think about it. Not a bad idea. We should have done it already.”

Eaglen: “I’m taking that to my house.”

Brown: “Yeah. And so part of that is getting through all five stages. And I’m going to be persistent and consistent on this throughout my tenure, and I do think I have support from the majcom commanders and other leaders across the Air Force. And when I talk to Airmen, you know, by and large, I think they’re excited. They see an opportunity, but we’ve got to continue to push to deliver and that that, to me, is the most important thing. As long as we’re making progress, and our Airmen can see progress, that to me is what I would say a positive, great. If we start backsliding, you know, that’s what I’m going to mark myself down for. So I think we’re doing some good things, but always room for improvement.”

Eaglen: “As you you’ve told me previously, not everyone gets a vote, and that is quite the culture change, I think at the Pentagon where often, you know, I’ve heard lead civilian leaders like Kath Hicks and Michéle Flournoy and others say, like, the strategies that have come out of the department until the NDS, you know, it was sort of lowest common denominator, because we have to get to yes with all these different stakeholders, and it would be exciting to see what you can do when you don’t have to do that.”

Brown: “Well there’s those I have to work with outside of the Air Force, as well.”

Eaglen: “Sure. So it seems, you know, it comes up repeatedly, that being commander of Pacific Air Forces has really shaped, I think, not, it’s not the only job that has shaped you as Chief, but it seems to have, well, one could well-timed with national defense strategy, this administration reaffirming the pacing threat of China, and, and your having just been in theater. So you know, can you talk about, you know, there’s a lot of jockeying among the services to be relevant. And I don’t think it requires explaining, but maybe it does, I think. You know, how well the Air Force is positioned with the operational concepts in the war plans, specifically related to the Asia-Pacific area. And how you think the service and the department and the broader public appreciate the urgency? You know, the first word of your vision is accelerate change, you know, to move more quickly? Does everyone share your urgency?”

Brown: “Well, you know, that’s why I put ‘or lose.’ Because if you don’t appreciate the fact, and it could be a slow erosion. But you don’t want to wake up one day and figure out that, if I could have, would have, should have. And so that’s why, you know, when I look at, you know, or lose, you know, and we can continue at the same pace. But I really got a chance to see how our adversary, particularly in China, in the Indo-Pacific region, how they were advancing. When I look at kind of where we are, I think there’s confidence that we’re pretty well postured. The one thing we do have, that our competitors don’t have, is a good range of allies and partners. And because I’ve served most of my time as a general officer either overseas or commands that were focused overseas, many of the air chiefs I already knew, because we kind of grew up together, or I served with them, or their counterparts, in different locations. And having that network is very helpful. It’s also the concepts we have that we’ve gotten really, I think, really the Air Force is embracing. It really started back, it really start well before me with Gen. [Herbert J. “Hawk”] Carlisle when he was PACAF commander, with Rapid Raptor, continue to grow, and agile combat employment is more than just a fad. It’s really how we think and how we operate. And again, this is a cultural shift. Because you look at the past 20, really 30 years since Desert Shield, Desert Storm, we’ve gone to a number, we used to go on to one location, the base already exists, things already there, you’ve just got to bring your own personal gear. Now we’re looking at … how do you operate from an austere location? What if you don’t have everybody that, you know, you didn’t have have room to bring everybody or everything? How do you get a little creative and innovative and look at things a little bit differently? And that’s driven a lot of, I mean, what I’ve seen over the course of the seven months I’ve been in this job, plus what I was doing at PACAF, was to see how our Airmen, if you give them the opportunity. There’s things we’re doing, the one I keep highlighting is, you know, I’ve hot-pitted an F-16 hundreds of times. But I’ve never seen anybody hot pit a KC-135. And in fact, when I went to Al Udeid and got a chance to see that, it cut the air refueling, refueling time on the ground by 75%. And that was our Airmen coming up with some of that. Just giving them the opportunity. And that’s what agile combat employment and multiple capable Airman, these opportunities that’ll make us better to compete against our, and really to deter. And so it’s understanding how we operate in the region, how we work with our partners, the exercises we have, not just in the Indo-Pacific but also in Europe, and really around the world. And building those relationships and the same concepts, I think are valuable to put us in a much better spot when we used to talk about great power competition.”

Eaglen: “So, thank you for raising agile combat employment, because we were going to discuss part of that, and your, your Washington Post op-ed with Gen. [David H.] Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps. He’s also been a disruptive change agent for his own service with Force Design 2030. You two seem to have that in common, where you want to make big, bold decisions and move quickly to execute. And I think it’s, I applaud your effort. So I wanted to get to the op-ed in a moment, and sort of the reaction to it, and how you two just, were you in the tank or in the hallway, how did it come about? But also, you know, dynamic force employment, if I could just pivot off the agile combat deployment. I know that the services are thinking through how to continually be operationally surprising to friends and enemies alike around the world. I know that was important to [Defense] Secretary [James N.] Mattis when he was in the job is, are you thinking about a new force presentation model for the Air Force?”

Brown: “I am, and partly so we can weave a little bit more predictability in, in how we actually offer up forces to the joint team. What I don’t want to do is actually get to a point, and this is why we think over, over the past several years, we continue to give and give and give, which is good, we have flexibility to give the air power. But sometimes you got to be a little rigid on certain things. And from this aspect, the building model, so we can actually better track our future readiness. Because I think we, right now, we have a hard time as an Air Force articulating, you know, our near-term or longer-term readiness and how it impacts modernization. And by having a force generation, force presentation model, it’s better, easy to, much easier for us to articulate that, and show the impacts of, OK, we can deploy earlier, but you’re gonna leave a hole someplace else. And because we don’t have that model, we have a hard time laying it out. And partly because the diversity of the Air Force and capability across the Air Force, the challenge I also saw is we have different, kind of somewhat different models between the different major areas, and that drove a challenge for us to be able to articulate, you know, the impact of readiness for the future. And so this is going to help us kind of build a tempo that’s predictable. And then we can use our dynamic force employment, but if we follow the business rules we have, and do it for a short time, it’s readiness enhancing, and then you’re able to put that capability back into its normal training cycle. I find value in that, the team’s been working pretty hard on that, and we’re already working through aspects of that. And when you’re seeing that, like our bomber task force, we just had a dynamic force employment, too, that went to the CENTCOM area of responsibility. The second one just went, went back home here in the course of the past week or so. So I see opportunities there to operate just a little bit differently than we’ve operated in the past.”

Brown: “I hear Airmen cheering everywhere who are watching you now, talk about a little more predictability, a slightly moderated operations tempo, because it seems like the Air Force has been flat out for three decades, doing no fly zones in the 90s, all the way through two wars. And I mean, it’s been like a Super Bowl every day, I think, for the Air Force. So I applaud you for doing that. As somebody who also thinks about this, more data is kind of what you’re saying, you’re going to be able to get more measurable data to help make the case for a more moderate tempo, which I really applaud, and readiness, you know, the definition, it’s not a shared definition. I think you discovered that. So how did the op-ed with Gen. Berger come about? And what’s the reaction to it? Because I thought it was tremendously well done. I thought you were saying all the right things. When I interpreted in my own words, accelerate change or lose, and that point you just raised, I called it the global Jenga model. All the services are putting in, pulling out different components, but there’s not one person who can look across the enterprise and see, you know, are we solving a decision now, but we’re hurting man and machine in the five-year budget plan, and etc. So I have coined it for you, you can steal that. What has been the reaction around town? And are you, how do you feel about that op-ed?”

Brown: “I feel pretty good about it. You know, the commandant and I actually, I would say somewhat kindred spirits, because we think a lot about, alike about this, we’ve talked about it. He called me in my process to, going through confirmation. And just in the meetings that he and I have had, we’ve had some of the same conversation. I’ll also say the other service chiefs, we all have had similar conversations, but he and I have really hit it off on, on this. And I just sense that, as you said, because I’ve used that same term of Jenga puzzle. But that was when I was at a combatant command, as air component, because what I saw was, you know, stuff in Indo-PACOM going different location and it was a Jenga puzzle, things are getting pulled out, now you’re trying to figure out how, how do you take your piece parts and still, you know, assure and deter and compete? And so the real focus for us is, how do you actually do a better job of, as you make the decisions of the day, show the impact of future readiness and future modernization? And I don’t know that we have a good model to do that. Now we have a lot of data, I think that there’s ways we can actually build the tools to do that so you can actually take a look at what’s going to impact this particular combatant command, how it impacts the other combatant commands, how it impacts the national defense strategy, how it impacts, near term service ratings, future readiness and feature modernization. And then, you know, that way you do a better job of your, your Jenga puzzle analogy of being able to go, if I pull this piece out, how does it impact everything else? And you might go, maybe you don’t want to do that. And really, it’s about risk. And articulating the risk, you know, not only for today, but the risk for tomorrow. It’s easy to articulate the risk for today, because you can see it, the risk for tomorrow, you got to have some data to kind of back it up to model and, and to model the simulation to be able to understand it. And that’s, that’s what I’d, you know, like for us to be able to get to as a department. You know, I think we can get there. But it’s an important aspect, ensure we don’t take all the risk in the future, because it’s not only gonna impact future Airmen, future service chiefs, but future combatant commanders as well. And we’ve got to make sure that we’re paying attention to that across the board.”

Eaglen: “I applaud it. More data is always my favorite. And you talked about balancing risk among stakeholders, uniformed, civilian, legislative, politicians, and others. And I shared that with you. Of course, a famous, sort of a refrain you hear often in the Pentagon is modernization today is readiness tomorrow. And so as part of the article you wrote with Gen. Berger, you guys alluded to the, I think, the consensus in Washington, which is to cut legacy systems, right? Although until recently, that had been an ill-defined concept. I think, tell me your thoughts, a legacy system is one that doesn’t add value to a current operational challenge identified in the national defense strategy. But I would welcome your clarification on what you think is a legacy system, and you know, what that actually means. And then, you know, if you were the king for the day, and you could divest of all the legacy systems you have in your mind that the Air Force currently keeps on the books, what would that look like? And how would it be different for you, as Chief?”

Brown: “I’ve really thought about the question of, you know, defining a legacy platform, because we have a, B-52, we’re gonna keep for a while. And particularly when you say legacy, your first mindset is old. And I really think about it from a capability perspective, is the capability going to be relevant today, relevant tomorrow? And if it’s not gonna be relevant tomorrow, or it’s gonna be, you know, overly expensive to make it relevant for tomorrow, then to me, that’s kind of legacy, that we’ve got to, you know, it’s not gonna be something we use 10, 15, 20 years from now. So that’s how I kind of look at the definition. You know, if I were king for a day, you know, I don’t know if I pick a specific platform, or capability. But I really would, this is where I think data and analysis is important, and I lay this out in ‘Accelerate change or lose,’ and, as I’ve shared with others, my degree is in engineering, I’d like to see the data. Because that’s not gonna, you can give me a really good brief with a lot of emotion, but emotion is not going to convince me. You’ve got to show me the facts. And if you show me the facts, that helps me to, you know, and I’ll ask questions. And what I like to do with our staff here is, I like having, you know, I like people to be in the meeting, I want to be part of the conversation, I don’t want to get presented: Here’s the answer. And, because at some point, I have to go defend that answer. And if I don’t believe in it, I’m going to have a hard time defending it. And so I don’t want to have things already, you know, the cake completely baked and all I get to do is put the frosting on it. OK? So, part of this is the analysis we would do with the wargaming. And that’s the beauty of how we separate our programmers out with our A5, with our Air Force futures, it’s kind of, define the future, analyze that, and then that’ll help us look where we want to be in the future, and then get a look to where we are today. And how do I make that transition? And then how do I articulate that and articulate the risk going forward? So you know, I don’t, that’s why I don’t know, if I, if I came in with a, you know, a big knife and started slashing things, I think I’d probably mess it up by myself, which is why I really want to have the analysis to do that. And this is something we’ve got to do better, and be able to articulate that as we engage with all of our key stakeholders. Internal to the Air Force, inside of the Pentagon, with our congressional members and staffs, and then also with our industry partners as well.”

Eaglen: “So, right. So that’s, you know, your predecessors have tried valiantly to find, to free up more dollars for modernization by divesting or retiring or truncating programs or existing fleets and inventories. They’ve also tried to cut Active-duty end strength to free up money for modernization, and they found that the smaller force cost more and so there were no dollars freed. And so I encourage you to keep tilting at this windmill, but I just want you to know that it’s been tried with some mixed success. The Air Force I think has had a harder time than the other services, you know, for a variety of reasons, that again, predate you but you have to deal with those consequences. But also, you know, iron on the ramp, you know, makes members of Congress feel comfortable, they like to know that, that it’s there. So, I know you think often about getting the support of Congress, to, getting the data, making the case, and then getting their support to make those difficult trade-offs and decisions, to then actually be able to keep the money. As I think, in her confirmation hearing, Dr. Hicks talked about that. A service shouldn’t be penalized when they make the trade-off or the hard choices, that they should be able to actually keep the money and again, that doesn’t always happen. And then, something I, a theme I picked up in the defense bills from Congress, their report language was, you know, we’ll let you divest, but we want to see the follow-on capability, even if it’s not an airframe or it’s not actually iron on the ramp. Those are your three challenges in actually doing that. Do you feel well positioned to make that case this year, and to move the needle a little bit with Congress, in terms of some divesting of legacy systems?”

Brown: “I think we have an opportunity. And part of that opportunity is how we engage. And you know, what I, what I found, and I could be wrong on this, and I’m sure my predecessor tried, but I’m pretty open and transparent, and really wanted to engage with our members in Congress and their staff much earlier in the process than I think we have in the past. Matter of fact, in the course of the past week, I’ve had, met with congressional delegations in three, three different meetings this past week, where I spent a better part of four to five hours with, with members and staff. That to me is to be able to have time to talk to them about what it is we’re trying to do. We don’t have the final decision yet. At least, as I said … I can make a decision on my level, but it’s got six or seven different layers before it actually becomes the decision, when it comes out in the NDAA, in the appropriations bill. And so how do I help that decision making is by information, and by talking about the forks in the road that we have to deal with as an Air Force. And the challenge we are in, and how we work this together. Because I really think it is, it’s working together to allow us to do this. I can’t go over there and convince Congress, I’ve got to make them part of the process. And the earlier we engage as an Air Force to be able to talk about what we’re doing. The other aspect of this is that we have, the Air Force has more classified programs than any other services. How do we one, get classified briefs to the members and staff, but also simplify some of it, so you can bring it down a classification level or two. So they can talk about it more broadly. And for those unclassified for them. The more we do that, that builds the confidence that we have a plan, it’s executable, that we can work on together. And to me, that’s the most important, the dialogue that goes back and forth. And I felt like in the three engagements I’ve had this past week, very positive. You may not get to exactly what I want, but it’ll be better than getting nothing that I want. And so it’s really how we how we work this together with, with all these key, key stakeholders.”

Eaglen: “I think that’s really, it’s, um, there is no easy button or silver bullet. It’s the shoe leather approach, knocking on door after door of member after member and staff after staff, and I know it’s exhausting as Chief, and time consuming, but it’s how you get to success.”

Brown: “Well, I think it’s time well spent. It really is. And I’m gonna keep doing it and keep approaching it from that perspective.”

Eaglen: “And you got to fly this week.”

Brown: “I got to fly the KC-46.”

Eaglen: “That’s exciting. So are you finding, as we wrap up our conversation, are you finding then sort of across the stakeholders in Washington, all of the ones that we’ve talked about, Airman, civilian leadership at the department, congressional members, are you finding the receptiveness to faster decision making? I mean, the bureaucracy isn’t, it’s everywhere, right? It’s, you know, the Hill, as you just talked about the six steps. Do you feel like you can, you are making progress, and you can see more ahead?”

Brown: “I think we are making progress. But it’s, it’ll be challenging. I mean, I realize that, but I’ve never, I’ve never shied away from a challenge. And if I, if I, if I was gonna shy away from a challenge, I wouldn’t have taken this job. So the, I really just want to make a difference, and I think we can make a difference to move forward faster in certain areas. And so there’ll be some areas where we can make some decisions faster, there’ll be some that will, but we won’t be able to.  What we’ve got to do is be able to show some level of success as we make some easy decisions. And once you do that, you know, you then build some confidence and it goes from the, you know, the early adopters to the laggards. You know, we’ve got to get some early adopters onboard and share with them and get them to help advocate with us. Because we’re all part of this together. Our national security is not just on, you know, on the shoulders of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force or the other service chiefs. But it’s all of us together that have an interest in this. And the way we work together on this, and make progress together, and understand, you know, what’s out there in the future, and really appreciate that, will help us move, move faster. And know there’ll be some that’ll be the laggards, and some that will take a little bit longer. But the more we we’re able to show some level of success, I think the bigger we’ll be in the long run.”

Eaglen: “Well, sir, you seem the right man for the job at the right time. I’m encouraged by your ability to not let the tyranny of the now and the urgent to crowd out your inbox and your priority list. I wish you great success on this road to accelerate change. I don’t want you to lose, so I’m just going to put a period after accelerate.”

Brown: “Neither do I.”

Eaglen: “Thank you for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure. I really enjoyed it.”

Brown: “My pleasure as well. Thank you.”