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Overnight Defense: Senate confirms US military's first African American service chief | Navy to ban display of Confederate flags | GOP lawmakers urge Trump not to cut troops in Germany

The Hill logo The Hill 6/9/2020 Ellen Mitchell
a man wearing a suit and tie: Overnight Defense: Senate confirms US military's first African American service chief | Navy to ban display of Confederate flags | GOP lawmakers urge Trump not to cut troops in Germany © Getty Images Overnight Defense: Senate confirms US military's first African American service chief | Navy to ban display of Confederate flags | GOP lawmakers urge Trump not to cut troops in Germany

Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: The Senate has confirmed the U.S. military's first African American service chief.

In a unanimous 98-0 vote presided over by Vice President Pence, a rare occasion, the Senate voted to confirm Gen. Charles "C.Q." Brown as the Air Force's next chief of staff.

In addition to being the first African American military service chief, Brown will be the first African American to sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff since Colin Powell was chairman from 1989 to 1993.

Why this is important: The historic confirmation comes as the nation is gripped by protests over racial injustice that were sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died when a police officer who has since been charged with second-degree murder knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

In a video last week, Brown spoke starkly about his feelings on Floyd's death and being an African American service member.

"As the commander of Pacific Air Forces, a senior leader in our Air Force and an African American, many of you may be wondering what I'm thinking about the current events surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd," Brown said.

"I'm thinking about how my nomination provides some hope, but also comes 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," added Brown, who also spoke about navigating "two worlds."

Trump chimes in: President Trump, who has come under criticism for threatening to deploy active-duty troops to quell the protests, celebrated Brown's confirmation Tuesday before the Senate even started voting.

"My decision to appoint @usairforce General Charles Brown as the USA's first-ever African American military service chief has now been approved by the Senate," Trump tweeted about a half hour before the vote. "A historic day for America! Excited to work even more closely with Gen. Brown, who is a Patriot and Great Leader!"

Brown's résumé: Brown, who has been the commander of Pacific Air Forces since July 2018, will take over for current Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, who is expected to retire later this summer. The Air Force said Tuesday that Brown's swearing-in ceremony will be held Aug. 6.

Prior to leading Pacific Air Forces, Brown was the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command.

His résumé also includes time as the commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command in 2015 and 2016 during the height of the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

He has also served multiple tours across Europe, Asia and the Middle East as an F-16 fighter jet pilot, racking up more than 2,900 flying hours.

NAVY TO JOIN MARINE CORPS IN BAN OF CONFEDERATE FLAGS: The Navy is planning to ban Confederate flags from being displayed on any of its installations, in a move that comes after protests swept the nation following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.

Admiral Michael M. Gilday said in a statement on Tuesday that he directed his staff to begin crafting an order that bans the flag from "all public spaces and work areas aboard Navy installations, ships, aircraft and submarines."

"The order is meant to ensure unit cohesion, preserve good order and discipline, and uphold the Navy's core values of honor, courage and commitment," Gilday said.

Earlier this week: The announcement comes just days after the U.S. Marines said that it would begin removing all public displays of the Confederate flag on its military bases. In a news release, the Marines said that all depictions of the Confederate flag, including bumper stickers, clothing and posters, would be barred from its installations.

"Current events are a stark reminder that it is not enough for us to remove symbols that cause division - rather, we also must strive to eliminate division itself," Gen. David H. Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, said in a statement.

The stimuli: Floyd's death has reignited efforts from activists and some lawmakers to remove memorials and tributes to Confederate leaders. Statues in multiple states in the South have been toppled by demonstrators in recent weeks and some local and state leaders have vowed to authorize their removal.

Army also making moves: The Army on Monday also said that it was open to renaming some of its bases that are named after military leaders of Confederate states.

GOP HOUSE LAWMAKERS URGE TRUMP TO NOT CUTS US TROOPS IN GERMANY: Twenty-two Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee are calling on President Trump not to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Germany.

In a letter to Trump on Tuesday, committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and 21 other committee Republicans said they are "very concerned" about reports that the president has approved withdrawing about 9,500 troops from Germany, as well as capping the number of troops there at any one time to 25,000.

"We believe that such steps would significantly damage U.S. national security as well as strengthen the position of Russia to our detriment," the Republicans wrote.

The numbers now: Currently, there are about 35,000 U.S. troops in Germany, where the headquarters for the U.S. European and Africa commands is located, and the number can be as high as 52,000. The presence is seen by the foreign policy establishment as integral to U.S. interests in Europe, such as countering Russia.

Not a fast reaction, admin says: The Wall Street Journal first reported Friday that national security adviser Robert O'Brien signed a directive ordering the drawdown. A U.S. official told the Journal the move has been in the works since September and is not tied to German Chancellor Angela Merkel declining Trump's invitation to attend a G-7 summit in the United States later this year.

Trump has long pushed NATO members to contribute more to their own defense and has repeatedly taken special aim at Merkel and Germany, which is not on track to meet NATO's goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense by 2024.

Who signed the letter: Just four Republican committee members did not sign the letter: Reps. Mo Brooks (Ala.), Scott DesJarlais (Tenn.), Ralph Abraham (La.) and Matt Gaetz (Fla.).

The letter was signed by prominent defense hawks such as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who over the weekend tweeted that a drawdown in Germany would be "dangerously misguided policy."

Their argument: In the letter, the Republicans argued that signs of a weakened U.S. commitment to NATO could "encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism."

They also said the cap on the number of troops would limit the ability to train U.S. forces and present logistical challenges if troops need to pass through Germany to deploy around the world.

National security officials caught off guard: Prior to the letter's release, reports emerged on Tuesday that top officials at the Department of Defense, National Security Council and State Department were caught unaware of Trump's drawdown plan.

Reuters reported that the decision to reduce the U.S. troop count in Germany, a top NATO ally, was not shared with some officials at the Pentagon and was reported by The Wall Street Journal before a formal order was sent alerting top brass to the change.

Two sources added that German officials were not consulted by the administration. One source noted, however, that Trump's decision came following months of pressure from the administration for Germany to increase its defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product, the target for all NATO allies.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a full committee, closed-door markup of its version of the National Defense Authorization Act beginning at 9:30 a.m. https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings/20-06-10-full-committee-markup-for-fiscal-year-2021

The Association of the United States Army will host an online event on the Army's integration of innovation in partnership with the defense industry, with Gen. John Murray, head of Army Futures Command, at 10 a.m. https://www.bigmarker.com/ausaorg/AUSA-Thought-Leaders-with-GEN-Mike-Murray-U-S-Army-Futures-Command?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20060920_06/09/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The Heritage Foundation will hold a webinar on "Army Aviation - The Future of Vertical Lift," with Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen, director, Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team., Army Futures Command; and Patrick Mason, the program. executive officer for Army aviation, at 10:30 a.m. https://www.heritage.org/defense/event/webinar-army-aviation-future-vertical-lift?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20060920_06/09/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

U.S. Central Command head Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, will speak during a Middle East Institute webinar: "CENTCOM and the Shifting Sands of the Middle East," at 11 a.m. https://www.mei.edu/events/centcom-and-shifting-sands-middle-east-conversation-centcom-commander-gen-kenneth-f-mckenzie?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20060920_06/09/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The Heritage Foundation will hold an online discussion on "Immigration and Border Security: Where Are We Now and What's Next?" with Acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli at 11 a.m. https://www.heritage.org/homeland-security/event/webinar-immigration-and-border-security-where-are-we-now-and-whats-next?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20060920_06/09/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The Mitchell Institute Aerospace Nation will hold a webcast featuring Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, Air National Guard director at 11:30 a.m. A recording will be posted following the event at https://www.mitchellaerospacepower.org/aerospace-nation?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20060920_06/09/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on "Department of Defense COVID-19 Response to Defense Industrial Base Challenges," with Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, at 2 p.m. https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings?ID=8D5A076F-E191-4ACA-9542-FD2187C3D732&utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20060920_06/09/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump was talked out of firing Esper last week: report

-- The Hill: DC National Guard members called to respond to protests test positive for COVID-19

-- The Hill: More than 8,500 airmen apply to join Space Force

-- The Hill: Officials say 60 percent of Roosevelt carrier crew have coronavirus antibodies: report

-- The Hill: Petraeus: Time to remove names of Confederate 'traitors' like Benning, Bragg from military bases

-- The Hill: Army briefs House panel on response to DC protests

-- The Hill: US, Russia to begin nuclear arms talks this month

-- The Hill: Iran says it will execute spy who provided information on Soleimani to CIA

-- Military Times: VA's protective equipment supplies inadequate for second wave of coronavirus, officials warn

-- Stars and Stripes: 'Longstanding problems' hindered VA's response to coronavirus pandemic, watchdog says

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