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Gen. C.Q. Brown prepares to step into the role of top military officer role


The current head of the Air Force, C.Q. Brown, will soon become the nation's top general - chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The challenges Brown faces were on full display in Washington this past week. Ukraine's visiting president asked for more military assistance. Some Republicans are pushing back, and one senator is holding up hundreds of military promotions. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre has been watching it all go down, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Thanks, Ayesha. Good to be here.

RASCOE: So, Greg, outside the military, General C.Q. Brown is not a well-known figure, so what can you tell us about him?

MYRE: Sure. He began his military career in the ROTC at Texas Tech University. Since graduating, he spent four decades - his entire adult life - in the Air Force. He was an F-16 pilot who's logged 3,000 flight hours, including many in combat missions. Now, he's been the chief of the Air Force for the past three years, and that makes him the first Black man to lead any branch of the military. And he's spoken out about race, most notably in 2020 after George Floyd was killed by police. Brown made a video, and it went viral on social media. Here - let's listen to part of it.


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

RASCOE: Brown doesn't start his job with the Joint Chiefs for another week, but it seems like he's already faced a number of challenges. Like, lay them out for us.

MYRE: Sure. I mean, the first one was just getting confirmed for this job. He's had this very distinguished career. He was considered a front-runner for the post, and then President Biden formally nominated him back in May. But one senator, Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville, has blocked hundreds of military nominations from going forward, including Brown. Now, Tuberville has done this because he opposes a Pentagon policy that helps pay for service members to travel for abortion care, not the abortion itself, if they're unable to get that treatment or get that care in a place where they're stationed.

So to get past Tuberville's Roadblock, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer brought Brown's nomination to a full Senate vote. He was confirmed 83-11 on Wednesday. But Tuberville continues to frustrate the military. He's still blocking more than 300 other nominations, which would take countless hours for the Senate to vote on one by one rather than in large batches, which is usually the case.

RASCOE: And, of course, there's the ongoing budget impasse, disagreements over assistance to Ukraine. So just a lot of things that are up in the air.

MYRE: Yeah. That's absolutely right, Ayesha. Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was in Washington this past week, pleading for more weapons. Ukraine is burning through ammunition at a ferocious pace. So the Biden administration did say it's going to be sending additional air defense systems and other weapons, but this is from money already authorized. The Biden administration is seeking another 24 billion in military, economic and humanitarian assistance.

And most Democrats are on board with this, and many Republicans, as well. But a growing number of Republicans on the far right oppose it, saying the priority should be at home. And the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, has been a strong advocate of support for Ukraine. This job will now fall on General Brown, who's expected to make the case here in the U.S., as well as to NATO allies.

RASCOE: When he was president, Donald Trump was often, you know, getting into it with top figures in the national security community. How do we expect General C.Q. Brown to fit in with the Biden administration?

MYRE: So General Brown is seen as a low-key figure. He was hand-picked by President Biden, so there's every reason to expect he'll work well with this administration, where the national security team has been very cohesive. But that said, Brown faces all these immediate challenges. Some are traditional national security matters that just come with the job. And this includes, you know, closely coordinating with Ukraine's military to figure out what it needs and what the U.S. could provide.

But part of it also reflects the fraught political conditions we have right now. We're looking at a possible government shutdown that's looming. And if that happens, active-duty military members would have to keep working but wouldn't be getting paid. In short, General Brown will have a lot waiting on his desk when he starts his new job in a week.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thank you so much.

MYRE: Sure thing, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.

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