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UT Arlington graduate set to become Marines’ first Black four-star general

Lt. Gen. Michael Langley, who grew up in Fort Worth, is going through confirmation hearings to become the leader of U.S. forces in Africa.

By Joseph Morton

Lt. Gen. Michael Langley
Lt. Gen. Michael Langley addressed senators in Washington during his confirmation hearing to lead U.S. Africa Command on Thursday, July 21, 2022. (Mariam Zuhaib / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON — Lt. Gen. Michael Langley, a graduate of Fort Worth’s Western Hills High School and the University of Texas at Arlington, is poised to make history as the first Black four-star general in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Langley has been nominated to lead U.S. Africa Command, a high-profile and difficult assignment with the threat of resurgent terrorism organizations and insidious activities by adversaries China and Russia.

“The command will continue to address the dual challenges of strategic competition and violent extremism,” Langley testified Thursday during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Langley kicked off his testimony by noting that he was accompanied by his father and stepmother from Fort Worth, along with his sisters. His father, Willie Langley, served 25 years in the Air Force.

The Washington Post reported that his father opted to retire after being told of a pending deployment, because he wanted to ensure the best care for Michael and his siblings after the death of their mother.

A February 2021 Stars and Stripes article recounted how Langley grew up on racially diverse Air Force bases until his father retired as a master sergeant in the early 1970′s and the family settled on the west side of Fort Worth, where they were the only Black family in “cowboy country.”

“At that time we were taking it from all sides,” Langley told Stars and Stripes. “The Blacks didn’t like us because we lived out in a white neighborhood. And the whites considered us different and wondered why we were there.”

He credited those experiences with making him more resilient and preparing him for leadership roles.

Langley graduated from Western Hills High School and went on to UT-Arlington, where he graduated in 1985 with a bachelor’s in business administration and a concentration in systems analysis.

While at UT-Arlington, he was a four-year track letterman and graduate assistant coach.

Langley’s success was already a point of pride to his former university teammates, who said in interviews that he always stood out as someone destined to go far.

They described a funny young man who would cut up while watching episodes of Love Connection over a Domino’s pizza, but also demonstrated academic commitment and attention to detail.

One of those teammates, Macks Dillon, recalled rooming with Langley at the university’s long-since-demolished athletic dormitory Pachl Hall. Dillon described the dorm as a venue for all kinds of typical college shenanigans that only served to highlight Langley’s discipline.

“Nobody else in that entire dormitory studied at all,” Dillon said. “But he did. Let me put it this way — you’re not going to find another four-star general that came out of Pachl Hall. … That place was as silly as it gets.”

Dillon recalled how he and others would visit the Dry Gulch, the university’s on-campus bar at the time.

“The rest of us would go out and imbibe and have fun as adolescents would … but you’d come back and Mike would be studying,” Dillon said.

After being commissioned in 1985, Langley commanded at every level from platoon to regiment and served all over the globe, including in Japan, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Those experiences should serve him well in his new role. He told the committee Thursday that China and Russia are working to expand their influence across Africa even as a laundry list of extremist groups such as al Shabaab and al-Qaeda threaten America’s people and interests there.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chairman of the committee, said Langley is taking over the command at a critical time given security in East Africa has deteriorated since the 2020 decision to pull U.S. military personnel out of Somalia.

The situation in West Africa also is fragile with extremist groups expanding their operations, Reed said.

Other committee members hit similar notes as they expressed concern about the level of resources available to U.S. military operations in Africa and the worry that those could be reduced further as the country focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and tensions in the Asia Pacific region.

But they also expressed confidence in Langley to tackle those challenges and said they look forward to supporting his nomination, which Reed is pushing to have confirmed before senators leave for their August recess.

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