Dark Horse General Larry O. Spencer and His Journey from the Horseshoe to the Pentagon

  • Published


Dark Horse General Larry O. Spencer and His Journey from the Horseshoe to the Pentagon by General Larry O. Spencer. Naval Institute Press, 2021, 162 pp. 

Diving into Dark Horse General Larry O. Spencer and His Journey from the Horseshoe to the Pentagon, it is imperative to first state what this book is not. It is not a boilerplate book on leadership, filled with lists of tips and tricks or tired adages that seem to be prevalent in many books written by military leaders. It is not a how-to guide about going from enlisted to officer or how to become a four-star general. Instead, this book is an honest, humble, and often raw firsthand account of one man’s journey from a rough neighborhood in southeast Washington, DC, to become the US Air Force vice chief of staff.

The author, General Larry O. Spencer, USAF, Retired, writes this memoir-style book in a direct, down-to-earth manner. One thing that sets Dark Horse General Larry O. Spencer and His Journey from the Horseshoe to the Pentagon apart from other memoirs is the seemingly genuine account of his life. Throughout the book, the author does not appear to embellish or “clean up” certain life events or experiences. Instead, he simply writes them as he lived and perceived them.

The book’s chronology is seamless as General Spencer starts in his childhood and walks the reader through the important events at various stages of his life, including his appointment to the Air Force vice chief of staff and his early retired days after 44 years of active duty service. Readers can easily follow the narrative without confusion or a break in continuity.

In a connected but almost separate final chapter, General Spencer provides readers with a list of what he refers to as “life lessons.” A person could read this chapter as a standalone, but the reasoning and credibility on why these life lessons matter are woven throughout the book. Because of the emotional depth and life experiences tied to these life lessons, readers could benefit from reading the entire book instead of simply skipping to the list of these lessons.

Throughout the book, a couple of key themes emerge and reemerge, two of which seem to shine the brightest. The first, introduced early in the book and prevalent throughout General Spencer’s life, is his deep belief in God. In the book’s early pages, readers are introduced to his story of finding God and being baptized. In subsequent chapters, the author reiterates the importance of his faith in his life’s decisions and successes. While this theme is clear throughout the book, the author does not alienate potential readers who may not share the same religious beliefs. Instead, as with the rest of the book, he simply writes his story, of which faith is a large part.

The second predominant theme is the adversities he faced throughout his life because of racism. A gut-wrenching aspect of the book is how he discusses the racism he faced with brutal honesty. General Spencer provides several blunt examples of specific times racism impacted him. As readers, we are shown instances of deliberate racism and the effects on him, both directly and indirectly.  The reader may need to pause for reflection after reading about a few events because of their power and rawness.

But even with the multiple examples of racism and its adverse effects, this is not a story fueled by negativity or self-pity. Instead, it is one of overcoming adversity and using that adversity and life experiences as building blocks to achieve more than most people think possible. The overwhelming theme and feel of this memoir are positivity and gratitude.

The author’s curriculum vitae speaks for itself. He enlisted as an Airman basic and was eventually selected for Officer Training School. After he became a commissioned officer, General Spencer was progressively promoted with his career culminating as the vice chief of staff. He is one of only nine African American four-star generals in Air Force history and one of only two who were not pilots. He is also the only person in Air Force history from the primary financial management career field to be promoted to four-star general. Also, he has the distinction of having two Air Force awards named in his honor, the General Larry O. Spencer Innovation Award and the General Larry Spencer Special Acts and Services Award. Even with this pedigree, the author still writes with incredible humility.  

Overall, I would recommend Dark Horse General Larry O. Spencer and His Journey from the Horseshoe to the Pentagon. It gives the reader an inside glimpse into the life of an incredibly successful leader and the lessons learned from that life. Unlike the memoirs of many former military leaders in which the authors seem to inflate aspects of their life artificially, this book is written in a humble and down-to-earth way. This humility gives extraordinary credibility to the book’s life lessons.

The book also reminds us how far our nation and military have come regarding racism while pointing out that progress can still be made. General Spencer enlisted in 1971 and dealt with racial slurs from other Airmen at his first duty station. He retired from the Air Force in 2015 as the vice chief of staff and as someone who had seen the election of and met the first African-American US president. This memoir provides readers an insight into a leader’s upbringing and life while giving life lessons that can be used in the military and our civilian lives.  

Technical Sergeant Tyler B. Trusty, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."