Air Force names first African American to lead military branch

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The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., head of Pacific Air Forces, to be the 22nd Air Force chief of staff and first African American to lead a branch of the U.S. military as its highest-ranking officer.

Brown, headquartered at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-

Hickam, takes over an Air Force grappling with concern over racism in the ranks and the death of George Floyd, a force stretched by lengthy desert conflicts and emerging high-tech competition with China and Russia, as well as the expectation of leaner defense budgets due to the .

The only other African American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff was Army Gen. Colin Powell, who was chairman from 1988 to 1993, according to Air Force Magazine.

In a Pacific Air Forces video, Brown, known as “CQ,” spoke of the racism that still plagues the country.

“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,” he said.

“Here’s what I’m thinking about. 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 as part of a lengthy list.

“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 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.”

Brown noted the “pressure I’ve felt to perform error-free, especially for supervisors I perceived had expected less from me as an African American.”

He also said he was “thinking about my mentors and how I rarely had a mentor that looked like me,” and the “immense expectations that come with this historic nomination, particularly through the lens of the current events plaguing our nation.”

Brown’s full commentary can be .

Also Tuesday the Air Force’s top leadership directed the Department of the Air Force Inspector General to “independently review the service’s record on military discipline and developmental opportunities for African American airmen and space professionals,” the Air Force said.

The review will “assess and capture existing racial disparities” and “assess Air Force- specific causal factors.”

The full results, “good or bad, will be shared with airmen, Department of Defense senior leaders, Congress and the public,” the Air Force said.

Brown leads 46,000 airmen serving principally in Japan, Korea, Hawaii, Alaska and Guam. He took command of Pacific Air Forces, with more than 300 assigned fighter and attack aircraft, on July 26, 2018.

The Senate voted 98-0 to confirm Brown. He is expected to take over the Air Force leadership position from the retiring Gen. David L. Goldfein on Aug. 6 at a swearing-in ceremony.

The Space Force is a separate service under the Department of the Air Force.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach was nominated last month for a fourth star to become the next commander of Pacific Air Forces.

Wilsbach currently serves as commander of 7th Air Force and deputy commander of U.S. Forces Korea.

Goldfein congratulated Brown, saying in an Air Force release, “There is no one I know who is better prepared to be chief of staff, no one who has the experience and the temperament to lead the Air Force.”

At a May 7 Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing, Brown said in written testimony, “We continue to see China and Russia increasingly challenge” the free and open international order.

“Our nation faces great challenges in the coming years as we seek to, among other things, deter the aggressive actions of near-peer competitors, maintain air, space, and cyberspace superiority, and sustain our technological advantages in an age of increased global capability,” Brown said.

Asked what he considered to be the most significant challenges he would face as chief of staff of the Air Force, Brown said, “I might have given you a different answer a few months ago, but as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, I see an emerging challenge where our strategic aspirations and our resources available may be on divergent paths driving future tough choices.”

Brown said with the demands placed on it, the Air Force is not adequately sized or resourced to meet the needs of the National Defense Strategy, which notes that “China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea.”

Specifically, the Air Force has not been able to adjust its “resource commitment” to the Middle East because it was put in the position of mitigating “short-term risk at the expense of modernization and longer-term risk,” he said.

The congressional committee noted that in September 2018, then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis ordered the Air Force and Navy to increase mission-capable rates for the F-35, F-22, F-16 and F-18 inventories to above 80% by the end of September 2019.

The panel asked what progress was made by the Air Force.

Brown said the F-16 mission-capable rate reached a high of 75% in June 2019, the F-22 mission capable rate achieved a high of 68% in April 2019 and the F-35 mission capability rate climbed to a high of 74% in September 2019.

“Maintaining aging aircraft is an extremely difficult and expensive task, while new, technologically advanced weapons systems present their own challenges,” he said.

The panel also noted the seesawing nature of Air Force personnel levels, with the active Air Force at 359,700 airmen in 2005 and 312,980 by the end of 2015. The Air Force estimated it needs 350,000 airmen, with the fiscal 2021 budget request seeking an increase to 333,700.

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