Joint Chiefs chairman nominee Gen. Brown hailed as ‘warrior’ at White House ceremony

If the U.S. Senate confirms Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown Jr., it would mark the first time Black Americans occupy the Pentagon’s top two positions.

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President Joe Biden on Thursday afternoon capped off his nomination of General Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with a White House ceremony in the Rose Garden.

During the outdoor event, with Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in attendance — the first Black Americans to serve in their respective roles — the president hailed Gen. Brown as a “warrior” who reflects the “full diversity of our nation.” 

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Brown would become only the second African American to serve as the top military official in the U.S. Armed Forces in the role’s 81-year history. It would also mark the first time that African Americans occupy the Pentagon’s top two positions. The other is defense secretary.

U.S. President Joe Biden shakes hands with Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Biden’s nominee to serve as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House May 25, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Applauding at left are Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Vice President Kamala Harris. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Brown is a U.S. Air Force four-star general and currently serves as chief of staff of the Air Force. As Biden noted in his remarks, the general is a descendant of a “proud line” of military veterans. His father, Colonel CQ Brown, served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. His grandfather, U.S. Army Master Sergeant Robert E. Brown Jr., led a segregated unit during World War II.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff plays a critical role in the U.S. military, as this individual is responsible for advising the president, the national security adviser, the Homeland Security Council and the secretary of defense on command functions.

Biden listed off Brown’s qualifications and what he would bring to the role as chairman, including more than 3,000 hours of flying experience and 130 combat hours.  

“He knows what it means to be in the thick of battle and how to keep your cool when things get hard,” said the president, who recalled the general’s F-16 catching fire in 1991 and his ability to safely return to base.

Biden also jokingly noted that Brown also “smokes a mean brisket.” 

During Thursday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told theGrio that Brown was “immensely talented” and that the president is “proud to nominate him.”

“[Brown] has already made history as our nation’s first Black service chief [of staff] and he has been an important voice helping make our armed forces more inclusive,” she said.

U.S. President Joe Biden announces his intent to nominate Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. to serve as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House May 25, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The military community, particularly Black veterans, have welcomed Brown’s appointment. “This is exciting,” Asha Castleberry-Hernandez, a former Army veteran who previously served as a national security adviser to the Obama and Biden administrations, told theGrio. “It’s definitely going to inspire young Black men to join the military and say, ‘OK, there’s equity. I do have a fair chance to go up the ranks in the military.’”

The last time a Black person was in the role of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was 30 years ago when Colin Powell served during the administration of President George W. Bush. 

Castleberry-Hernandez, also the founder of the Diversity in National Security Network (DINSN), noted that the prospect of Brown assuming the top armed forces position alongside Austin gives her “goosebumps.”

“I would never think in a million years I would see the Joint Chief of Staff and the Secretary of Defense both Black at the same time,” she said. 

Richard Brookshire, co-founder and CEO of the Black Veterans Project, said he welcomes the Biden-Harris administration’s appointment of Brown as an important move because “Black faces in high positions are important.”

However, he also pointed out that it’s “not sufficient,” citing a Black commander in chief in former President Barack Obama and now a Black defense secretary in Austin. He said “neither of which has substantively addressed the military’s race problem.”

Brookshire said he is more concerned about issues of racism and discrimination that continue to impact Black servicemen and veterans.

He explained: “Representation in and of itself hasn’t ebbed a rising white nationalist threat in the military, racism in the military justice system, which leaves Black veterans up to 2.3 times likely to exit the military without access to veterans benefits, or the economic pitfalls of our nation’s military industrial complex.”

Castleberry-Hernandez acknowledged that addressing the issue of white nationalism within the military’s ranks and disparities for Black servicemembers should remain a priority. 

She said Gen. Mark A. Milley, whose four-year term as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is coming to an end, “did a good job” in “making sure that we address white nationalism within the ranks of the military.”

She also has confidence that Brown “continues that legacy.”

In 2021, just months after the U.S. Senate confirmed him, Austin announced “immediate changes” to help counter white supremacy and right-wing extremism within the defense department. Some Republican lawmakers have criticized these efforts and accused the Biden-Harris administration of politicizing the military.

Just last week, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., criticized Austin for trying “to get out the white extremists, the white nationalists” from the U.S. military. He accused the administration of “politicizing the military so much, they’re ruining [it].”

Castleberry-Hernandez conceded that neither the nation nor the armed forces is perfect, but progress is being made. “That’s just the ugly part of what we see when it comes to the military and politics,” she said. “However, she sees historic moments like this [Brown’s potential elevation] as “the beautiful part” of where the country and the U.S. military are today. 

(Left to right) Unidentified U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division members and E4 Bobby (last name withheld) on Jan. 15, 2002, are stationed at the American military compound at Kandahar Airport in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“It tells you two different stories at the same time,” she continued. “[And] it definitely tells you that the Biden administration is standing by their word that they want to see more equity, diversity, equity inclusion when it comes to serving in the highest positions of the military.

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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