A Black Marine officer whose career stalled despite — as one gunny reportedly put it — doing everything you could in the Corps minus securing “a hand salute from Jesus Christ himself” has now been nominated to pin on his first star.
Col. Anthony Henderson, the director of concepts and plans at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Virginia, was nominated for appointment to the rank of brigadier general, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced this week.
The nomination from President Joe Biden follows an August story from The New York Times about Henderson being overlooked for promotion over a four-year period despite several combat tours, leadership experience, and respect from superiors and subordinates.
“Tony Henderson has done everything you could do in the Marines except get a hand salute from Jesus Christ himself,” former Gunnery Sgt. Milton Whitfield Sr. told the Times after Henderson was passed over for promotion three times.
Henderson, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, is one of nine active-duty colonels to be nominated to pin on a star. He’s one of two Black officers up for promotion to brigadier general.
The Marine Corps has had 25 Black generals since admitting African American troops in 1942, according to the Times, but so far only white men have earned four stars.
“Tony Henderson has the potential to be the commandant of the Marine Corps,” retired Lt. Gen. Ronald Bailey, the former head of Marine Plans, Policies and Operations, told the paper this week. “He’s an individual who will work above and beyond what is required. This is well overdue.”
Before joining the Warfighting Lab, Henderson led the California-based 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit through a deployment to the Pacific and Middle East. He also led Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan as executive officer of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, and commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 6th Marines.
Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger said in September that the Marine Corps has more work to do to build diversity in senior leadership positions. One trend that Berger said he wanted to better understand was why women and people of color take themselves out of the running for Marine command screening boards at higher rates than white male officers.
It’s not just that women and minorities aren’t getting promoted or selected for command, he said. They’re opting out of the process.
“You’re allowed the opportunity to write a letter and say, ‘Please don’t consider me,’ because of family reasons or whatever,” Berger said. “Women and minorities asked not to be considered at a much higher rate than their white male counterparts.”
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper last year announced several efforts to end policies that could be discriminatory, including ordering an end to the use of photos in promotion boards.
“We must root out prejudice and bias that may exist but isn’t always transparent,” he said.
The Marine Corps announced in August that photos would no longer be used when making decisions about promotions, assignments or education and training opportunities.
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