Gen. Charles Flynn, the new commander of U.S. Army Pacific, is a respected officer who supporters say is the right leader to oversee much-needed changes to the 90,000-strong force as it faces rising tensions with China. But he takes the helm under the shadow of controversy over his older brother’s extreme political views.
The four-star general, who enjoys bipartisan support, has distanced himself from remarks by his brother, Michael Flynn, a conspiracy theorist who served as national security adviser in Donald Trump’s administration and was pardoned by the former president after being convicted of lying to the FBI.
“General Flynn has served our country with great distinction for three-and-a-half decades,” U.S. Rep. Ed Case, a Hawaii Democrat, said in an email. “He has proven fully capable of separating duty and family.”
During a change of command ceremony on Friday at Fort Shafter, Flynn stressed the need to focus on transforming the military as the Pentagon winds down operations in Afghanistan and shifts its sights to the Pacific.
“Today, as China trends on an increasingly concerning path, presenting challenge to the free and open Pacific, the Army is charged to change once more,” Flynn said. Media weren’t allowed to attend the ceremony, but it was livestreamed.
The general also emphasized the importance of learning about other cultures, working with civilian leaders and promoting human rights. He called the protection of “freedom of ideas and expression, freedom for people” a central part of his mission.
Case, who attended the ceremony, told Civil Beat that he met with Flynn in April and was impressed with the general’s knowledge of Hawaii’s history and challenges the islands currently face.
“I believe our country is fortunate that he is leading USARPAC during such a critical time for the Indo-Pacific, and our Hawaii will benefit from his continued full partnership in our community,” the congressman said.
Gen. Flynn, 57, comes from a Rhode Island family with a tradition of military service. His father was a veteran of the Battle of The Bulge and his grandfather served in World War I. Flynn received his commission as an infantry officer through the University of Rhode Island’s Army ROTC program in 1985.
As a company commander in the Army’s elite 2nd Ranger Battalion, Flynn served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War as well as a 1994 military intervention that restored Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti. He later deployed several times to Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been stationed several times in Hawaii.
In 2014, Flynn assumed command of the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks as then President Barack Obama began to implement his strategy to shift the focus of forces from the Middle East to East Asia.
Flynn traveled extensively around the region and hosted foreign troops and leaders in Hawaii as part of the Army’s then-new Pacific Pathways Program, which encouraged joint training and exchanges between American units and militaries in Asia.
He was promoted to deputy commanding general of USARPAC at Fort Shafter in 2016, then moved to a job at the Pentagon as the deputy chief of staff for U.S. Army operations two years later.
On Friday, he assumed command of the theater from Gen. Paul LaCamera, who will move on to lead U.S. forces in South Korea.
The Army has increasingly focused on strengthening relationships around the region through Pacific Pathways and expanding advising missions. It has also put emphasis on cyber warfare, new ballistic missiles and drones while working more closely with other branches of the military.
Flynn also will be at the forefront of efforts to maintain influence over other Pacific islands and territories as China increasingly seeks a foothold.
Over the summer, U.S. soldiers stationed in Alaska practiced a rapid deployment, with Air Force planes parachuting them into Guam in a mock attack. Some commanders also believe the Army could play a key role in helping the Taiwanese military repel a potential invasion, and nearby Palau recently invited the U.S. military to build permanent bases there.
The Pentagon submitted Flynn’s nomination for promotion to four star general to the U.S. Senate in November and lawmakers confirmed it in a bipartisan vote in December. Throughout the process he has continued to receive bipartisan support.
Following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, Flynn found himself in the middle of criticism over a conference call during which Capitol Police asked the Army to dispatch National Guardsmen to help with the chaos. Some Pentagon officials reportedly worried that the deployment would inflame the situation.
Flynn was in the room for part of the call, but Army officials initially lied to reporters in an apparent effort to avoid the spread of conspiracy theories.
In the aftermath of the divisive 2020 election Michael Flynn had suggested that Trump deploy troops to “rerun” the election under military supervision. This would later fuel speculation on social media and by commentators that the brothers had conspired to prevent troops from responding.
Charles Flynn gave an account to The Washington Post, saying that he entered the room after the call had already begun and left before it was over, assuming that the order to deploy troops was imminent. He categorically denied that his relationship with his brother had any role in the deliberations about the rioting.
Former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told the Post that “it is incredibly awkward for (Flynn) every day for what is going on with him and his brother, but he puts his head down, and he is locked in to serve the Constitution.”
Adm. John Aquilino, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, seemingly referenced the controversy during the ceremony on Friday when he told Flynn he would love his new job at Shafter because it’s “10,000 miles away from D.C.,” evoking laughs from the audience.
Even Flynn’s promotion came after his brother again made headlines for Memorial Day remarks at a political rally in Texas that were interpreted as an endorsement of a Myanmar-style coup in the United States. Michael Flynn later claimed it was a misunderstanding.
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