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Air Force general confirmed as first black military service chief in American history

Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the commander of Pacific Air Forces, is the country's first African American leader of a military service branch.

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Gen. Charles Q. Brown to be the next Air Force chief of staff, making him the country's first African American leader of a military service.

Vice President Mike Pence presided over the 98-0 vote for Brown to lead the Air Force, succeeding Gen. David Goldfein. 

President Donald Trump quickly weighed in on Twitter and called it a "historic day for America!" 

"Excited to work even more closely with Gen. Brown, who is a Patriot and Great Leader," Trump tweeted.  

Brown, who is currently the commander of Pacific Air Forces, shared an emotional message on Friday on his thoughts in response to the death of George Floyd and the international protests. 

He described a lifetime of dealing with racial bias and the struggle to fit in to a predominantly white society. 

“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,” he said in a raw tone. “I'm thinking about wearing the same flight suit with the same wings on my chest as my peers and being questioned by another military member: ‘Are you a pilot?’”

Credit: AP
Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., nominated for reappointment to the grade of General and to Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee nominations hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 7, 2020. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

The military, with African Americans making up a little over 17% of its active duty ranks, is more racially diverse than the country, which is 13% African American, according to 2019 Census estimates. The Army is the most diverse with more than 21% African Americans, while the Marine Corp is the least, with 10%. Blacks make up about 17% of the Navy and less than 15% of the Air Force.

But there is a much greater racial divide within the active duty military based on rank.

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Fully 19% of active duty enlisted troops are black, but they make up only 9% of the officer corps. Of those, there are just 71 who are general or flag officers, wearing one to four stars, including only two who have attained the top four-star rank.

Colin Powell, an Army four-star general, was White House national security adviser and then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before President George W. Bush named him secretary of state.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.