After 246 years, the United States Marine Corps is set for its first Black four-star general. His name is Lt. Gen. Michael E. Langley, and he has been tapped to lead the U.S. forces in Africa. But who really is Lt. Gen. Langley?
Michael E. Langley is a United States Marine Corps lieutenant general who serves as Commander of United States Marine Corps Forces Command, United States Marine Corps Forces Northern Command, and Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic.
Michael E. Langley was a powerlifter who dominated flag football games, an intellectual who set records for how many training courses he wrote, and a problem-solver whose bosses frequently tapped him to mediate workplace disputes.
He caught the eye of Maj. Ronald Bailey, who went on to become a three-star general. Bailey offered Langley advice based on his own experience and that of the Black Marines who had mentored him. “You will live under a microscope,” Bailey recalls telling Langley. “You must always set the standard.”
More than three decades later, Langley will be under the microscope yet again after being nominated to lead all U.S. military forces in Africa as chief of U.S. Africa Command. His Senate confirmation hearing is today, and if confirmed, Langley would become the first Black person to receive four stars since the founding of the U.S. Marine Corps 246 years ago. Over that time, more than 70 White men have risen to the Marines’ highest ranks.
However, it is a point of note that aside from Bailey, a handful of Black men have become three-star generals in the Marine Corps. Other Black officers have attained four stars in the Army, Air Force, and Navy. But in the Marine Corps, Black service members saw no one who looked like them in the top echelons of leadership and sometimes doubted whether it was possible.
But there were others who also deserved a fourth star. Lt. Gen. Frank Petersen, who was the first Black Marine to become a three-star general in 1986, was an example of someone who “no doubt” should have been elevated to a four-star general.
Langley has served in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Japan. He has held top jobs at the Pentagon and led U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa. He currently oversees Marine forces on the East Coast.
That’s why this moment is not just one of profound pride. It is also a reminder of the obstacles that kept it from arriving sooner.
Retired Lt. Gen. Willie Williams, the third Black Marine to receive three stars, said the “commitment to purpose and perseverance” shared by Langley and so many other Black Marines led to his promotion.
“Even right now, I get chills thinking about it,” retired Lt. Gen. Ronald Coleman, the second Black Marine to receive three stars, said of Langley’s promotion.
If confirmed, Langley would be based in Stuttgart, Germany, assuming control of roughly 6,000 U.S. troops in Africa, including about 1,300 in West Africa and about 3,500 at a base in Djibouti, a spokeswoman said. He would replace Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, who is retiring.
U.S. forces are mostly engaged in training African militaries and helping build their capacities. Direct combat is rare, but deadly attacks in recent years on U.S. soldiers in Niger and Kenya led to increased scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers of the mission. Under President Biden, hundreds of Special Operation troops are again to be deployed this year to Somalia. President Donald Trump withdrew all U.S. troops from Somalia before leaving office.
Langley was briefly based in Stuttgart, leading the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa beginning in November 2020 after his predecessor was removed amid allegations of using a racial slur for Black Americans in front of troops. Langley declined to comment on the allegations against his predecessor at the time, telling Stars and Stripes in an interview that the military, like society in general, was still “evolving” when it came to issues related to race.
Willie C. Langley, Michael E. Langley’s father, in 1952. He retired from his post as a noncommissioned officer in the Air Force to focus on raising Michael Langley and his siblings.
Among other generals, Langley is known as a “quiet professional” who “listens more than he talks,” said retired Lt. Gen. H. Stacy Clardy III, who worked with Langley at various points, including in the Pentagon. Clardy counted Langley among the people on whom he could rely, saying he found Langley’s “judgment to be flawless.”
One of Langley’s most formative experiences growing up, he has told friends and mentors, was his father’s decision to retire from his post as a noncommissioned officer in the Air Force.
Willie C. Langley did so after his superiors told him he’d have to be deployed overseas again. That move would have taken him away from Langley and his siblings, for whom he was the primary caregiver after their mother’s death. Langley frequently tells that story, noting that he would not be the person he is today without his father’s decision to put his children before his career, Bailey said.
When Langley learned years later that he had become a general, earning his first star, his initial response was: “I can’t wait to tell my dad,” Bailey recalled.
Source: Washington Post