WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has recommended that the White House promote Marine Corps Lieutenant General Michael E. Langley to be the next head of the military’s Africa Command, two U.S. officials said, in what was a groundbreaking assignment.
If formally nominated by the White House and confirmed by the Senate, General Langley would become the Marine Corps’ first black four-star officer. He would succeed Army General Stephen J. Townsend, who will retire this summer, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel issues.
General Langley, who oversees the Marines on the East Coast, has commanded every level from platoon to regiment during his 37-year career, serving overseas in Afghanistan, Somalia and Okinawa. He has also held several senior staff positions with the Pentagon and with the Army’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East.
“He’s a Marine,” said Jim Mattis, former Secretary of Defense and retired four-star Navy general, praising General Langley’s operational and intellectual prowess.
But perhaps more importantly, a Black Marine is finally ready to make four stars.
The Marine Corps has never had anyone but a white man in its highest-ranking, four-star posts.
Since the Marines first conceded African American troops in 1942, the last military service to do so, fewer than 30 have attained the rank of general in any form. No one has reached the highest rank of four stars, an honor bestowed by the Marines on 73 white men. Seven African Americans achieved Lieutenant General, or three stars. The rest have been awarded one or two stars, the majority in areas from which the Marine Corps does not elect its senior leadership, such as logistics, aviation and transportation.
After an August 2020 DailyExpertNews article about the black Marines’ lack of generals, the Commander of the Marine Corps, General David Berger, was asked why in its entire 246-year history the Corps has failed to send an African American to the United States. promoted to the highest ranks. “The reality is, everyone is very, very, very good,” General Berger said in an interview with Defense One. “For every 10 we pick, every 12, we could pick 30 more — just as well.”
General Langley is “conscious of the weight of this promotion,” said retired Lieutenant General Ronald L. Bailey, the first black man to command the First Marine Division, from 2011 to 2013. “I’ve known him since he a first lieutenant. I know how smart he is and he knows what this means.”
The promotion, General Bailey said, “is bigger than Langley. This is for our people. It has been a glass ceiling for years and now Black Marines are realizing that this is possible.”
When he received his first star, General Langley’s friends recalled telling a story about how his father resigned from the Air Force after he refused to allow him to stay in Texas to care for his children after their mother died.
General Langley grew up and went to the Marine Corps, where he was an artillery officer.
He is said to take charge of command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, at a time of increasing economic and security competition from China and Russia in Africa and now waves of terrorism and violence have conquered the Sahel region, a vast sub-Saharan undergrowth. stretching from Senegal to Sudan.
Other seismic changes are stirring the region. Reflecting economic uncertainty and poor governance, military leaders have overthrown the governments of Mali, Chad, Guinea, Sudan and Burkina Faso in the past two years.
In Mali, France announced earlier this year that it was ending its counterterrorism operation amid deteriorating relations with the Malian military leaders who seized power in a coup last May.
Western officials say Malian security forces have since hired Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a private military company that also operates in Libya and the Central African Republic.
In East Africa, General Langley would oversee a rotating mission. President Biden has authorized the US military to redeploy hundreds of Special Operations troops in Somalia — largely overturning President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw nearly all 700 ground troops stationed there.
Biden has also approved a Pentagon request for permanent authority to attack a dozen people suspected of being leaders of Al Shabab, the Somali terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, three US officials said. Since Biden took office, air strikes have been largely confined to those intended to defend partner forces facing an imminent threat.
Together, Mr Biden’s decisions will breathe new life into an open-ended US counter-terrorism operation that has amounted to a slow war by three governments. The move contrasts with his decision last year to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, saying that “it is time to end the eternal war”.
Born in Shreveport, La., General Langley graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington and was commissioned in 1985.
“Intelligent and attentive,” said General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., a recently retired four-star Marine for whom General Langley worked in Central Command. “Importantly, he was never shy about speaking up if he saw something that needed fixing — not afraid to take an unpopular stance.”