Joint Chiefs Pick Has Had a Career of Firsts

Biden selects Gen. CQ Brown Jr., an Air Force fighter pilot
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 25, 2023 6:55 PM CDT
Biden Makes Joint Chiefs Pick
In this image provided by the Air Force, Col. CQ Brown Jr., pilots an aircraft at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, in 2006.   (U.S. Air Force via AP)

The Air Force fighter pilot tapped to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff got his call sign by ejecting from a burning F-16 fighter jet high above the Florida Everglades and falling into the watery sludge below. It was January 1991, and then-Capt. CQ Brown Jr. had just enough time in his parachute above alligator-full wetlands for a thought to pop into his head. "Hope there's nothing down there," Gen. Brown said in an interview at the Aspen Security Forum last year. He landed in the muck, which coated his body and got "in his boots and everything." Which is how the nominee to be the country's next top military officer got his call sign: "Swamp Thing."

President Biden announced he was nominating Brown during a Rose Garden event on Thursday, the AP reports, praising him as an "unflappable and highly effective leader." If confirmed, Brown, now a four-star general and the Air Force chief, would replace Army Gen. Mark Milley, whose term ends in October. The call sign reveal was a rare inner look into Brown, who keeps his cards close to his chest. He's spent much of his career as one of the Air Force's top aviators, one of its few Black pilots, and often one of the only African Americans in his squadron. His core tenets are to "execute at a high standard, personally and professionally," Brown said this month at an Air Force Association conference. "I do not play for second place. If I'm in, I'm in to win—I do not play to lose."

Biden referenced Brown's comments in his praise. "He plays to win, and that's obvious," the president said, with Brown by his side. "That mindset is going to be an enormous asset to me as commander in chief of the United States of America as we navigate challenges in the coming years." Brown has been many firsts, including the Air Force's first Black commander of the Pacific Air Forces and its first Black chief of staff, making him the first African American to lead any of the military branches. If confirmed, he would be part of another first—the first time the Pentagon's top two posts were held by African Americans, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin the top civilian leader. Brown would not be the first Black chairman, the Pentagon's top military post; that distinction went to the late Army Gen. Colin Powell.

(More CQ Brown Jr. stories.)

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