The Crusader Newspaper Group

“The Key of F”

General Larry O. Spencer (Ret.) USAF

Photo caption: General Larry O. Spencer (Ret.) USAF.

By Keisha L. Jackson

“Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it.” – Tom Lehrer

Some believe when learning to play the piano, starting in the Key of C is best–only white keys are played (the black keys introduce the flat and sharp keys). For General Larry O. Spencer (Ret.) USAF, his “life is like a piano” started with all black keys (lived in an all-black neighborhood in southeast Washington DC, went to an all-black school, and attended an all-black church).

With his parents having little disposable income, twelve-year-old Larry Spencer learned to play life by opening a lemonade stand. Thereafter, he delivered newspapers, cut grass, washed cars, shoveled snow, rode the back of a trash truck collecting garbage, worked as a janitor in a department store, and spent summers working on his grandfather’s farm in Virginia.

To earn income after graduating high school, eighteen-year-old Larry Spencer took a GS-1 job with the U. S. Census Bureau. Two months later, he strolled into a local mall wearing an afro but walked out of the mall signed up to enlist after stopping by an AFRO (Air Force Recruiting Office).

In six years, Airman Basic Spencer advanced to Staff Sergeant Spencer and received his Bachelor of Science degree. Instead of reenlisting, he applied and was selected for Officer Training School. Over the next thirty years, he became a military virtuoso, being promoted nine times (second lieutenant-to-major general).

For his tenth and final promotion, General Spencer was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate to the second highest rank in the Air Force. In this position he became one of only nine African Americans to earn the rank of four-star general and the thirty-seventh vice chief of staff of the United States Air Force.

General Spencer’s “life is like a piano” hasn’t been without experiencing “flats and sharps” (low self-esteem, unconscious bias, racism, and unfairness). Yet he continues to “tickle life’s ivory” not by playing all black keys or all white keys, but by living in the “Key of F:”

  • Faith
  • Family
  • Fortitude
  • Focus

“It doesn’t matter where you start, where you’re born, or what circumstances you started with. If you’re willing to put in the work, you can achieve. Through persistence and determination, you can break through and do whatever you want.” General Larry O. Spencer

General Spencer is the President of the Armed Forces Benefit Association (AFBA) and the Chair & President of 5Star Life Insurance Company. His last military assignment was the Vice Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, Washington, DC. In this capacity, General Spencer was the second highest-ranking military member in the Air Force and the second African American to serve in this position. General Spencer is also the author of “Dark Horse” General Larry O. Spencer and His Journey from the Horseshoe to the Pentagon. To learn more about General Spencer,

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