Hawaii-Based General Confirmed As First Black Air Force Chief Of Staff
Gen. Charles Brown, the current commander of the Pacific Air Forces, accepted the nomination just days after speaking out on institutional racism and the national protests triggered by the killing of George Floyd.
The U.S. Senate unanimously voted Tuesday to confirm Gen. Charles Brown, the current commander of the Pacific Air Forces at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, as the next Air Force Chief of Staff and the U.S. military’s first black service chief.
Brown’s historic appointment comes after the death of George Floyd sparked ongoing protests against police brutality and institutional racism both across the mainland and in Hawaii.
President Donald Trump tweeted praising his decision to appoint Brown and calling his confirmation a “historic day for America,” as Brown becomes the nation’s first African American service chief. However, he’s not the first black officer to serve as one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Retired general Colin Powell previously made history as the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military’s most senior active duty position. Correction: In an earlier version of the story, Colin Powell was inaccurately described as the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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. A historic day for America! Excited to work even more closely with Gen. Brown, who is a Patriot and Great Leader!
The general’s confirmation comes just days after he spoke out on the police killing of Floyd. Last Thursday, PACAF released a video in which Brown gave an emotional address on his personal reaction to Floyd’s death and his reflections on his own experiences with racism.
“I’m thinking about how full I am with emotion not just for George Floyd, but the many African Americans that have suffered the same fate as George Floyd,” Brown said. “I’m thinking about protests in ‘my country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty,’ the equality expressed in our Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution that I’ve sworn my adult life to support and defend,” Brown said.
“I’m thinking about a history of racial issues and my own experiences that didn’t always sing of liberty and equality. I’m thinking about living in two worlds, each with their own perspective and views.”
The general’s voice cracked as he spoke about his firsthand experiences in the Air Force. “I’m thinking about my Air Force career where I was often the only African American in my squadron or as a senior officer, the only African American in the room,” Brown said. “I’m thinking about wearing the same flight suit with the same wings on my chest as my peers and then being questioned by another military member, ‘… are you a pilot?'”
"As the Commander of Pacific Air Forces, a senior leader in our Air Force, and an African-American, many of you may be wondering what I’m thinking about the current events surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd. Here’s what I’m thinking about…" – Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. pic.twitter.com/I2sf1067L6
“I’m thinking about my historic nomination to be the first African American to serve as the Air Force Chief of Staff. I’m thinking about the African Americans that went before me to make this opportunity possible,” the general continued. “I’m thinking about the immense expectations that come with this historic nomination, particularly through the lens of the current events plaguing our Nation.”
Brown concluded the video by telling airmen, “I want to hear what you’re thinking about, and how together we can make a difference.”
Several other senior military leaders have publicly spoken out about the protests and asked for input from service members and their families, including the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, the flying branch’s senior enlisted man.
Wright, an African American, proclaimed on his official social media accounts “I am George Floyd” and that his greatest fear is “that I will wake up to a report that one of our Black Airmen has died at the hands of a white police officer.”
When Brown arrives at the Pentagon, Wright will serve as his senior enlisted adviser.
Brown has commanded PACAF in Hawaii since July 2018 where he oversaw all Air Force operations in Hawaii, Guam, Japan and Korea.
Lt. Get. Kenneth Wilsbach, a decorated pilot who flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and who currently serves as deputy commander of U.S. forces in Korea, will succeed Brown at Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.
Kevin Knodell reported on the military and veterans for Civil Beat as a corps member for Report For America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported topics.