The U.S. Senate confirmed Brown on Tuesday (June 9) as the first African-American military service chief as the armed forces – and the country as a whole – grapple with questions about racial inequality.

The vote was 98-0, as Vice President Mike Pence made an unusual appearance presiding over the Republican-led chamber.

During a video speech called “Here’s what I’m thinking about” that has gathered over 3 million views on the PACAF twitter feed, Brown talked about how he was “often the only African American in my squadron or, as a senior officer, the only African American in the room” and of wearing the same flight suit with wings pinned on his chest as his squadron yet being asked if he was a pilot.

Brown started nearly every sentence with “I’m thinking about” to introduce memories and anecdotes from his personal experience. He concluded expressing hope that his confirmation would make a positive difference after centuries of racism in the United States.

Brown, 58, is currently commander of the Pacific Air Forces.

There have been waves of protests across the United States and other countries over the past two weeks sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man killed while in Minneapolis police custody after an allegation that he had used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Floyd’s funeral was taking place in Houston on Tuesday.

Video Transcript

CHARLES BROWN: 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. 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 and thinking about a history of racial issues and my own experiences that didn’t always sing of liberty and equality.

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 the pressure I felt to perform error free, especially for supervisors I perceived had expected less from me as an African-American. I’m thinking about having to represent by working twice as hard to prove their expectations and perceptions of African-Americans were invalid.

I’m thinking about the Airmen who don’t have a life similar to mine and don’t have to navigate through two worlds. I’m thinking about how these Airmen view racism, whether they don’t see it as a problem since it doesn’t happen to them or whether they’re empathetic. I’m thinking about our two sons and how we had to prepare them to live in two worlds. Finally, I’m thinking about my [? extraordinary ?] nomination to be the first African-American to serve as the Air Force Chief of Staff.

I’m thinking about the African-Americans who went before me to make this opportunity possible. I’m thinking about the immense expectations that come with this historic nomination, particularly through the lens of current events plaguing our nation. I’m thinking about how I may have fallen short in my career and will likely continue falling short living up to all those expectations. I’m thinking about how my nomination provides some hope but also comes with a heavy burden. That’s what I’m thinking about. I wonder what you’re thinking about. I want to hear what you’re thinking about and how, together, we can make a difference.



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