US/Africa: 10 things to know about Biden AFRICOM nominee Michael Langley

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Wednesday, 22 June 2022 10:11

Lt Gen Michael E. Langley, U.S. Marine Corps
Lt Gen Michael E. Langley, U.S. Marine Corps, AFRICOM nominee

The Pentagon announced on 9 June that it had tapped a 37-year veteran of the Marine Corps to serve as the next head of Africa Command.

If confirmed, Lt. Gen. Michael Langley will make history as the corps’ first Black four-star officer.

1.    Marine groundbreaker

Langley’s appointment comes with a promotion to four-star general, the Marine Corps’ highest rank. He would be the first African-American to reach the top in the corps’ 246-year history, joining 73 white men. The promotion comes as the Marine Corps – and the broader US military – is under pressure to build a more diverse and inclusive fighting force.

Langley would also be the second Marine in charge of AFRICOM after Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who served in 2016-2019. The other four have all come from the Army.

2.    African-American in charge

Langley would be only the second Black chief – and sixth in total – to head AFRICOM since President George W. Bush tapped Army Gen. William “Kip” Ward as its inaugural leader back in 2007. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, AFRICOM’s jurisdiction extends to all 54 African nations except Egypt, which is under the purview of the Middle East-focused Central Command.

Langley would replace US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, who has been in the post since July 2019 and is slated to step down this summer. The changing of the guard comes as President Joe Biden is sending several hundred troops back to Somalia to fight Al-Shabaab a year and a half after President Donald Trump pulled them out.

3.    African experience

Langley has broad experience on the African continent, having served as the commander of US Marine Forces Europe and Africa – the Marine Corps component of European Command and AFRICOM – from November 2020 to October 2021. In that post Langley coordinated with military forces across the continent, including on deepening ties with the Royal Moroccan Navy and helping coordinate African Lion, AFRICOM’s largest military exercise with more than 7,000 participants from nine nations and NATO in June 2021.

4.    Somali proving ground

A “Marine’s Marine” in the words of former defense secretary and retired Marine four-star Gen. Jim Mattis, Langley has served overseas in Okinawa, Afghanistan and Somalia. He was deployed to the Horn of Africa with the 1st Marine Division in support of Operation Restore Hope, the US-led, UN-sanctioned multinational initiative to protect humanitarian operations in warring Somalia from December 1992 to May 1993.

5.    Taste of discrimination

Largely sheltered in his youth growing up on racially diverse Air Force bases as an officer’s son, Langley told the American military newspaper Stars and Stripes that he got his first taste of discrimination when the family moved to Texas in the early 1970s. He said those challenges at an early age prepared him to lead in a military that is still fighting to root out bias. His promotion to head of US Marine Forces Europe and Africa came after his predecessor, Maj. Gen. Stephen Neary, was relieved of command amid allegations he used a racial slur at his headquarters in Germany.

6.    Young prodigy

Langley graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington and was commissioned in 1985. His steady rise through the upper echelons of the Marine Corps got an early boost in the 1980s when he was offered the chance to lead a battery in the 10th Marines, the largest artillery regiment in the free world. He was told at the time that he was the first lieutenant given a position usually reserved for more senior captains since the Vietnam War.

7.    Broad experience

During his 37-year career in the military, Langley has commanded at every level from platoons of four dozen men to regiments of several thousand. He’s also held senior staff jobs at the Pentagon and Central Command, which covers Egypt and the Middle East, and served as deputy commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force, a mix of ground, air and logistics forces capable of fighting without external assistance for up to 60 days.

8.   Atlantic commander

The general’s current posting, since November 2021, has been overseeing Marines forces on the East Coast of the United States. He is dual-posted as Commander of Marine Forces Command and Commanding General of the Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, a US maritime landing force headquartered at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

9.   War scholar

According to the official Marines website, Langley’s formal miliary education includes the U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School, a 41-week course at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia, and the College of Naval Command and Staff, a 10-month resident program at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He also holds several advanced degrees including a Masters in National Security Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College and a degree in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College.

10.   Deep South native

Langley was born in the American Deep South in Shreveport, Louisiana. The state’s third most populous city is 60 % Black and is the cultural center of the Ark-La-Tex region where Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas meet.

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