How the F-16 pilot nominated to be the US military's top officer earned the callsign 'Swamp Thing'
President Biden has nominated Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown, Jr. to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Brown has logged thousands of hours, including over 100 in combat, flying F-16 fighters.
His escape from a burning jet earned him the callsign "Swamp Thing."
The US Air Force general President Joe Biden has nominated to serve as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation's top military officer, is a former fighter pilot with an interesting callsign.
Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown, Jr., the current Air Force chief of staff and former F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, is a distinguished four-star general. He has also logged more than 3,000 flying hours — including 130 in combat, yet his callsign is, perhaps unexpectedly, "Swamp Thing."
"He knows what it means to be in the thick of battle and how to keep your cool when things get hard. Like when your F-16 was on fire," Biden said during speech announcing his nomination outside the White House on Thursday. "That's a lot of fun, huh? Well I tell you what — he was back in the cockpit the next week with a new callsign: Swamp Thing."
The origins of Brown's callsign date back to January 1991, when Brown — then an Air Force captain — was flying an F-16 during a training mission over the Everglades in Florida. Mid-flight, Brown's wingman called attention to a gas tank explosion that had caused a fire on his aircraft.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum last year, Brown said his wingman described the fire as small at first, but it grew larger. Out of options, he ejected from the aircraft, he said, and while he was floating down to earth in a parachute, he had just enough time to think: "Hope there's nothing down there."
He landed on his left side, which was left covered in swamp mud. Brown then spent about 15 minutes on the ground before a Coast Guard helicopter came to rescue him. After being picked up, he spent the night in a hospital.
Brown told the Aspen Security Forum that he was frustrated because the incident happened right before selections to weapons school, but he didn't think at any point that it was going to be the end of his Air Force career. The following week, he flew seven times, so "it was actually still a good week," he said.
After the incident, Brown went on to receive several more promotions and assignments all around the world, and also commanded fighter squadrons and fighter wings. In June 2020, he made history by becoming the first Black officer to lead a military branch when he was confirmed by the Senate to be the Air Force's next chief of staff. Before that, Brown, who has been in the Air Force for nearly four decades, served as the head of US Pacific Air Forces.
"While General Brown is a proud, butt-kicking American airman, first and always, he's always been an operational leader of the Joint Force," Biden said during Thursday's announcement. "He gained respect across every service, from those who have seen him in action and have come to depend on his judgment."
"More than that," Biden continued, "he gained the respect of our allies and partners around the world, who regard Gen. brown as a trusted partner and a top-notch strategist."
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