According to two U.S. officials, President Biden is expected to imminently announce his selection of Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the Air Force chief of staff, as the nation’s highest-ranking military officer. If formally nominated and approved by the Senate, General Brown will succeed Gen. Mark A. Milley, whose tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concludes at the end of September.
In becoming chairman, General Brown would be only the second Black man to hold this position, following Colin L. Powell, who served during the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Such an appointment would mark a significant milestone for minorities within the military, which has historically been predominantly led by white men. Furthermore, General Brown’s confirmation, alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, would establish the first-ever instance of African American men occupying the top two leadership roles at the Pentagon.
As the senior military officers, General Brown and Mr. Austin would provide counsel to President Biden on national security matters ranging from the conflict in Ukraine to China’s military expansion in the Asia-Pacific region. Additionally, they would represent the Pentagon in congressional hearings, often facing scrutiny from Republican lawmakers who have voiced concerns about the Defense Department becoming too politically aware, a sentiment captured by the term “woke.”
President Biden’s decision to appoint another African American man to a senior Pentagon position may provoke contentious debates on Capitol Hill. However, this move also symbolically challenges the message conveyed by a photograph featuring President Donald J. Trump, surrounded by an exclusively white group of Pentagon leaders.
While 43 percent of the 1.3 million active-duty military personnel are people of color, the majority of crucial decisions have historically been made by white males. However, there are indications of a shifting landscape within the military leadership.
Amidst the looming conflict with China, General Brown’s experience in the Asia-Pacific region was a significant factor influencing President Biden’s decision, as reported by Politico, according to a U.S. official.
The finality of General Brown’s appointment remains pending until President Biden’s official announcement, and the timing of such an announcement remains uncertain. However, officials, speaking anonymously, stated that General Brown, a fighter pilot, emerged as the preferred choice over his closest competitor, Marine Corps commandant Gen. David H. Berger. Despite being good friends who regularly consult with each other, General Brown and General Berger differ significantly from each other and from General Milley, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Brown is described by colleagues as quiet, firm, and methodical, while General Berger is known for his innovative ideas that have triggered public criticism from his predecessors.
General Berger, an infantryman with combat command experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, unveiled a plan shortly after assuming the role of Marine Corps commandant, which aimed to phase out the Corps’ tank units. His reasoning was rooted in the belief that Marines would face significant challenges in moving heavy tanks across islands in the Pacific should they engage in conflict with China.
Both General Brown and General Berger were summoned back to the White House for additional meetings with President Biden after their initial interviews. It is worth noting that the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has not been filled by an Air Force general since 2005, during which time two Marines, a Navy admiral, and two Army generals have held the role.
General Brown, widely known as C.Q., is often perceived by fellow officers as cautious, albeit with a propensity to act swiftly when the situation demands it. Colleagues describe him as someone who engages in deliberate contemplation for extended periods but can explosively respond when the moment calls for it.
During nationwide protests after George Floyd, an African American man, was beaten to death by Minneapolis police, General Brown electrified the rank and file in the military with an extraordinary video. It was June 2020, and Mr. Trump wanted to invoke the Insurrection Act to use the active-duty troops to target protesters upset about the killing. General Brown was just days away from his confirmation vote in a Republican-led Senate to be Air Force chief of staff.
“I’m thinking about how full I am with emotion not just for George Floyd, but the many African Americans that have suffered the same fate as George Floyd,” he said in the video, an unusually public statement by a high-ranking military leader about a sensitive and politically charged issue.
“I’m thinking about protests in my country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, the equality expressed in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that I have sworn my adult life to support and defend. I’m thinking about a history of racial issues and my own experiences that didn’t always sing of liberty and equality.”
The video was a bold move for a general recently promoted by Mr. Trump. But it also cemented General Brown as the heir apparent to General Milley.