In 2015, the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, established the Lt. Gen. Arthur J. Gregg Sustainment Leadership Award to recognize those who’ve demonstrated lifelong excellence in their logistics craft. First awarded to its namesake in 2016 by then-Gen. Dennis L. Via, Commanding General (CG) of Army Materiel Command (AMC), the Gregg Award honors contributions to Army sustainment operations made by leaders across the enterprise as voted on by a board of senior military and civilian representatives. In a Nov. 1, 2021, ceremony at Fort Lee, Virginia, the Gregg Award came full circle, as Via became its sixth recipient, with Gregg present for the day’s ceremonial events.
Speaking to a combined in-person and virtual crowd of more than 1,000 active service members, veterans, family, and friends, Via was quick to honor and reflect on Gregg’s trailblazing efforts, from his first days in the Army as a private in 1946 to his ascension to lieutenant general in 1977. The Army was racially segregated for Gregg’s first four years of service, so opportunities for promotion and new assignments for African Americans were extremely limited. When Gregg first arrived at Fort Lee, Virginia, in the early 1950s, he was assigned to an all-black company as an assistant platoon leader. No other assignments were available at the time, but Gregg would soon serve as an instructor of junior enlisted Soldiers and officers at Fort Lee’s Quartermaster Leadership School. Even in the face of adversity and injustice, Gregg committed himself to a mission of selflessly and passionately leading his Soldiers. In his own words, an effective leader must “put the mission first, and put himself or herself last”. Throughout a 35-year career which culminated in his promotion to Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, Gregg proved time and again his ability to transform those words into actions as an unpretentious enabler of the Army warfighter. His service set the foundation for the next generation of leaders who rose through the Army’s ranks both during and after his illustrious career ended.
Via concluded his acceptance remarks by positing that, in a different time and a different Army, Gregg may very well have been the first African American to achieve the rank of general. That distinction would be reserved for retired Gen. Roscoe Robinson, a 1951 graduate of the United States Military Academy and the first African American to command the 82nd Airborne Division, who earned his fourth star in 1982 as the U.S. Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Military Committee. Gregg’s influence and legacy, however, would not be hamstrung by a missing star upon retirement, as his efforts in service—from the expansive plains of Fort Riley, Kansas, to the vaunted halls of the Pentagon—offered a playbook in success for Via and countless others, including the first African American logistics four-star general and former Gregg Award recipient, retired Gen. Johnnie Wilson.
A native of Martinsville, Virginia, Via’s auspicious journey to sustainment excellence began in 1980 when he was commissioned as an officer after earning his bachelor’s from Virginia State University as a Distinguished Military Graduate at the tail-end of Gregg’s career. While Virginia State boasts a rich history in military science, having trained and educated twelve general officers to date, it is nearly happenstance that Via ended up matriculating to its campus 170 miles northeast in Petersburg. He had planned on becoming a brick mason after high school, citing a perceived lack of prerequisites on his transcript necessary to attend college, but a high school teacher and veteran who recognized Via’s leadership potential had other plans. With his natural capabilities identified from an early age, Via was encouraged to attend Virginia State and explore its Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. Via took this advice to heart and joined the ROTC program at the end of his sophomore year of college, honing his leadership and technical competencies under the tutelage of Virginia State’s esteemed Military Science professors.
While recognized as a lifelong logistician, Via’s Army career began immediately after graduating from Virginia State University at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as a member of the Signal Corps. Like Gregg, his impact and legacy extend beyond the sustainment enterprise, and his career followed a similarly precocious trajectory as evidenced by his numerous technically complex, highly visible command and staff assignments, culminating as the CG of AMC. When Via served on the Joint Staff in 2009, he would often walk the halls of the Pentagon on especially stressful days to glean inspiration from the portraits of former members of the Joint Staff adorned on the walls. His favorite picture to admire and ruminate upon was that of Gregg. Conflating challenges he faced at that point in his career in the early- to mid-2000s to those experienced by Gregg in the 1970s served as an exercise in perspective. The lasting impression from Gregg’s background, journey, and staggering accomplishments left on Via would serve as a boon for the career of the first Signal Corps officer to achieve the rank of general.
“General (Retired) Via was a master at preparation who boasted a deep understanding of the Army’s processes, believing wholeheartedly that preparation and opportunity equaled success. He was an impactful leader who engaged his people on a personal level, connected with them, found common ground, and empowered them to succeed in their mission to sustain the Army,” said Maj. Gen. David Wilson, 8th Theater Sustainment Command Commanding General, and former executive officer to AMC’s Commanding General, about Via’s service.
Throughout a career defined by—as asserted by those who worked alongside him—humility, grace, and a dedication to others, Via demonstrated the same aptitude for engaging and empowering his workforce initially set forth by Gregg. Always first to give credit, take blame, and put the mission and the people working toward its completion over himself, Via espoused the exact leadership ideals which carried Gregg throughout his years serving the Army and beyond. Their shared character, competence, and commitment to steadfast servant leadership has set an unparalleled precedent for the Army’s future logistics leaders.
Members of the sustainment community gathered at the Lee Club to honor Via and laud his accomplishments in a room that once forbade entry to Gregg due to his skin color. A physical space that was once marked by pernicious exclusivity now plays host to a celebration of the very best Army logisticians—regardless of certain immutable characteristics—by the ones who they lead and inspire. The Gregg Award was established to recognize leadership and technical excellence, and its aperture will be widened in the future to ensure the global community of Army logisticians can celebrate more of its own who’ve dedicated their careers to doing more for others than for themselves.
The Gregg Award’s charter has been amended for 2022 and beyond to most effectively recognize leaders who have left an indelible impression on the Army’s Sustainment Enterprise. Moving forward, it will be presented across three distinct categories annually, which any given Army Command, Army Service Component Command, or Direct Reporting Unit can nominate an individual for evaluation board consideration:
- Active-duty service member
- Department of the Army Civilian
- Veteran or retiree
Since its inception in 2016, the Lt. Gen. Arthur J. Gregg Sustainment Leadership Award has been presented to retired Lt. Gen. Robert Dail, retired Gen. Johnnie Wilson, retired Maj. Gen. Aundre Piggee, and retired Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams.
Each February since 1976, the United States has collectively celebrated Black History Month to, in the words of then-President Gerald R. Ford, “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every endeavor throughout our history.” The Army has committed itself to continually advancing those critical diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that will ensure a Total Army most reflective of the Nation it is called to defend. This edition of Army Sustainment has been published and disseminated during 2022’s observance, and a list of the Army’s current African American logistics general officers can be referenced below for both celebratory and educational purposes.
Maj. Jamie L. Hickman is the Military Assistant to the Army Deputy Chief of Staff G4 and a Doctoral Student at Columbia University. She holds a Master of Education from Columbia University, a master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the Naval War College, and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Maryland University College.
Mike Crozier is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4’s Logistics Initiatives Group. He holds bachelor’s and ’master’s degrees from Georgetown University.
This article was published in the Winter 2022 issue of Army Sustainment.