President Joe Biden is expected to nominate Gen. C.Q. Brown, the Air Force’s top officer and the first Black person to lead any branch of the military, to succeed Gen. Mark Milley as the next Joint Chiefs chair, three people familiar with the discussion said on Thursday.
If confirmed, Brown would become the second Black Joint Chiefs chair in the nation’s history, after the late Colin Powell.
Biden hasn’t given Brown the official stamp, and it’s unclear when he plans to make an announcement, said the people, a Democratic lawmaker, a congressional aide and a former Defense Department official familiar with the White House’s planning, all of whom were granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
“When President Biden makes a final decision, he will inform the person selected and then announce it publicly,” a spokesperson for the National Security Council said when asked for comment. “That hasn’t happened yet.”
The former DoD official said Biden is waiting for the right time to announce a decision. After former President Donald Trump announced his plan to nominate Milley months earlier than expected, the current president wanted to get back on a more normal timeline, the former official said. The former official pointed out that then-Gen. Joseph Dunford, Milley’s predecessor, was nominated May 21, 2015.
Brown’s reputation and command experience in both the Pacific and the Middle East made him the odds-on favorite to be Milley’s heir apparent dating back to the Trump administration. But his appointment seemed less of a sure thing in recent months, as the White House seriously considered Gen. David Berger, the Marine Corps commandant, for the top job.
He rose through the ranks as the sole Black pilot in classrooms filled with white men, an experience he spoke about in an emotional video after George Floyd’s death in the summer of 2020.
Those who know Brown say he has the right experience to keep the military focused on its top priority: China. Brown’s most recent command experience was in the Pacific, as chief of Pacific Air Forces.
Brown also commanded troops in the Middle East, as head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, and was serving in Europe when Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, as a director of operations for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration at U.S. Air Forces in Europe. He was confirmed unanimously by the Senate for his current role as Air Force chief of staff in August, 2020.
Brown would be the first Air Force officer to become Joint Chiefs chair since retired Gen. Richard Myers, who held the position until 2005, an almost 20-year drought.
If confirmed to the chairmanship, Brown would become the top military adviser to a commander in chief who’s balancing the China threat with the need to equip the Ukrainian military with munitions, drones, missiles and other high-end equipment. That mission is in a state of flux, as the U.S. and other Western allies pivot from sending their own stocks of weapons to replenishing their armaments back home — all while making sure Kyiv has enough weaponry to fight off Russia in the months ahead.
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