Dark Horse by Larry O. Spencer

Larry Spencer’s Dark Horse: General Larry O. Spencer and His Journey from the Horseshoe to the Pentagon (Naval Institute Press, 182 pp. $24.95, Hardcover; $18.99, Kindle) is aptly named. A dark horse is a little-known person who succeeds in an unlikely situation. In 1971, at age 18, Spencer joined the U.S. Air Force. In 2015 he retired as the USAF’s 37th Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force. He had risen through 15 pay grades—from E-1 to E-5 and O-1 to O-10—to become a four-star general.

Dark Horse is an autobiography that took me on a spectacular ride. It begins with growing up in an inner-city area of Southeast Washington D.C., takes us through his enlistment, career, and retirement, and into his post-military years. During the Vietnam War Spencer served at Pope AFB in Fayetteville, Norther Carolina, and at the Taiwanese Ching Chuan Kang Air Base. H

Spencer writes about the peer pressures he faced while growing up in the hood and the life lessons he learned from his father and his grandfather and while serving in the Air Force. Spencer’s military journal began when he enlisted as an Airman Basic. After seven years and rising to Staff Sergeant, and after earning a BS in industrial engineering technology, a mentor recommended that he apply for OTS. 

Throughout his career, Spencer accepted many different positions, sometimes as a seemingly underqualified candidate (a dark horse). He enjoyed and excelled at the challenges of succeeding in difficult situations, including his final assignment as Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force.

As for his lofty rise, Spencer quotes the author Coleman Cox, who once said: “I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.”  Although Spencer sees himself as a dark horse, I see him as a workhorse, a hard-working man with a very supportive wife and family.

Reading Spencer recounting the backstories of his life was enjoyable and inspiring. While he knows he worked hard to reach a high level of success, he gives much credit to his family and to military support personnel, mentors, and the Air Force itself.

I highly recommend Dark Horse.

–Bob Wartman