APL Colloquium

February 17, 2023

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

General Larry Spencer, USAF (Ret.) was born and raised on the Horseshoe—a tough inner-city street in southeast Washington D.C. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

Colloquium Speaker: GEN Larry O. Spencer

General Spencer serves as president for the Armed Forces Benefit Association (AFBA) and 5Star Life Insurance Company (5Star Life).  AFBA provides survivor benefits and other benefits to those who serve this great nation, including members of the uniformed services, first responders, government employees, and their families. 5Star Life is the primary underwriter of the AFBA member policies and is a growing provider of group and worksite insurance products.

Retiring as a four-star general, Spencer spent over 40 years in the Air Force. His last assignment was as the Vice Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, Pentagon, Washington, DC. In this capacity, Spencer was the second highest-ranking military member in the Air Force. He presided over the Air Staff and assisted the Chief of Staff of the Air Force with organizing, training and equipping 690,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian forces serving in the United States and overseas.

Spencer began his career in the enlisted ranks and rose to become a four-star general. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering technology from Southern Illinois University (SIU), Carbondale. Spencer was commissioned through Officer Training School in 1980 as a distinguished graduate. He has commanded a squadron, group and wing, and he was Vice Commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center. He was also the first Air Force officer to serve as the Assistant Chief of Staff in the White House Military Office. He served as the Chief Financial Officer and Director of Mission Support at two major commands; and held positions within the Air Staff, Secretariat and the Joint Staff. Prior to his assignment as Vice Chief of Staff, the general was Director, Force Structure, Resources and Assessment, Joint Staff, the Pentagon, Washington, DC reporting directly to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

General Spencer participated in contingency Operations Desert Shield/Storm, Desert Thunder, Desert Fox, Allied Force, and Iraqi Freedom.

Spencer has two Master of Science degrees in business management from Webster College and industrial resource strategy from the National Defense University. He also completed post-graduate courses at Harvard University, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree from SIU.

General Spencer has two named awards: The Air Force General Larry Spencer Innovation Award and the Air Force General Larry Spencer Special Acts and Services Award. General Spencer is also a Distinguished Senior Fellow of Fels Institute of Government, University of Pennsylvania. General Spencer is the author of the book, The Green Eyeshades of War, a historical review of financial management during war, published in 2016.

General Spencer served as the Air Force Association’s top executive, where he set records for revenue generation, membership growth and technology symposium revenue, sponsorships, exhibit sales and attendance. He currently sits on the boards of Whirlpool Corporation, The Triumph Group, and Haynes International.

Larry and his wife, Ora, reside in Lorton, Virginia.