WASHINGTON - An African American officer will now lead a U.S. military service branch for the first time in history, after the Senate confirmed Gen. Charles Brown Jr. on Tuesday as U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff in a unanimous vote of 98-0.
Prior to his confirmation, Brown served as the commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, responsible for Air Force activities in the U.S. and Indo-Pacific Command theater spread over half the globe.
He also served as the deputy commander for U.S. Central Command, which overseas 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.
Brown’s historic confirmation comes as the country is engulfed in protests over racial and social injustice after African American George Floyd died in police custody last month.
“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 Friday in a video to the Air Force.
"As the Commander of Pacific Air Forces, a senior leader in our Air Force, and an African-American, many of you may be wondering what I’m thinking about the current events surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd. Here’s what I’m thinking about..." - Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. pic.twitter.com/I2sf1067L6— PACAF (@PACAF) June 5, 2020
In the video, Brown said he hoped for the wisdom and knowledge to lead in these “difficult times” and to make improvements “so that all airmen both today and tomorrow appreciate the value of diversity and can serve in an environment where they can reach their full potential.”
He spoke candidly about his own experiences of racism, which he said “didn't always sing of liberty and equality,” from being asked, “Are you a pilot?” as he wore the same flight suit and flight wings as the other white pilots in his squadron, to being told by other African Americans that he “wasn’t black enough” since he was spending more time with his squadron than with them.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, called Brown an “inspiring leader — brave, authentic, and unifying” — whose expertise in the Indo-Pacific theater will be an asset as the military turns more of its focus toward that part of the globe.
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. (Ret.) Mike Mullen, called Brown’s confirmation Tuesday “a big step in the right direction,” but he worried about a shrinking pool of African American leaders in the U.S. military.
“I left some eight-and-a-half years ago, and I worry a great deal that we've regressed since that time because the numbers just aren't there,” he said.
Brown, an F-16 fighter jet pilot, has flown nearly 3,000 hours and 130 combat hours during his more than 35 years of service. He was commissioned in 1984 as a distinguished graduate of the ROTC program at Texas Tech University.
Brown was nominated March 2 to replace Gen. David Goldfein, who is expected to retire in the coming weeks from the top Air Force job. 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.