WASHINGTON — President Biden is expected to announce soon that he has chosen Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the Air Force chief of staff, to become the country’s most senior military officer, according to two U.S. officials.
If he is formally nominated and approved by the Senate, General Brown will succeed Gen. Mark A. Milley, whose term as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff expires at the end of September.
General Brown would be only the second Black man to become chairman, following Colin L. Powell, who served in that position during the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
General Brown’s appointment and confirmation would also mean that along with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, the top two Pentagon leadership positions would be inhabited by African American men for the first time in American history. It would be a singular step for minorities in a military whose leadership has long been dominated by white men.
General Brown and Mr. Austin would advise Mr. Biden on national security matters from the war in Ukraine to China’s military expansionism in the Asia-Pacific region. The two would represent the Pentagon at congressional hearings, before often hostile Republican lawmakers who have recently been complaining that the Defense Department has become too “woke.”
In appointing another African American man to a senior Pentagon position, Mr. Biden may be setting up a contentious period on Capitol Hill. But the president is also symbolically ripping apart the message telegraphed in a photograph of his predecessor, President Donald J. Trump, surrounded by Pentagon leaders who were exclusively white.
Some 43 percent of the 1.3 million men and women on active duty in the U.S. military are people of color. But for decades, most of the people making crucial decisions were white and male.
Now, that appears to be changing.
And at a time when a conflict with China looms, General Brown’s experience in Asia was also a key factor, one U.S. official said of Mr. Biden’s decision, which was reported earlier by Politico.
Nothing is final until Mr. Biden announces his pick, and it is unclear when he might do so. But the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity before an announcement, said General Brown, a fighter pilot, won out over his closest competitor, the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. David H. Berger.
The two men are believed to be good friends who consult each other regularly, their aides said, but they could not be more different — from each other and from General Milley. General Brown is quiet, firm and methodical, his colleagues say.
General Berger, by contrast, is known as an innovator whose ideas about how to remake the Corps to fight in the 21st century so angered the men who came before him that they took the rare step of publicly complaining.
He is an infantryman with combat command experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just months after becoming commandant of the Marine Corps, he announced a plan to get rid of the last of the Corps’ tank units, betting that his Marines could not drag heavy tanks from island to island in the Pacific if they ended up fighting China.
Both men were called back to the White House after their initial interviews with Mr. Biden for second meetings, aides say. The job has also not been filled by an Air Force general since 2005. During that time, there have been two Marines, a Navy admiral and two Army generals.
General Brown, known widely as C.Q., is often viewed by other officers as cautious, up to a point. He proceeds with deliberation for long periods, one colleague said, but can explode at certain moments with a speed that meets the moment.
During nationwide protests after George Floyd, an African American man, was beaten to death by Minneapolis police, General Brown electrified the rank and file in the military with an extraordinary video. It was June 2020, and Mr. Trump wanted to invoke the Insurrection Act to use the active-duty troops to target protesters upset about the killing. General Brown was just days away from his confirmation vote in a Republican-led Senate to be Air Force chief of staff.
“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,” he 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 video was a bold move for a general recently promoted by Mr. Trump. But it also cemented General Brown as the heir apparent to General Milley.