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Brown Takes Helm at US Air Force as First African American to Lead Military Service Branch

Gen. Charles Brown Jr., right, is sworn in as Chief of Staff of the Air Force in the Oval Office of the White House, with his wife Sharene Guilford Brown holding the Bible, in Washington, Aug. 4, 2020.
Gen. Charles Brown Jr., right, is sworn in as Chief of Staff of the Air Force in the Oval Office of the White House, with his wife Sharene Guilford Brown holding the Bible, in Washington, Aug. 4, 2020.

Gen. Charles “C.Q.” Brown, Jr. has taken over as Air Force chief of staff, becoming the first Black chief of a military service branch in U.S. history.

“This is a very historic day for our nation, and I do not take this moment lightly,” Brown said Thursday at an Air Force transition ceremony at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington.

Brown thanked African American airmen who served before him for inspiring him and other military service members, including the first Black military aviators known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

“It is due to their trials and tribulations in breaking barriers that I can address you today as the Air Force chief of staff,” he said.

Brown replaced Gen. David Goldfein, who is retiring after 37 years of service.

“I could not be prouder that a true warrior, leader and personal friend will be taking his first walk of the chief [at the Pentagon] tomorrow,” Goldfein said.

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett added Thursday that there was “no better officer to take the stick as Air Force chief of staff” than Gen. Brown, praising his military leadership assignments as “unmatched across the Middle East, Europe and the Pacific.”

Brown served as the commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, which is responsible for Air Force activities in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command theater spread over half the globe.

He also served as the deputy commander for U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military activity in the Middle East, from July 2016-July 2018. Before that he was the commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

President Trump marked the milestone with a ceremonial swearing-in in the Oval Office earlier this week.

In June, the Senate confirmed Gen. Brown as head of the U.S. Air Force in a unanimous vote of 98-0.

Brown’s historic transition comes as race relations are at the forefront of U.S. political debate following months of protests against racial injustice.

“I’m thinking about how my nomination can provide some hope, but also comes with a heavy burden. I can’t fix centuries of racism in our country, nor can I fix decades of discrimination that may have impacted members of our Air Force,” Brown said in a video for the Air Force in June.

In the video, he spoke candidly about his own experiences of racism, which “didn't always sing of liberty and equality.”

"I'm thinking about wearing the same flight suit, with the same wings on my chest as my peers, and then being questioned by another military member: 'Are you a pilot?'" he says before recounting another time that African Americans officers said he “wasn’t black enough” since he was spending more time with his squadron than with them.

Brown, an F-16 fighter jet pilot, has flown nearly 3,000 hours and 130 combat hours over more than 35 years of service. He was commissioned in 1984 as a distinguished graduate of the ROTC program at Texas Tech University.

Gen. Goldfein, another command pilot, served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Director of the Joint Staff and commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command prior to becoming chief of the Air Force.

He helped oversee the creation of the U.S. Space Force as a military service branch nested underneath the Air Force, and he most recently overcame the challenge of leading the Air Force in continued operations amid a global pandemic.

“When things are at the worse, you know Dave Goldfein is at his best,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday. “I can tell you firsthand, he's the best teammate anyone could ever ask for.”

In 1999, Goldfein was shot down while flying an F-16 fighter jet over Serbia, sparking a daring rescue that ended with him dashing to a U.S. helicopter as enemy fire exploded around him.

“After this, any mere mortal might reassess his career choice, or at least spend a few days calming jittery nerves, but not David Goldfein. The next night, the very next night, he flew another combat mission,” Barret recalled, calling Goldfein “an extraordinary warrior” and leader.