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Biden picks Air Force Gen. CQ Brown as Joint Chiefs chairman

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today at the White House, President Biden selected Air Force General CQ Brown to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most senior member of the U.S. military.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: With General Brown as chairman, I know I'll be able to rely on his advice as a military strategist and as a leader of military innovation dedicated to keeping our armed forces the best in the world.

SHAPIRO: Brown is a combat-tested F-16 pilot with four decades of experience known in defense circles for his innovative military strategy. Outside the service, he's best known for public remarks about race in the military, as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: CQ Brown has flown thousands of hours as a fighter pilot, including 130 hours in combat and once parachuting out of a jet that caught fire after a suspected lightning strike. He's credited with changing the tactics that helped defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but that, like all the wars since Korea, was a battlefield where the U.S. had complete control of the air. In 2021, he told the National Press Club that wouldn't always be the case.

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C Q BROWN: China's armed forces will be fully modernized by 2035 and be world-class by 2050. China continues to move that modernization timeline left with its rate of change outpacing the United States.

LAWRENCE: To adapt, Brown has pushed for the military to streamline its bureaucracy and also increase recruitment by attracting Americans from more diverse backgrounds. Brown was the first Black man to lead a branch of the military as Air Force chief, and in 2020, he felt compelled to speak publicly about race.

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BROWN: 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.

LAWRENCE: George Floyd's death at the hands of police had sparked nationwide protests, and CQ Brown put out this video despite his pending nomination by the Trump administration for Air Force chief.

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BROWN: 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. I'm thinking about a history of racial issues in my own experiences that didn't always sing of liberty and equality.

LAWRENCE: Brown's video was widely shared on social media. Just four days later, he was confirmed 98 to 0 by the Senate. Today President Biden said he'd rely on Brown to be unafraid to speak his mind and do the right thing when it's hard. Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.