Pages Menu

Categories Menu

Posted on Feb 5, 2023 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

A Long Road Getting From There to Here. The Career of General Larry O. Spencer. Book Review

A Long Road Getting From There to Here. The Career of General Larry O. Spencer. Book Review

Ray Garbee

Dark Horse: General Larry O. Spencer and His Journey from the Horseshoe to the Pentagon. Author: General Larry O. Spencer, USAF (Ret.). Publisher: Naval Institute Press. Price: $ 26.95

The military is by default viewed as a warrior culture. Warfare and combat are, of course, the core of why the military exists. But there’s more to a military service than the action at the tip of the spear. The work of every individual behind that fighting tip contributes to the success of the organization. It’s an example of the axiom that there are no unimportant jobs.

The 2022 book, Dark Horse: General Larry O. Spencer and His Journey from the Horseshoe to the Pentagon explores the career of Larry Spencer Larry was an black child from Washington, D.C.. Enlisting in the United States Air Forces in 1971, Larry Spencer’s career was a long road across the next four decades that saw him rise through the ranks to eventually retire as assistance chief of staff of the United States Air Force. But his story is much more than just a recap of the succession of jobs and promotions that made up his career.


Dark Horse does cover General Spencer’s career, but it’s also a case study in how perseverance, focus and sacrifice can drive success in life.  The book is organized in a linear narrative that begins with Larry Spencer’s formative childhood years. From this we see how the values imparted to him by his family, coupled with his need for a stable job led him to enlist in the United States Air Force. His experience with the recruiting step both illuminates young Mr. Spencer’s drive and determination, as well as the common experience many people have had with their recruiter, shall we say, exaggerating the nature of the military service.  

What follows his enlistment is the history of Larry Spencer’s career. At each step, General Spencer stresses the importance of both evaluating every opportunity he encountered and making the most of those opportunities, through the shared sacrifice and hard work of both himself an his family.

But a successful career takes much more than just saying yes to opportunities. Reflecting across his career, General Spencer recounts the number events where individuals assisted in furthering his career. While this success included the benefits from having effective mentors, General Spencer remembers his enlisted roots and calls out the value and support from his team and peers that enabled his success. It’s a hallmark of leadership to recognize the efforts of the team in achieving success, and one of the takeaways you’ll get from Dark Horse is that “Teams Win.”

The early senior leadership of the United States Air Force drew upon a cadre of experienced combat officers. These were the people that were at the tip of the spear – the pilots, and later missile crew leaders charged with the responsibility for carrying out the orders and often assuming the risk of injury, death and capture by the enemy. Typically, the process of promotion and increasing responsibility allows for the organization to identify those officers with the leadership and management skills to drive results across the organization. But also created something of an insular club drawn mainly from the ranks of Academy graduates and combat pilots.

But the flip side of that coin is that corporate America evolved into a culture that identified individuals who were solid managers. This was -and remains – a valuable skill in the modern Air Force. General Spencer’s career reflects this change through his rise up through the administrative and logistical organizations within the Air Force. Across the years, Dark Horse reflects on how the work of the administrative ‘tail’ enabled the people at the tip of the spear to take care of the mundane things like getting paid, so they can focus on the task at hand.

Dark Horse also provides a valuable insight into the culture of the United States Air Force and how it’s a reflection of the broader state of the culture in the United States.

Dark Horse provides a valuable perspective of an Air Force career through the lens of a black American’s experience. Through this, General Spencer captures the pervasive and continued impact of casual racism and racial bias in the United States, and within the Air Force. You might like to think that racism in the military is a relic of the past, but General Spencer recounts how time and again, he and his family encountered racial bias throughout his career.

Gen. Larry Spencer, Air Force vice chief of staff, answers questions from Airmen at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Oct. 4, 2013, from a Pentagon conference room in Washington, during the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response web chat as part of the Every Airmen Counts initiative. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Carlin Leslie)

Dark Horse is a solid biography of an officer with a non-traditional career path. This isn’t the tale of a ROTC college graduate, or an Academy ring knocker. This is the story of a black youth from the inner city, of an enlisted airman who became a commissioned officer and a person who persevered and succeeded in rising to the upper ranks of their organization.. At its heart, Dark Horse is a classically American story. This is a tale of a person with blue-collar, working class roots who through grit, intelligence and determination rose to the rank of a four-star general.  

The summary chapter titled “Life Lessons” is a distillation of Larry Spencer’s experiences. All the guidance is relevant, two observations resonate with this reader, that leadership matters and issues of race ad justice persist in American society. The chapter is reminiscent of Stephen Covey’s book The 7 habits of highly effective people, but viewed through the lens of a military career. As a reflection from a successful senior officer, it’s good, solid life advice. That this reader can appreciate and apply in their life.

Dark Horse is a relatively short book, clocking in at a slim 166 pages. The narrative does a solid job relating the career of General Spencer and documents how he got ‘from there to here’. A relatively quick read, the book will appeal to readers looking for a biography of a modern senior Air Force officer. It will also be interesting for readers looking to explore how supporting organizations further the mission of the United States Air Force as well as how racial issues continue to impact American culture and the Americans that serve in our Armed Forces.