Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Charles Q. Brown greeted sailors from the USS Ford and USS Ramage Friday.

 The ships returned to Norfolk in January after eight months of deployment that was extended when war broke out in Gaza in October.

“Part of my trip today was to come here and tell them thank you, and tell them how proud I am of them and the work that they were able to do and the impact they had,” said Brown, after meeting with the crew of the destroyer USS Ramage. 

Brown spent part of his childhood in Hampton Roads. His father was in the Army and was stationed in the area. Brown said he delivered the Virginian-Pilot as a child and eventually graduated from the former Homer L. Ferguson High School in Newport News in 1980.

“It's a real pleasure to be back here in Hampton Roads. The reason I say back is I went to high school in Newport News and was married in Fort Monroe. And so I have a connection to this part of the country,” he said. 

Confirmed in September, Brown took office Oct. 1, just days before war broke out in Gaza. He received daily updates on the ships that were redeployed to the Eastern Mediterranean. 

“In the Red Sea, the Navy has been extremely active. We have the most respected force in the world,” Brown said.

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is the highest-ranking military officer in the country. Brown became only the second Black man to serve as head of the joint chiefs of staff after Colin Powell. With Lloyd Austin serving as civilian defense secretary, this is the first time in the nation’s history that Black men have held the Defense Department’s two highest roles at the same time.

Brown was chief of staff of the Air Force before taking over as head of the joint chief. Typically described as reserved, Brown released an impassioned video in 2020, after the murder of George Floyd while head of the U.S Pacific Air Forces.   

“I’m thinking about the pressure I felt to perform error-free, especially for supervisors I perceived had expected less of me as an African American,” Brown said in the video. “I’m thinking about having to represent by working twice as hard to prove their expectations and perceptions of African Americans were invalid.”