Dark Horse

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

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Pub Date 15 Nov 2021 | Archive Date 01 Dec 2021

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Gen. Larry Spencer, USAF (Ret.) was born and raised on the Horseshoe—a tough inner-city street in southeast Washington D.C. Both parents lived in the rural south under Jim Crow and “separate but equal” laws. Spencer’s father was a career Army soldier who lost his left hand during the Korean War, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and worked two jobs. His mother completed tenth grade, had no driver’s license, and was left alone during the week to raise their six children. The Horseshoe was a hard neighborhood where fights were common, and the school systems were second-rate. The expectations of living in an all-Black neighborhood were to be good at sports while shunning academic prowess. Spencer met those expectations: he struggled in school, but teachers who did not want to see him repeat their class would pass him to the next grade. That environment resulted in poor self-esteem and a bleak outlook for the future.

Quite by chance, Spencer enlisted in the U.S. Air Force where he continued to struggle with the racial turmoil of the 1970s. A senior non-commissioned officer saw promise in Spencer and guided him to obtain a college degree and apply for Officer Training School where he excelled. As a very young first lieutenant, he was assigned to a tough job in the Pentagon, but Spencer earned an early reputation as a fast burner.  In 1990 he took command of a squadron that won accolades and awards for its performance during Operation Desert Shield/Storm. Spencer went on to serve at the White House, and then successfully commanded a Group and a Wing before being assigned as the chief financial officer (comptroller) for Air Combat Command, the largest command in the Air Force. During that assignment, Spencer was promoted to brigadier general and was tasked to set up a new Directorate at Air Force Materiel Command. Spencer later returned to the Pentagon where he led Air Force Budget. He ultimately became the Air Force’s thirty-seventh vice chief of staff, making him one of only nine African Americans promoted to four stars. Spencer concludes his historic climb with life lessons learned on his journey from the inner city to the Pentagon.

Gen. Larry Spencer, USAF (Ret.) was born and raised on the Horseshoe—a tough inner-city street in southeast Washington D.C. Both parents lived in the rural south under Jim Crow and “separate but...

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ISBN 9781682477021
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Featured Reviews

Dark Horse is written in a casual conversational tone while providing historical background woven into the narrative to help readers understand what was occurring in the world surrounding his story and the impact on him, his family and those living in their community. General Spencer writes in a self-effacing, transparent, and very authentic way. Furthermore, acknowledging questions we would ask as if we were sitting at a table together. Life was difficult with few luxuries that many enjoy today.

Larry grew up in two very different locations. First, Washington DC inner city called the Horseshoe which was a tough place. The family lived in a 900 square foot duplex with one bathroom for him, 5 siblings, and his parents. His Dad, a Korean War Veteran with a disability from his service worked two jobs to help the family meet their basic needs. Demands in maintaining such a schedule caused him to be absent much of the time however when present, he wasn't one to talk much. His Mother was a hard working person also; keeping the family going day to day placed mostly on her shoulders. Larry's second home was the opposite, living in the summer in rural Virginia on his Grandparents farm. This duality of inner city and rural life shaped his foundation to life building from family, coaches, friends and a community of unlikely mentors. These principles included faith, positive attitude, frugality, persistence, passion for excellence, self-reliance, determination, compassion, and an extreme work ethic all wrapped up into a humble spirit which created the building blocks for his life journey. A poor student at that time, getting C's and D's, his teachers would pass him to the next grade hoping that he would eventually make it. Desperately in need of tutoring and a boost of self-confidence, he found comfort and hope from music and sports. They became part of his life force of inspiration, conflict resolution, and a ticket for a better future. His dream to play in the NFL seemed a dream impossible for obtainment because of his grades. A college scholarship seemed far removed. After high school he took dead end jobs just having no visible path to take.

One day while shopping, he stumbled on the military option; seeing it as the best option and coming to the painful acceptance that playing sports was not going to work. The moment he got on the bus for basic training he felt for the first time he had a path forward. A life journey beyond his or anyone's comprehension was about to begin. The future was not a sure thing by any means. He would need his early childhood development principles to get him through the many roadblocks, speedbumps, and potholes coming. Along with earlier developed principles, adding passionate curiosity for everything including opportunities to learn and be mentored, two mentors became a part of his DNA. First, Coach Wooden who said, "The time to prepare is before opportunity arises". And the second General Newton who said, "Never waver, stay confident". Constantly in his mind that it was okay to fail, but not okay to stop trying--life was about choices. Always ask for another chance--he was a long shot or the dark horse playing the most important game--Life.

Dark Hose is a must read for anyone wanting to grow themselves, help others grow, and for those who lead others. Required reading for recent graduates, guidance counselors, community leaders, NCO's. and Officers.

General Spencer thank you for writing this book and sharing your story.

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4.5 stars rounded up to 5.

I could not put this honest, informative book down. The author, a black man, takes us through his upbringing in a poor Washington, DC neighborhood through a chance encounter with a military recruiter and then his rise through the Air Force ranks.

I liked that this book took me inside the Air Force, to understand what service members do every day during times of peace. I liked that the author took us through the twists of fate that, along with his powerful work ethic and intelligence, allowed him to rise up to the highest levels of the Air Force.

The military publishing house gave me pause when I first learned of this book—I did not think they would let the author be honest about experiences of racism inside and outside the military. But this author does not hold back. He shares the deceptive practices of the military recruiter who brought him into the Air Force. He takes us through the harrowing experience of having a police officer point a gun at him in his own home, thinking he was an intruder. The author shares numerous experiences of racial discrimination at work and on base. It’s a critical look at military culture.

My one criticism of this book is that the author did not explain how he identified mentors and sponsors to help him in his career. He also did not discuss enough experiences of rejection, especially as he attained higher ranks. For readers turning to this book for career advice, those would have been useful.

Still, I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a powerful, inspiring, honest memoir.

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An inspirational and motivational memoir of an impressive man. Easy to read and rich with USAF details, I only wish he'd included more about his home life and the work-life balance. It would be interesting to read a memoir by his wife; 22 moves while raising 3 children is equally, if not more, impressive! I'm glad he detailed the casual racism he experienced as it demonstrates how pervasive that behaviour is and that no person of colour is exempt from it.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this book.

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General Spencer tells the tale of a uniquely American opportunity and story. A young man from a society like other societies does not make it easy for the disadvantaged to rise above the station they were born into, but the difference was that if you were willing to apply yourself and make sacrifices of comfort opportunities are still available. This is truly an American success story. In today’s world where belief in one's self is considered toxic and love of country jingoistic Spencer tells a tale of success and growth while also realizing the challenges inherent to himself.

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