Col. CQ Brown, Jr., pilots an aircraft at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., in 2006. Brown served as Weapons School Commandant from July 2005 to May 2007 at Nellis Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force)
WASHINGTON — The Air Force fighter pilot about to be nominated as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff got his callsign 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," 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 callsign: "Swamp Thing."
Brown, now a four-star general and the Air Force chief, will be nominated by President Joe Biden on Thursday. If confirmed, Brown would replace Army Gen. Mark Milley, whose term ends in October. Biden is scheduled to unveil Brown as his pick during a Rose Garden event on Thursday afternoon.
The callsign reveal was a rare inner look into Brown, who keeps his cards close to his chest. He's spent much of his career being 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.
To this day, his core tenets are to "execute at a high standard, personally and professionally," Brown said this month at an Air Force Association conference in Colorado. "I do not play for second place. If I'm in, I'm in to win — I do not play to lose."
He's been many firsts, including the Air Force's first Black commander of the Pacific Air Forces, and most recently 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 African American to be chairman, the Pentagon's top military post; that distinction went to the late Army Gen. Colin Powell.
Brown, 60, has commanded the nation's air power at all levels. Born in San Antonio, he is from a family of Army soldiers. His grandfather led a segregated Army unit in World War II and his father was an artillery officer and Vietnam War veteran. Brown grew up on several military bases and states, which helped instill in him a sense of mission.
His nomination caps a four-decade military career that spans his commission as a distinguished ROTC graduate from Texas Tech University in 1984 to his White House nomination this week. He was widely viewed within military circles as the frontrunner for the chairmanship, with the right commands and a track record of driving institutional change, attributes seen as needed to push the Pentagon onto a more modern footing to meet China's rise.
For the past two years Brown has pressed "Accelerate, Change or Lose" within the Air Force. The campaign very much has China in mind, pushing the service to shed legacy warplanes and speed its efforts to counter hypersonics, drones and space weapons, where the military's lingering Cold War-era inventory does not match up.
In person, Brown is private, thoughtful and deliberate. He is seen as a contrast to Milley, who has remained outspoken throughout his tenure, often to the ire of former President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers.
"He's not prone to blurt out something without some serious thought in his own mind, some serious kind of balancing of the opportunities or options," said retired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley, who knows Brown from when Brown worked for him as a member of the Air Staff.
Brown has more than 3,000 flying hours and repeat assignments to the Air Force Weapons School — an elite aerial fighting school similar to the Navy's TOPGUN. Only about 1% of Air Force fighter pilots are accepted, Moseley said.
When Brown had to eject from the burning F-16 in 1991, after the fuel tank broke off mid-flight, he said the timing couldn't have been worse.
"I was a bit frustrated because it happened just before the selection for weapons school," he said at the Aspen forum. He said he had to apply three times before he got in, noting that it's "pretty competitive."
But he rose to the top there, too, earning a spot as an instructor, "which is like 1% of the 1%," Moseley said.
Brown returned to the weapons school as its commandant. By then it had expanded from fighter-only exclusivity to teaching combined airpower operations, with tankers, bombers and cargo planes.
Brown saw that the school "required a different approach and attitude," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Bill Rew. Earlier commandants had tried to institute a new mantra, "Humble, Approachable, Credible," but it had not taken root.
Under Brown the cultural shift took hold and remains in place today, said Rew, who was one of Brown's instructors at the weapons school and wing commander during Brown's time as commandant.
"It takes a certain kind of leadership, that doesn't force cultural change on people but explains it and motivates them on why that change is important," Rew said.
In June 2020, Brown was just a week from being confirmed by the Senate to serve as chief of staff of the Air Force when he felt the need to speak out on George Floyd's murder.
It was risky and inopportune time for the general to draw public attention and pull back the curtain on his private thoughts. But he did so anyway, after discussions with his wife and sons about the murder, which convinced him he needed to say something.
In a June 2020 video message to the service titled "Here's What I'm Thinking About," Brown described how he'd pressured himself "to perform error-free" as a pilot and officer his whole life, but still faced bias. He said he'd been questioned about his credentials, even when he wore the same flight suit and wings as every other pilot.
It's been 30 years since Powell became the first Black chairman, serving from 1989 to 1993. But while African Americans make up 17.2% of the 1.3 million active-duty service members, only 9% of officers are Black, according to a 2021 Defense Department report.
"I'm thinking about my mentors and how I rarely had a mentor that looked like me," Brown said in the video.
"I'm thinking about how my nomination provides some hope, but also comes with a heavy burden — 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.
"I'm thinking about how I can make improvements, personally, professionally and institutionally," so all airmen could excel.
His decision to speak out did not cost him. His Senate confirmation vote was 98-0.
But like the brief moment in Aspen, the personal video message was a rarity. After confirmation, he lowered his public profile again, and got to work.
- Biden picks history-making Air Force fighter pilot to serve as next Joint Chiefs chairman
President Joe Biden has nominated Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. to succeed Army Gen. Mark A. Milley as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.How long does the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff serve? ›
|Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff|
|Seat||The Pentagon, Arlington County, Virginia|
|Nominator||Secretary of Defense|
|Appointer||The President with Senate advice and consent|
|Term length||4 years, Not renewable|
The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the nation's second-highest-ranking military officer, responsible for overseeing joint military requirements, representing the military in National Security Council deputies meetings, and performing other duties as directed by the chairman.How many 4 star generals are there? ›
The U.S. Code explicitly limits the total number of four-star officers that may be on active duty at any given time. The total number of active-duty general or flag officers is capped at 218 for the Army, 149 for the Navy, 170 for the Air Force, 62 for the Marine Corps, and 21 for the Space Force.What is the world military ranking in 2023? ›
In GFP 2023, the United States is ranked as the top military power in the world with a score of 0.0712 which was 0.0718 in the previous year. The second and third most powerful militaries are Russia and China with a score of 0.0714 and 0.0722 which were 0.0791 and 0.084 last year respectively.Who is the highest ranking military Commander in the U.S. armed forces? ›
General Mark A. Milley is the 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation's highest-ranking military officer, and the principal military advisor to the President, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Council.How many years of service does general Milley have? ›
|Born||June 20, 1958 Winchester, Massachusetts, U.S.|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1980–present|
The Chairman, while so serving, holds the grade of general or admiral and outranks all other officers of the Armed Forces. The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs performs duties assigned by the Chairman, with the approval of the Secretary of Defense.Can the President fire military generals? ›
In any event, if an officer (especially one who had been a three or four-star general) is relieved from his or her position and reverts to the lower rank of major general and still refuses to request retirement, the President may be able to dismiss the officer from the armed forces entirely.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the nation's highest-ranking military officer and the principal military advisor to the president, the secretary of defense and the National Security Council.Who are the 6 members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? ›
The Joint Chiefs of Staff consist of the Chairman, the Vice Chairman, the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau and the Chief of Space Operations.How much does the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs make? ›
While serving as the chairman or vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chief of staff of the Army, commandant of the Marine Corps, Chief of Naval Operations, chief of staff of the Air Force, or commandant of the Coast Guard, the salary is $15,583.20 a month, regardless of cumulative years of service completed ...Does Chief of Staff have Secret Service? ›
The Secret Service provides protection to the White House Chief of Staff, in addition to the president and vice president, among others. The White House Chief of Staff also has the highest level of security clearance, called Yankee White, which entitles them to all classified national security information.Where does the Joint Chief of Staff live? ›
Since 1962 Quarters Six has been the official residence of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Constructed in 1908, the same year that Orville Wright made the world's first military test flight at Fort Myer, the quarters was originally a duplex designed to house two junior officers and their fami- lies.Who is the only 7 star general? ›
No person have ever been awarded or promoted to a seven-star rank, although some commentators might argue that General George Washington posthumously became a seven-star general in 1976 (see Part Seven).What is the most secret military unit? ›
SOG is considered the most secretive special operations force within the United States, with fewer than 100 operators. The group generally recruits personnel from special mission units within the U.S. Special Operations community.Who were the only 6 star generals? ›
Grant joins George Washington and John J. Pershing as the only generals to achieve the rank. This honor has been informally referred to as being a "six-star general." The highest official star rank in the U.S. Army is a five-star general, called the General of the Army.Who will have the strongest military in 2030? ›
- 1 100.0 — United States. $ 977 Bn 2030.
- 2 54.4 China. $ 531 Bn 2030.
- 3 18.8 India. $ 183 Bn 2030.
- 4 12.6 Russia. $ 123 Bn 2030.
- 5 8.4 South Korea. $ 82.4 Bn 2030.
- 6 6.4 Japan. $ 62.9 Bn 2030.
- 7 4.5 — Australia. $ 44.4 Bn 2030.
- 8 3.9 — Pakistan. $ 37.8 Bn 2030.
|#||Country||Number of Active Military Personnel (2022)|
|1||People's Republic of China||2,035,000|
|3||United States of America||1,395,350|
A total of 145 world powers are considered For the 2023 GFP review. The Global Firepower Index, 2023, puts the US at the top, Russia at the second spot, China at No. 3, and India at No. 4. IAS aspirants can also refer to the Global Indices & India's Ranking in the same for the year 2023 at the linked article.How much does a 4 star general get paid? ›
Regardless of continued time in service, once a military officer achieves the four-star rank of general or admiral, they will no longer receive pay raises and are capped at $16,974 per month.How much does a 5 star general make? ›
He is also the only person to have ever held a five-star rank in two branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. These officers who held the rank of General of the Army remained officers of the United States Army for life, with an annual $20,000 in pay and allowances, equivalent to $332,000 in 2022.What is the president's military rank? ›
Under the Constitution, the President as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy is the supreme military commander charged with the responsibility of protecting and defending the United States.What is the mandatory retirement age for military generals? ›
Mandatory Retirement Ages
Each branch of military service has its own cutoff ages for mandatory retirement and Title 10, USC lists a maximum age for certain positions such as Warrant Officers. In general age 64 is the oldest retirement age for certain officers in general or flag officer grades.
In 2023, General Mark Milley will retire, and some have an idea as to who should next fill the role.What is the max age to be general officer? ›
Age: At least 17, but under 31 in the year of commissioning as an Officer.Do Joint Chiefs of Staff have executive authority? ›
Today, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have no executive authority to command combatant forces, but they do work together to organize, train and equip the Joint Force.What authority does a chairman of the Joint Chiefs have? ›
—(1) The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the principal military adviser to the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense.Is the secretary of defense above the chairman of the Joint Chiefs? ›
DOD's Top Leaders
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the principal military advisor to the president and the secretary of defense. The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the next highest ranking military leader.
Generals are nominated for the appointment by the President from any eligible officers holding the rank of brigadier general or above who meet the requirements for the position, with the advice of the Secretary of Defense, service secretary (Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy, or Secretary of the Air Force), ...Do military generals have to be approved by Congress? ›
The Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives the U.S. Senate the right to confirm or reject the nomination of any officer of the United States.Do military officers serve at the pleasure of the president? ›
Military officers are the leaders of the military, and instead of enlisting in the sense that enlisted military men and women do, they are commissioned officers who serve indefinitely at the pleasure of the President of the United States.Which of the following is not a responsibility of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? ›
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may transmit communications to the commanders of the combatant commands from the President and Secretary of Defense but does not exercise military command over any combatant forces.Is Chief of Staff the highest position? ›
What Does a Chief of Staff Do? The chief of staff is an executive position that supports other, more senior, executives in their roles. The chief of staff will often support the top executive and assist in overseeing the internal operations of a company.Which President was the first commander in chief of the U.S. military? ›
George Washington, a leader of the revolutionary movement in Virginia, a former commander of Virginia's frontier forces, and a British colonial army officer, was commissioned "commander-in-chief of the army of the United Colonies of all the forces raised and to be raised by them" on June 19, 1775, by the Continental ...WHO WAS LAST 5 star general? ›
The five-star ranks were retired in 1981 on the death of General of the Army Omar Bradley. Nine Americans have been promoted to five-star rank, one of them, Henry H. Arnold, in two services (U.S. Army then later in the U.S. Air Force).How many black 4 star generals are there? ›
Gen. Michael Langley was promoted to the rank of general in a ceremony Saturday, becoming the first Black four-star general in the military branch's 246-year history.Who is the highest ranking female military officer? ›
- Adm. Linda Fagan, Coast Guard commandant
- Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, commander of U.S. Transportation Command (Air Force)
- Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command (Army)
- Adm. Lisa Franchetti, vice chief of Naval Operations (Navy)
The chief reports directly to the secretary of the Army for army matters and assists in the Secretary's external affairs functions, including presenting and enforcing army policies, plans, and projections.
General Mark A. Milley is the 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation's highest-ranking military officer, and the principal military advisor to the President, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Council.Is Chief of Staff a high rank? ›
A Chief of Staff or Executive Assistant is a high-ranking professional who typically has extensive experience in administrative work.Who is the only 6 star general? ›
Grant joins George Washington and John J. Pershing as the only generals to achieve the rank. This honor has been informally referred to as being a "six-star general." The highest official star rank in the U.S. Army is a five-star general, called the General of the Army.How much do 4 star generals make? ›
Regardless of continued time in service, once a military officer achieves the four-star rank of general or admiral, they will no longer receive pay raises and are capped at $16,974 per month.Can the president fire military generals? ›
In any event, if an officer (especially one who had been a three or four-star general) is relieved from his or her position and reverts to the lower rank of major general and still refuses to request retirement, the President may be able to dismiss the officer from the armed forces entirely.How many 5 star generals are there? ›
The five-star ranks were retired in 1981 on the death of General of the Army Omar Bradley. Nine Americans have been promoted to five-star rank, one of them, Henry H. Arnold, in two services (U.S. Army then later in the U.S. Air Force).Who is the current highest ranking military officer? ›
As chairman, Milley is the highest-ranking officer in the United States Armed Forces and the principal military advisor to the president of the United States, the secretary of defense, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council.Where do the Joint Chiefs of Staff live? ›
Since 1962 Quarters Six has been the official residence of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Constructed in 1908, the same year that Orville Wright made the world's first military test flight at Fort Myer, the quarters was originally a duplex designed to house two junior officers and their fami- lies.What is the chain of command in the military? ›
Military chain of command
In a military context, the chain of command is the line of authority and responsibility along which orders are passed within a military unit and between different units. In simpler terms, the chain of command is the succession of leaders through which command is exercised and executed.
For instance, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is considered the most senior officer of the entire United States military, even though it is possible that contemporaries of the same rank may have earlier dates of rank or longer time in service.
|Master chief petty officer|
|Rank||Enlisted rank Petty officer|
|Next higher rank||Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy|
|Next lower rank||Senior Chief Petty Officer|