The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Gen. Charles Q. Brown to be the next Air Force chief of staff, making him the first African American leader of a military service as the Pentagon and the country grapple with a raft of racial issues.
The confirmation also makes Brown the second African American officer to sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff since Chairman Gen. Colin Powell.
The 98-to-0 vote was a blowout approval for the four-star general. Vice President Mike Pence presided over the historic vote.
President Donald Trump, who nominated Brown in March, hailed the general on Twitter.
“My decision to appoint @usairforce General Charles Brown as the USA’s first-ever African American military service chief has now been approved by the Senate,” Trump said, though the tweet came before the confirmation vote. “A historic day for America! Excited to work even more closely with Gen. Brown, who is a Patriot and Great Leader!”
Brown’s nomination had been in the works for months, yet the vote came amid nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd in police custody. Top Air Force officials led the way in speaking out over the past week and calling for dialogue on racism. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth Wright, the service’s top enlisted leader, became the first senior military official to speak out, and was followed by outgoing Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
Brown, who is currently the commander of Pacific Air Forces, delivered an emotional message Friday about his experience as a black airman.
In addition to becoming the first African American service chief, Brown will be the most senior African American Pentagon leader since Powell chaired the Joint Chiefs from 1989 to 1993.
“I’m thinking about how full I am with emotion, not just for George Floyd but for the many African Americans that have suffered the same fate as George Floyd,” Brown said. “I’m thinking about a history of racial issues and my own experiences that didn’t always sing of liberty and equality.
“Without clear-cut answers, I just want to have the wisdom and knowledge to lead during difficult times like these,” Brown said of his nomination to be the service’s top officer. “I want the wisdom and knowledge to lead, participate in and listen to necessary conversations on racism, diversity and inclusion.”
On the Senate floor, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who previously held up Brown’s nomination, praised him as “the right man at the right time.”
“He is literally on the front lines in implementing the National Defense Strategy, which has a focus on great power competition, particularly China as the pacing threat to our nation for the next 50 to 100 years,” Sullivan said. “Gen. Brown is in that battle right now, front-lines every day.”
Brown was commissioned as an Air Force officer in 1984. He is an F-16 fighter pilot and instructor who has notched more than 2,900 flying hours and 130 combat hours.
Brown has served in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. He was an aide to the Air Force secretary and chief of staff during several rotations through the Pentagon.
Prior to taking over Pacific Air Forces, Brown led U.S. Air Forces in the Middle East and was deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the region.
Brown’s nomination was approved by the Armed Services Committee in May and was confirmed after several weeks of delays.
Defense News reported that Sullivan placed a procedural hold on Brown’s nomination as he pressed the Air Force for more information about its basing decision for the new KC-46 tanker.
Sullivan has lobbied for the service to stage the new tanker at Alaska’s Eielson Air Force Base and pressed Brown on the issue at his May confirmation hearing.