Brown cited as examples the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-Black unit of fighter pilots in World War II; Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who commanded them and went on to become a general; Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen; and Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., the first Black four-star general in U.S. military history.
Seated in the audience as a special guest was Edward Dwight Jr., a former Air Force test pilot who became the nation’s first African American astronaut candidate. Brown called him “quite an inspiration."
Brown, 58, takes over after assignments that span the world, and was confirmed by the Senate with a 98-to-0 vote. For the past two years, he has commanded Pacific Air Forces, overseeing operations from a headquarters in Hawaii. He previously served as the deputy commanding general of all U.S. military forces in the Middle East, and as the top Air Force general in the Middle East, where he oversaw the air war against the Islamic State.
Brown, speaking to a group of guests that included Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett and the retiring Air Force chief, Gen. David L. Goldfein, said that he is committed to facing present challenges for the Air Force while preparing for the future.
“You can expect my leadership to be framed by the same four core tenets that I have used throughout my career: executive at a high standard, be disciplined in execution, pay attention to details and have fun,” he said.
The military has had several Black four-star generals in the past, including Army Gen. Colin L. Powell, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush. But no Black officer had ever run a military service branch as chief before Brown.
Thursday’s ceremony had a smaller crowd than customary as a new service chief takes over because of the coronavirus pandemic, but still included scores of guests and dignitaries. President Trump did not attend, but he and Vice President Pence swore Brown in separately in an Oval Office event Tuesday, during which the president called him a “great gentlemen” and a “great man.”
Brown replaces Goldfein, who served as Air Force chief for more than four years. Goldfein was recommended as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by former defense secretary Jim Mattis before Trump selected Army Gen. Mark A. Milley.
Goldfein said that he “could not be prouder that a true warrior, leader and personal friend” will make his first walk into the Pentagon as Air Force chief on Friday.
Milley called Goldfein one of the finest officers he has ever served with, and said he is looking forward to working with Brown.
“In CQ, we have all that is good about America,” Milley said. “He not only represents exceptional competence, as well, and strategic intellect and impeccable character. But in CQ, we see that America can be a better place."
Esper said that Brown is highly qualified to be the next Air Force chief, and highlighted his past roles.
“General Brown, the lessons you learned and the experience you gained in each and every assignment will help you excel in this new role, I am sure,” Esper said. “And I know you will do so while inspiring and leading our nation’s airmen.”