FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (March 31, 2015) -- How does the Army provide support to minorities against the backdrop of a good old boys' network, a cadet asked Gen. Dennis L. Via.

Via, commander of U.S. Army Materiel Command, spoke to 300 ROTC and U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, cadets here, March 30, during the George C. Marshall Awards and Leadership Seminar.

Via said that he and other Army leaders strive to provide a "positive, caring, supportive and inclusive environment, where Soldiers are judged only by their God-given talents and abilities." Not by race, gender, religion or other label.

That is the Army's focus and it should be yours as well, he said. You should try to be the most competent professional you can be. "Be the go-to person who can deliver. Strive for excellence."

That is not to say adversities and setbacks will not happen or that discrimination does not exist, Via said. But everyone has a good shot at excelling in the Army whether a minority or not, he said.

Competence is just part of it, Via said.

Character is another attribute Soldiers need to foster. "Guard your reputation and be trustworthy," he said. You may occasionally make mistakes and these you can overcome. "But your reputation stays with you throughout your career."

Also, focus on becoming the best leader you can be, he said. Personal engagement and interaction are important. Emails and social media are no substitute for face-to-face interactions.

Another thing is to build teamwork and cohesion in your unit, demand accountability and maintain good discipline, he said. If you do those things, "there's nothing you can't accomplish."

Finally, treat everyone with dignity and respect and demand others to do the same, he said. "Most people will never remember what you say. Most people will never remember what you did. But they will always remember how you made them feel."

BE OPTIMISTIC

Another cadet asked Via why he looks so happy and relaxed in such a stressful job that he must have.

Via responded with an anecdote. When he was a young captain, his leader developed a brain tumor and soon thereafter passed away.

"That was a life-changing moment for me," Via said.

"I've learned to slow down and smell the roses, not take myself too seriously and look at the glass as being half full," he said.

Be an optimist, he advised. Tomorrow will be a better day.

It is a leader's job to provide a positive influence and a positive environment. "People feed off you as a leader."

Life will not always be a bowl of chocolates, he said. There will be many stressful moments in life. But if you maintain a positive attitude, "when adversity comes your way you can withstand it."

SOLDIER PRIORITIES

A cadet asked about Army Materiel Command priorities.

Via told how operational energy, lightening the Soldier load, providing better force protection and other initiatives will benefit the Soldier.

While these technological improvements are important, he said leadership development remains the number-one priority.

A final advice, Via said, is to build relationships wherever you go. He related a story about how as a captain in 1991, he befriended a Saudi soldier. Just recently, that soldier whom he had not seen in all those years came to see him.

He is now a major general in charge of the Saudi National Guard's aircraft. They plan to have lunch next week.

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