Serving His Country
From Rodessa farm to first black lieutenant general
Born in Bossier City. Worked on a farm in Rodessa. Recently confirmed as the first black four-star general in U.S. Marine Corps history.
Not a bad life for Lt. Gen. Michael E. Langley.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Lt. Gen. Langley said from Washington, D.C. “It’s an honor.”
Lt. Gen. Langley’s mother gave birth at Barksdale Air Force Base in 1960. Her husband, Willie C. Langley, was stationed at BAFB. When Lt. Gen. Langley was just 3 years old, his father was transferred to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. The family eventually moved to other parts of the country, but that didn’t mean Lt. Gen. Langley was done with the Ark-La-Tex.
“I spent a number of summers going to help my grandmother, fixing fences and slopping the hogs down in Rodessa. We were growing up in Fort Worth at the time. In the summers, my father would drive us out and drop us off in Rodessa.”
Emma Caldwell lived on a family farm. Each summer, she would put to work Lt. Gen. Langley and his siblings. Hard work. Outside, in the oppressive heat. That experience – which lasted from when he was 10 years old through high school – taught Lt. Gen. Langley a lesson he has applied to his adult military life.
“The value of hard work. Knowing no one is going to give anything to you. That’s the main reason my father, in the summers, would see us sitting around Dallas-Fort Worth and not doing anything. My grandmother needed some help because she still had over 80 acres in Rodessa. She was getting up there in age. He told her, ‘Miss Emma, I’m going to bring those kids down there and put them to work.’
“That’s exactly what she did. We got there, and she put us to work. It just built character.”
That “character” has helped Lt. Gen. Langley become a “first” in the Marine Corps, 246-year history — an honor he doesn’t take lightly.
“It shows the youth across society of the opportunities the Marine Corps has for leadership and contribution to the country. Whether it’s a young kid on the south side of Chicago, or a young kid down there in Rodessa, or some kid in the Appalachians, it doesn’t matter. Everyone gets an opportunity if they want to serve their country and if they want to be a part of operational excellence.”
But Lt. Gen.Langley’s road to history has not been easy — and he doesn’t want a young person to get the wrong impression.
“It’s a meritocracy. It takes hard work.
You’re not just given that. I don’t want them to just look at the face of it. They need to look at the underpinning that got me here. The hard work that started in the fields in Rodessa and a grandmother instilling work ethic. She was in her 70s and still working the fields, and our father taking us to Rodessa to help work those fields. It helped build character.”
With Lt. Gen. Langley’s promotion, he will serve as the commander of U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany, and command all U.S. military forces in Africa.
To learn more about the U.S. Marine Corps, you may visit www.marines.mil.