WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday unanimously confirmed Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as the Air Force’s chief of staff, elevating a four-star general who is the first black man to hold the position and who recently spoke out about his experience with racism in America.
Vice President Mike Pence made a rare appearance on the Senate floor to preside over General Brown’s confirmation, which was approved by a vote of 98 to 0, and President Trump celebrated it on Twitter. It came a week after General Brown released a video in which he spoke in starkly personal terms about his experience as a black man in America, his unequal treatment in the armed forces and the protests that have gripped the country after the killing of George Floyd in an encounter with Minneapolis police officers.
“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,” General Brown said in the video, an unusually public statement by a high-ranking military leader about a sensitive and politically charged issue.
“I’m thinking about protests in my country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, the equality expressed in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that I have sworn my adult life to support and defend. I’m thinking about a history of racial issues and my own experiences that didn’t always sing of liberty and equality.”
The vote was a rare moment of unanimity in a deeply divided Senate, where lawmakers in both parties spent the day struggling to craft a response to the civic unrest that General Brown addressed. Mr. Pence called the confirmation “historic.”
Mr. Trump took to Twitter before the vote to announce that it had already happened, and praised the Senate for approving “my decision” to name General Brown.
“A historic day for America!” Mr. Trump wrote, calling the general “a Patriot and Great Leader!”
In the video released last week, General Brown described his life as straddling “two worlds,” between the American ideals that he has defended with his life and his other reality as a black man subject to discrimination in his own country.
As he rose through the ranks in the Air Force, General Brown said, he was “often the only African-American in my squadron” and as a senior officer, “the only African-American in the room.”
He recalled having his credentials questioned, when those of white pilots were not. He said he frequently felt pressure to perform without error to prove wrong those supervisors who expected less from him than from his white counterparts.
“Rarely,” General Brown said, “I had a mentor that looked like me.”
General Brown’s confirmation comes at a time when black commanders are underrepresented in the top ranks of the armed forces.
Of the 41 most senior commanders in the military — those with four-star rank in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard — only two are black: General Brown and Gen. Michael X. Garrett, who leads the Army’s Forces Command.
General Brown was formerly the commander of the Pacific Air Forces, responsible for 46,000 airmen and operations spread over half the globe, including Japan, Korea, Hawaii, Alaska and Guam.
He graduated from the R.O.T.C. program at Texas Tech University and is a command pilot with more than 2,900 flying hours, including 130 combat hours.
“I’m thinking about the African-Americans who went before me to make this opportunity possible,” General Brown said in the video. “I’m thinking about the immense expectations that come with this historic nomination, particularly through the lens of current events plaguing our nation.”
He said his new role came with a “heavy burden.”
“I can’t fix centuries of racism in our country, nor can I fix decades of discrimination that may have impacted members of our Air Force,” he said. “I’m thinking about how I can make improvements.”