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Gen. Charles Brown Jr. To Become 1st Black Military Service Chief

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

The Air Force has a new top officer, General Charles Q. Brown Jr. He is the first African American to serve as a military chief, and he'll be the first Black officer on the Joint Chiefs since General Colin Powell left as chairman in 1993. NPR's Tom Bowman has more.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The general is known as C.Q. He's an F-16 pilot and the son of an Army officer. He went through the ROTC program at Texas Tech. And at the change of command ceremony today, General Brown paid tribute to those Black officers who came before him, from World War II through recent history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLES Q BROWN JR: This is a very historic day for our nation, and I do not take this moment lightly. Today is possible due to the perseverance of those who went before me, those like the Tuskegee Airmen - Benjamin O. Davis Jr., "Chappie" James, Charles McGee - African American leaders across our Air Force and our military. It is due to their trials and tribulations in breaking barriers that I can address you today as the Air Force chief of staff.

BOWMAN: Back in June, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police, General Brown released an emotional, deeply personal video about his own experiences as an African American man and military officer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BROWN: I'm thinking about my Air Force career, where I was often the only African American in my squadron or, as a senior officer, the only African American in the room. I'm thinking about wearing the same flight suit with the same wings on my chest as my peers and then being questioned by another military member, are you a pilot?

BOWMAN: Brown also served in the Middle East, where he's credited with accelerating the fight against the Islamic State, going after key targets like headquarters, logistics or banks, like one in Mosul, Iraq, that handed out payments to foreign fighters. More recently, he served as a top Air Force general in the Pacific, where he focused on China as a rising military power. That rise and how to deal with it will likely take up much of his time as Air Force chief.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, the Pentagon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.