President Joe Biden announced his nomination of Air Force chief of staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Thursday, saying he could “think of no one better suited or more qualified to lead our forces.”
“Gen. Brown is a warrior, descended from a proud line of warriors. His father, a US Army colonel, CQ Brown, served in Vietnam. His grandfather, US Army Master Sgt. Robert E. Brown Jr. led a segregated unit in WWII,” Biden said, adding later that Brown is a “fearless leader and unyielding patriot.”
The unveiling followed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recommendation to pick Brown as the military’s next top officer, a defense official said. If confirmed, it would be the first time in US history that both of the Defense Department’s top leaders – the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs – are African American.
The Joint Chiefs chairman is the country’s most senior ranking military officer, who serves as the principal military adviser to the president of the United States, secretary of defense and National Security Council.
Brown, who goes by CQ, would be taking over from Army Gen. Mark Milley who has been in the seat since his nomination in 2019. In 2020, Brown became the first Black service chief in US military history. He was confirmed as chief of the Air Force in a 98-0 vote. Brown would be the second Black man to serve as the Joint Chiefs chairman, following Gen. Colin Powell who served from 1989 to 1993.
The typically reserved Brown made headlines in 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd. Brown released a moving, deeply personal video in which he said he was “full with emotion” for “the many African Americans that have suffered the same fate as George Floyd.”
Brown, who was serving as the commander of Pacific Air Forces at the time, recorded the video in uniform.
He outlined being one of the only African Americans at his school and often the only African American in his platoon, and later, in leadership.
“I’m thinking about the pressure I felt to perform error-free, especially for supervisors I perceived had expected less of me as an African American. I’m thinking about having to represent by working twice as hard to prove their expectations and perceptions of African Americans were invalid,” he said.
Brown spoke honestly about the issues the US was facing at the time, with widespread protests about racial injustice, and he was frank about what he could do – and what he couldn’t – in his position.
“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,” said Brown in the video. “I’m thinking about how I can make improvements personally, professionally, and institutionally, 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.”
Brown’s nomination, however, could join more than 200 other senior military nominations which are currently being held up in the Senate.
Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama has been holding senior military officer nominations in protest of the Defense Department’s reproductive health policies, which, among other things, allows leave time for service members and military dependents who must travel to receive an abortion because of the state they are stationed in.
Tuberville’s spokesman, Steven Stafford, confirmed that the hold would apply to Brown’s nomination, but said that the senator “has a great deal of respect” for Brown and “looks forward to voting on his nomination.” It’s unclear when the hold will be lifted.
Defense officials, including Austin, have repeatedly said that the hold will have serious impacts on national security.
In a letter to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts earlier this month, Austin said the hold on senior military leaders in particular, such as those who make up the Joint Chiefs, would cause the US to “incur an unnecessary and unprecedented degree of risk at a moment when our adversaries may seek to test our resolve.”
Brown commissioned in 1984 from the ROTC Program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. According to his official biography, he has commanded a fighter squadron, two fighter wings, US Air Forces Central Command and the US Air Force Weapons School.
Most recently, before becoming the Air Force chief of staff, Brown served as the commander of Pacific Air Forces – the air component of US Indo-Pacific Command.
Biden said that experience around the world gave Brown “unmatched first hand knowledge of our operational theaters and a strategic vision to understand how they all work together to ensure security for the American people.”
In a statement praising Brown’s nomination on Thursday, Austin called the Air Force general “an inspiring and effective leader and a man of deep integrity and compassion.”
“Throughout his career, he has insisted on doing right by his teammates and their families,” Austin said. “As Chief of Staff of the Air Force—and the first Black leader of a U.S. military service—he has worked hard to draw upon the strength and talents of all of the American people and to give our service members and their loved ones the support that they deserve.”
This story have been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed reporting.