By Megan CottonFebruary 10, 2020
From humble beginnings to the first four-star signal branch officer, retired Gen. Dennis L. Via's nearly four-decade military career started with education.
Born and raised in Martinsville, Virginia, Via had no plans to go to college, much less become an Army officer. That was until his high school teacher, Edward Fontaine, helped him get accepted into Virginia State University, where Via would join ROTC and change his life forever.
Via, who served as Army Materiel Command's 18th commanding general before retiring in 2016, will be inducted into the command's Hall of Fame on March 10 along with four other Soldiers and civilians who made lasting contributions to the command.
Via's 36-year career took him all around the world, including tours in Italy and Germany. During his assignment in the Pentagon as the Director for Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems (J-6) it was announced that the J-6 would be stood down, eliminating Via's position. It was then that Via received a call from Gen. Ann Dunwoody, then the commander of AMC, asking if he would like to become her deputy.
"As one door closes, another one opens. Had that decision not been made, I wouldn't have been the deputy at AMC and certainly wouldn't have had the opportunity to become the commanding general," he said.
Via assumed command of AMC in August of 2012. During his tenure, he was responsible for leading the retrograde mission from Southwest Asia, transitioned the command from wartime support operations to sustainment, and institutionalized the Materiel Common Operating Picture to assist Army leadership in equipping and fielding decisions. He also streamlined Logistics Readiness Centers to maximize efficiency and reduced cost, and initiated the Army Readiness Insurance Policy concept.
Via, who was the first Signal Officer to achieve the rank of four-star general and one of only eight four-star African American generals in Army history, has credited his mentors for pathing the way.
"I've been privileged to stand on the shoulders of so many great men and women who came before me," Via said. "I've been blessed to be the first many times in my career, but Lt. Gen. Robert Gray told me, 'Don't worry about being the first; just make sure you aren't the last.'"
Via never forgot his humble beginnings and paid it forward by spending much of his career reaching out to students and ROTC cadets.
"As an Army senior leader, I know the Army would not exist as it does today without ROTC," Via said. "ROTC has a proven track record for developing leaders and building the next generation of military and civic leaders."
With students, Via shared his keys to success in hopes of providing them knowledge of the opportunities available to them.
"I feel strongly that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. There are many talented young men and women that don't have the opportunity, so if in some small way I can inspire someone to do what they want to do in their life, I will," he said.