A former F-16 pilot who earned the nickname “Swamp Thing” after he plunged into the Florida Everglades when his plane was struck by lightning took over as Joe Biden’s top military adviser on Sunday.
Gen. CQ Brown is taking over the role of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the distinguished and distinguished Mark Milley at a time when air defenses have become critical in the war in Ukraine and as the United States confronts China.
Current and former colleagues expect that Brown, who is more soft-spoken than Milley, will work to keep the military out of the political fray after a strained relationship between his predecessor and former president Donald Trump.
“CQ has always been careful about that and I would expect a little bit, he understands the role of the military in the republic and I think he will do it well,” said Heather Wilson, who was the secretary of the Air Force from 2017 to 2019.
Milley was instrumental in organizing aid to Ukraine and helping US president Joe Biden connect the needle between helping Ukraine and avoiding war with Russia.
But his tenure was fraught with controversy when, in 2020, he accompanied then-president Trump in a televised march from the White House through Lafayette Square in uniform during violent protests after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. The scene was heavily criticized as a photo after the authorities used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the protesters from the area.
Milley later apologized and has repeatedly reiterated his commitment to keeping the military out of politics. But while his supporters praise Milley for navigating Trump’s efforts to promote democracy and the rule of law, detractors say he was too political in the role. After breaking up with Trump, Milley developed a close relationship with Biden.
Brown, who will be the second African American to become the top military officer, also had time to define the legacy during the 2020 protests after Floyd’s death. Days before Congress voted on his promotion to become the Air Force’s first black chief of staff, provided a video in which he spoke emotionally about the protests and challenges he faced as a black man in the US military.
Brown will hold the post for four years, meaning he could also serve under Trump, the Republican front-runner, if he wins the 2024 election.
Before Milley’s retirement, Trump made a statement on his Social Truth platform suggesting the general be killed for backtracking on contacts with China at the end of his administration. Milley has denied any wrongdoing in the phone calls, where he allegedly assured his People’s Liberation Army counterpart that the United States would not attack China.
Milley told it 60 minutes this week he will “take appropriate measures to ensure my safety and the safety of my family”.
At Brown’s swearing-in on Friday, Milley said: “We are not swearing in a wannabe dictator . . . And we are not easily caught.”
Milley will be remembered as brash, outspoken and brash, while Brown is known as an introvert. Current and former colleagues say he is often the last to speak at meetings.
“He’s someone who takes it all in and then makes a decision and he’s not quick to tell you what he’s thinking right away because he wants to know what you’re thinking first,” said Deborah Lee James, secretary of the Air Force from 2013 to 2017, who worked closely with especially with Brown when he was conducting air combat in the campaign against ISIS.
Brown appreciates openness and often tells his colleagues that he wants to have “meeting after meeting”, said Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, director of the Air Force Staff.
“(Brown) doesn’t want us to be in a situation where we’re claiming things after the fact because someone was withholding information,” he said.
A former commander of the Pacific Air Forces, Brown will become the top US military officer in 2027 – the year Xi Jinping has ordered China to be ready to invade Taiwan, although some US military leaders have predicted it could happen as early as 2025.
As head of the Air Force he pushed for changes in how the service prepares for a possible war against China, which he called “Accelerate Change or Lose”. He has tried to move quickly to restructure the Air Force and move away from using outdated aircraft that he and other leaders see as unfit for future wars.
During trips as an Air Force chief of staff, usually in a C-37 business jet, Brown liked to get into the cockpit and take off and land, aides said. He told an audience at Auburn University earlier this year that his wife, a frequent travel partner, got to judge his performance.
Brown grew up in a military family and credits his father, a retired colonel who served in Vietnam, with encouraging him to apply for a reserve officer training scholarship to attend Texas Tech University and remain in the program when he dropped out as a freshman. .
Brown liked to reassure people that he was a “normal guy,” said JoAnne Bass, an Air Force master sergeant.
In his current residence, next door to the chairman’s residence, known as Quarters Six, where he will soon move, he still uses the same smoker he bought as a young officer at Maxwell Air Force Base.
“That he still has it and uses a smoker to cook the brisket he bought at Kmart 20 years ago speaks to him as human as all of us — and very humble,” Bass said.