Biden nominates Charles Q. Brown, Air Force chief, to lead Joint Chiefs of Staff

President Biden on Thursday nominated Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown to serve as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appointing him as the nation’s highest-ranking military officer at a precarious time for America’s combat troops.

At a Rose Garden ceremony announcing the nomination, Mr. Biden hailed Gen. Brown as a leader who is deeply knowledgeable and prepared for the challenges posed by China and Ukraine.

“With Gen. Brown as chairman, I know I’ll be able to rely on his advice as a military strategist and as a leader in military innovation, dedicated to keeping our armed forces the best in the world,” Mr. Biden said.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff serves as the senior military advisor to the president. If confirmed by the Senate, Gen. Brown will advise Mr. Biden on issues ranging from Russia’s war on Ukraine to China’s military aggression in the Asia-Pacific region. Either situation could emerge as the next major conflict for the U.S., making his appointment all the more critical.

“I’ll also be able to rely on him as a thoughtful, deliberate leader who was unafraid to speak his mind, as someone who will deliver an honest message that needs to be heard and will always do the right thing, even when it’s hard. That’s the number one quality a president needs in a chairman,” the president said. 

Gen. Brown previously served as commander of Pacific Air Forces, the air component of the U.S.-Pacific Command. That experience could prove invaluable as the U.S. navigates China’s expansion in the region. He has also held high-level positions in Europe and the Middle East.

He would succeed Gen. Mark A. Milley, who was appointed by President Trump in 2019. The chairman serves at the pleasure of the president for a four-year term.

Gen. Milley’s tenure ends in September, and it was tumultuous. It included the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Biden’s bungled withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and Mr. Trump’s efforts to use active-duty troops against police brutality protesters in 2020.

Gen. Milley flanked Mr. Biden and Gen. Brown at the Rose Garden ceremony, where he earned praise from the president for his “selfless commitment to our country.”

Gen. Brown would be only the second Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after Gen. Colin Powell held the position under President George H. W. Bush from 1989-1993.

With Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin serving as the first Black man in his post, the selection of Gen. Brown would mark the first time in U.S. history that two Black men held the most senior positions at the Pentagon at the same time.  

Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, Gen. Brown released an emotional video in which he expressed sorrow for “the many African Americans that suffered the same fate as George Floyd.”

Gen. Brown was serving as the commander of the Pacific Air Forces at the time of the video, which he recorded in uniform.

He discussed being one of the only African Americans at his school, in his platoon, and in leadership. It was as if he lived in “two worlds,” Gen. Brown said, ascribing questions about his qualifications to racism.

“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.

Gen. Brown also spoke about the widespread racial injustice protests that kicked off the summer of 2020, providing an assessment of what he felt he could and could not do in that 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,” Gen. Brown said 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.”

It was an extraordinary break in tradition, especially from an officer nominated by Mr. Trump to serve as the Air Force Chief. Mr. Trump was sharply critical of the protesters and bristled over the Pentagon’s refusal to deploy active-duty troops against demonstrators.

The video released shortly after Mr. Trump nominated him to serve as the Air Force chief did not cost Gen. Brown a single Senate vote in the Republican-controlled chamber. He was confirmed in an overwhelming 98-0 vote.

Mr. Biden said Thursday that the video took “real backbone” and demonstrated his “deep love of our country.”

“It struck a chord not only with our military members but with Americans all across the country,” Mr. Biden said of the video.

Gen. Brown’s nomination may be different this time around. Democrats hold a two-vote majority in the Senate, but Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Alabama Republican, is blocking Mr. Biden’s military nominees in protest over the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy.

Mr. Tuberville has also been a frequent critic of the Pentagon under Mr. Biden, arguing that it has become too “woke” and has emphasized diversity at the expense of its core mission to defend the U.S.

Gen. Brown is a longtime fighter pilot whose record includes 26 assignments during his nearly 40-year military career, according to his biography on the Air Force website. He has logged more than 3,000 flying hours, including 130 combat hours.

Commissioned in 1984 from the ROTC program at Texas Tech University, Gen. Brown has commanded a fighter squadron, two fighter wings, U.S. Air Forces Central Command, and the U.S. Air Force Weapons School.