Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown (Black Pilot mini-case study)
The excerpts from “Black Ceiling” below will set the stage for the discussion of Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown’s career.
Excerpts from “THE AIR FORCE’S BLACK CEILING”
It takes Most of the Same Ingredients
“Edgar Puryear author of ‘American Generalship’ “conducted more than a hundred one-on-one personal interviews with four-star generals and corresponded with and interviewed more than a thousand officers in the grade of brigadier general or higher” over a 35-year period. I will draw a lot from his incredible body of work to demonstrate that the greatest ingredients for making a general officer, particularly a four-star have not changed in the last century. From his body of work, I will show unequivocally that mentorship, sponsorship and top cover are far more important than natural talent…
In my research for this book, I have seen discovered that it takes most of the same ingredients to make a general officer, whether that officer is white or black. The making of a four-star is not a mystery; the pattern has been the same since WWII. We have seen in the Creech system and as far back as the careers of Eisenhower and Marshall that these ingredients include door opening, mentoring, top-cover, combat operations experience and being placed in the right jobs where talent can be observed. One of the things that black officers have traditionally lacked is what Edgar Puryear in his book refers to as “door opening”:…”
Go Find Me a Major
“…In the following table, I have listed the CSAFs from General John Ryan to the present, but my focus was CSAFs during the “Creech era.” I have already shared in the chapter on General Creech about how his system selectively identified non-minorities for grooming, mentoring and developmental assignments…”
Does The Cream Always Rise to the Top
“…Further in the chapter in this book on the Creech system I’ve shown that TAC senior officers had the benefit of an intensive development, training, mentoring and sponsoring process that had not been previously seen in the Air Force. If you take two officers at roughly the same talent level and you take one and give him more frequent and demanding assignments, greater breadth of assignments, intensive coaching, high-level top cover and endorsements, etc., eventually not only does the sponsored officer look better on paper (records, awards, etc.) he will be better. If he survives the process, the sponsored officer will have been strengthened by tougher and more rapid moves, he will be more seasoned by being exposed to the way senior officers operate/make decisions.
The point of highlighting these principles in the careers of so many of the military’s finest officers is to squelch from here forward the notion that minority officers haven’t risen to the top merely because they are not the ‘cream of the crop’, the top third of their college class or in some lofty percentile of the collegiate preparatory exams… I will show that talent alone is not enough to make the upper echelons of military rank… On some level we all know that but when it comes to minority officers making the highest ranks a sort of selective amnesia kicks in and instead of noting the absence of mentoring, high-level sponsorship and high-level top cover, as it pertains to these officers, we try to look for an answer in their pre-commissioning academic credentials.”
In the “Black Ceiling” quotes above I note that when minority officers are given the same opportunities, they achieve the same results as their non-minority counterparts. I highlight the importance of black officers becoming fighter pilots as the first step on the developmental rung of a ladder that can culminate in four stars.
Without this first key developmental step, it is virtually impossible for a black officer, or any officer for that matter, to achieve the highest positions in the United States Air Force, specifically four-star command of flying forces and Chief of Staff. I certainly mean no disrespect to non-rated or non-fighter pilot four-stars. Of the eight previous back four stars only one, General Chappie James, had command of fighter forces, and then only in an intercept role. Make no mistake, true diversity in the Air Force can only be achieved when all the doors are open. The quote from the May 17, 2018 issue of the Air Force Times highlights the nomination for a fourth star for African American fighter pilot, Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown:
President Trump on Wednesday nominated Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown to receive his fourth star and take over command of Pacific Air Forces. If confirmed, Brown would take over from Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, who will lead US Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Brown is currently the deputy commander of US Central Command and before that was the commander of Air Forces Central Command for the early years of the anti-ISIS air war in Iraq and Syria. Brown is a command pilot with more than 2,900 flying hours in aircraft including F-16s, AC-130s, B-1s, B-2s, among several others. He previously commanded fighter wings in Italy and South Korea and was commandant of the US Air Force Weapons School. (Everstine, 2018)
“His notable staff tours include aide-de-camp to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force; Director, Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff Executive Action Group and Deputy Director, Operations, U.S. Central Command. General Brown has commanded a fighter squadron, the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, and two fighter wings. Prior to his current assignment, he served as the Commander, U.S. Air Forces Central Command.” (US Air Force Biographies)
The door that has opened for Lt. Gen. Brown is truly a significant one. If confirmed, Lt. Gen. Brown will become only the 9th black officer to achieve four-star rank and the first to command PACAF. The Air Force has still never had a black officer to command its other premier commands: ACC/TAC, Global Strike Command/SAC or USAFE.
Looking at Lt. Gen. Brown’s career, we see all the elements that would be present in the career of a non-minority “shiny penny” who was purposefully developed: fighter pilot, fighter squadron commander, aide-de-camp to the Chief of Staff, command of two fighter Wings and Commander of flying forces in Iraq. (AFCENT).
Lt. Gen. Brown’s path proves out what I shared in “Black Ceiling”: which is that it takes the “same ingredients” to make a black four-star as it does to make a white one. These ingredients include: “door opening, mentoring, top-cover, combat operations experience and being placed in the right jobs where talent can be observed.”
In “Black Ceiling” I compared Lt. Gen. Brown’s path to General Lori Robinson and General Edward Rice’s. Here’s an excerpt from “Black Ceiling” on General Robinson:
“Gen Lori Robinson, a non-pilot, was selected to become “the first woman to lead an Air Force component major command in October 2014 when she took command of Pacific Air Forces”. (Hlad, 2016) A look further back into her resume shows that she became the deputy commander of flying forces in Iraq in 2012. (US Air Force, 2017) One year later Lt. Gen. Charles Brown replaced her. (US Air Force, 2017) She then became the two-star Vice Commander, Air Combat Command in May 2013.”
In “Black Ceiling” I also noted that many “first doors” are opened to white women first before they are opened to black men. The focus, however, is not white females versus black males. The point is that when talented people, regardless of race or gender, are given opportunities and top cover they succeed as well as the non-minority men who typically fill the Air Force’s senior-most positions.
Without even being a pilot, General Robinson’s jobs put her on a proven track for four-star command of fighter forces—the Air Force’s senior-most and most highly regarded positions. In a YouTube video sponsored by TIME Magazine, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sJPj09EdYA ) General Robinson attributes part of her success to great bosses “that put me in places that challenged me and provided me with opportunities because I met and exceeded the standard.” (TIME Magazine, 2017)
General Brown’s path mirrors General Robinson, from shared assignments at the Pentagon, an assignment in Iraq managing flying forces and now on track to follow General Robinson in command of PACAF.
I have placed great emphasis on General Brown’s command of fighter forces as this has always been the historical dividing line that has separated African American four-stars from their non-minority counterparts. The significance of General Brown’s nomination cannot be understated.
Finally, I must circle back to the case of General Edward Rice. Here’s my excerpt from “Black Ceiling” on General Rice:
If ever there was a case to be made for tracking a minority cadet, to build a potential four-star TAC/USAFE/PACAF/ACC Commander or Chief of Staff, it was with Cadet Edward A Rice Jr. He was the Air Force Academy’s first black cadet wing commander. He was a distinguished graduate. As I have shown in my CSAF career table, so many of the Air Force’s Chiefs of Staff have been USAFA or West Point graduates. However, a decision was made to put Rice into bombers vs. fighters. The other cadet wing commander, Stephen M. Goldfein was sent to fighters. It is my assertion that the decision to put Rice in bombers and Goldfein in fighters, was akin to putting Rice on a path that would never lead to command of ACC or Chief of Staff and setting Goldfein up for both… General Rice was the shiniest black penny that I had seen in my Air Force career up to that point—USAFA’s first black cadet wing commander, a USAFA distinguished graduate, a rated officer, below-the-zone to everything, former B-1 Bomb Wing Commander.
I recently found out that General Rice was also a distinguished graduate of undergraduate pilot training at Williams AFB. At the most crucial juncture of General Rice’s young career, as a distinguished SUPT graduate, he left with an assignment in B-52s. I have heard the discussion that the Air Force at times took some of its best and brightest and puts them in bomber cockpits to maintain a sense of fairness between TAC and SAC.
However, in “Black Ceiling” I show how the senior leadership of the Air Force had already made the shift in the late 1970’s to favoring fighter pilots for early promotions and placement in its senior-most leadership positions. In fact, General Norton A. Schwartz was the first non-fighter pilot Air Force Chief of Staff since General Lew Allen in 1982. General Allen was the last Chief of Staff with a bomber background.
When General Rice was a Brigadier General, I was called to task by two four-stars and other general officers for saying that if General Rice was not picked to go to HQ ACC that he was not on a track that would lead to CSAF. I said that he was on a “scattered path.” I was mildly scolded and told that we should be excited about whatever path General Rice was on if it led to four stars.
I knew from studying the paths of general officers that General Rice was on a path that would not lead to the kind of “first” that we see with Lt. Gen. Brown. Here’s an excerpt of General Rice’s career path:
17. May 2002 - January 2004, Commander, Air Force Recruiting Service, Headquarters Air Education and Training Command, Randolph AFB, Texas
18. January 2004 - December 2004, Chief of Staff for the Office of the Representative and Executive Director for the Coalition Provisional Authority, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Washington, D.C.
19. January 2005 - September 2005, Commander, 13th Air Force, Andersen AFB, Guam
20. September 2005 - July 2006, Director of Air, Space and Information Operations, Plans and Requirements, Headquarters Pacific Air Forces, and Commander, 13th Air Force, Hickam AFB, Hawaii
21. July 2006 - October 2006, Commander, 13th Air Force, and Commander, Kenney Headquarters (P), Hickam AFB, Hawaii
22. October 2006 - February 2008, Vice Commander, Pacific Air Forces, Hickam AFB, Hawaii
23. February 2008 - October 2010, Commander, U.S. Forces Japan, and Commander, 5th Air Force, Yokota Air Base, Japan
24. November 2010 - present, Commander, Air Education and Training Command, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas
I was saddened by General Rice’s assignment to the Air Force Recruiting Service. To me, it was a tell-tale sign that the Air Force was putting him on a track that would end up at AETC/CC versus PACAF/CC, USAFE/CC, ACC/CC or certainly Chief of Staff. This same type pattern was evident in the career of General Fig Newton who was awarded command of training wings (71st FTW, 12FTW) versus fighter wings at nearly the same juncture in his career.
In “Black Ceiling” I detail the career paths of every CSAF. In conducting the research, I also reviewed the career paths of every TAC/ACC Commander. The key to continued upward and rapid career mobility has always been command of fighter forces at Wing, Numbered Air Force (NAF)/NAF equivalent and demonstrated leadership success commanding these forces in the combat theater, where ever it existed at the time.
If you compare General Rice to Lt. Gen. Brown, you see that General Brown was directing fighting forces in Iraq where General Rice’s title and duties in Iraq (Executive Director for the Coalition Provisional Authority) didn’t have a clear tie to “the Air Force fight” in Iraq. I didn’t even really understand his job even though I had the distinct privilege of interviewing him when he held that position.
General Rice had triple duty in PACAF as the Commander of the 13th Air Force, Vice Commander of PACAF and as the 5th Air Force Commander. At a glance, you might think that commanding two NAFs and being Vice Commander of PACAF would have made him a lock to command PACAF. However, General Robinson and Lt. Gen. Brown have shown that the path to four-star command in PACAF goes through managing flying forces in the combat theater—in recent times, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The leaders closest to the fight always have a faster track to the top—nearly all the CSAF and COMACC bios prove this out. General Rice was Vice Commander of PACAF, while General Robinson was Vice Commander of ACC and Lt. Gen. Brown was Vice Commander of CENTCOM.
In simple terms, General Rice spent a total of four years “away from the fight in Iraq.” To me, it was if he was banished to the Pacific. That might be a dramatic characterization. I met the man twice, so I may indeed be more sensitive to the handling of his career than the average person.
It might indeed be that General Rice didn’t have the “right stuff” to be a fighter pilot, even as a distinguished SUPT grad. It might be that there were other rated officers and non-rated officers (in General Robinson’s case) that were better qualified to command PACAF or be on a career trajectory that could culminate in selection for Air Force Chief of Staff. That’s not the point.
What I have tried to do in this mini-case study is show that there is most definitely a path and a pattern en route to the Air Force’s most senior leadership positions. Historically black officers have not been allowed to walk on that path. Black officers have not even been very successful in attaining a spot on the path’s first significant step, becoming a fighter pilot. Many of the reasons for that are detailed extensively in this book.
Lt. Gen. Brown is the first African American fighter pilot whose career has tracked along the steps typical to non-minorities who achieve the Air Force’s senior-most positions. Chappie James, arguably the most famous black four-star, made it to four stars through what I refer to in “Black Ceiling as the “back door.” He was not allowed to be in key leadership positions along a traditional command path; another unique path had to be invented. This is the case also with several of our recent black three and four-star generals.
With the exception of commanding a stateside Wing and a position on the ACC staff, Lt. Gen. Brown’s career path mirrors the path created by the Gen Creech system (see “Black Ceiling”) more than any previous African American fighter pilot.
This distinction is not meant to slight officers, like General Darren McDew, Commander, USTRANSCOM, who has an equally impressive record as a non-fighter pilot. I make the distinction between groups of pilots at the great risk of being misunderstood. As I have already stated, I have been called to task if you will be by three African American four-stars for seemingly placing fighter pilot four-stars above other four-stars. If “Black Ceiling” proved anything, it proves that the Air Force still places fighter pilot four-stars higher in the pilot pecking order than other four-stars.
Without question Lt. Gen. Brown’s career start as a fighter pilot at least allowed him to be in the game, in the hunt, for command of PACAF, USAFE or ACC, some 34 years after his commissioning. This is so important to grasp. Lt. Gen. Brown’s “first” would not have been possible in the realm of how the Air Force has historically managed the careers of black officers without this essential first step.
Until the Air Force makes dramatic changes to the conduct of its pilot training programs, there will not be enough black fighter pilots to be in the hunt for the Air Force’s premier leadership positions. The Air Force fills these leadership positions with fighter pilots.
Without the changes called for in this book the Air Force will continue to have “firsts” that need to be conquered such as: the first black commander of a premier fighter Wing in the CONUS, the first black two-digit director on the ACC staff (ACC/DO/XP/XR), the first black commander of ACC, USAFE or the first black Air Force Chief of Staff. I have excluded Global Strike Command because the Air Force may have opened the door to having a four-star “bomber pilot” again by making it a four-star command again. Currently, the position is filled by, you guessed it, a four-star career fighter pilot.
Change isn’t change until its change. When the Air Force makes changes to undergraduate pilot training, changes that the Chief of Staff acknowledges will be more supportive of minorities; then the pipeline will produce more pilots and specifically more fighter pilots. Lt. Gen. Brown’s career path as a fighter pilot is the model for a career that has put a black officer, where no black fighter pilots have ever been—smashing through the Air Force’s “Black Ceiling.”
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