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Via is four-star general
Area native joins elite
Army Lt. Gen. Dennis L. Via was promoted Tuesday to four-star general during a ceremony at Redstone Arsenal in the Huntsville, Ala., area. Taking part in the ceremony are Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody (left), AMC commanding general, and Linda Via (right), Dennis Via's wife. He also assumed command of the Army Materiel Command from Dunwoody later in the day. (U.S. Army photo)
Thursday, August 9, 2012
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
Henry County can claim its first four-star general.
Army Lt. Gen. Dennis L. Via, a native of Henry County, was promoted to four-star general Tuesday. Later that day, he took over command of Army Materiel Command, known as AMC.
Both ceremonies and a reception took place at Redstone Arsenal in the Huntsville, Ala., area, according to Curtis Millner. Millner, who represents the Iriswood District on the Henry County School Board, said he has been friends with Via for 32 years.
At the ceremonies, officials said Via is one of only 10 four-star generals in the Army and is the second four-star general to graduate from the Virginia State University ROTC program, Millner said.
Millner said he was one of about 75-80 people from Henry County and Martinsville who attended the ceremonies. They included relatives, schoolmates and other friends and associates, he said.
In all, 120-130 people from Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Washington, D.C., attended the ceremonies to see Via honored, Millner estimated.
According to an Army news release, Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, U.S. Army Materiel Command’s outgoing commanding general, said: “One of the reasons this is such a historic day for our Army is that Lt. Gen. Via is the first-ever signal officer in the history of the Army to ever be promoted to a four-star (general).”
Dunwoody recounted the numerous challenging assignments Via has held, from being the commander of the 82nd Airborne Signal Battalion to commanding the 3rd Signal Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas, where he was dual-hatted as the III Corps G6, the release stated.
“I have learned when you have a guy as talented as Dennis, you just don’t want to waste him on one job,” Dunwoody joked, according to the release.
Dunwoody shared her thoughts on what Via will bring to AMC and the Army. “He has a caring personal leadership style that brings out the best in everyone. From the youngest private to the most senior officers, he has an absolute commitment to the highest standards of this Army’s profession, and he has the wisdom and the vision to see how the future can be different and better,” she said, according to the release.
Dunwoody is the Army’s first female four-star general, according to media reports.
Millner echoed her comments: “I have talked to a number of people who served under him (Via). They say in spite of everything, they have never heard him raise his voice.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd Austin attended the promotion ceremony for Via, the release stated. Millner said they are both four-star generals.
During the promotion ceremony, Millner said, Via talked about people who have helped him through the years. Via mentioned his father, Curtis, who had only a third-grade education, worked as a house painter and instilled in him a great work ethic, Millner said.
Via also mentioned Edward L. Fontaine, who taught Via brick masonry during his junior and senior years at George Washington Carver High School; Andrew Wills, a physical education teacher and head varsity boys basketball coach at Carver High School when Via was a student there; and Charlie Belvin, a teacher at Carver who later became principal of Magna Vista High School, Millner said.
Via credits Fontaine with starting him on his Army career and working with Virginia State University guidance counselors to get Via enrolled as a freshman, according to the Army news release. “I tell you that story because it’s not about me today; it is about the impact all of us can make on someone in our lives,” Via said, according to the release.
Millner said Via, whose father died when Via was attending Virginia State University, also talked about his stepfather, a Korean War veteran who took in Via and his brother, William Tyrone Via, “just like they were his own children.”
During the change-of-command ceremony, officials talked about, among other things, the enormity of Via’s new job, Millner said. A ceremony brochure says the Army Material Command is one of the largest Army commands, with more than 69,000 employees. It has a presence in all 50 states and 144 countries.
Army Material Command has been a technology leader throughout its history, developing everything from rations and uniforms to body armor and advanced weapon systems. AMC’s organic industrial base repairs, refurbishes and overhauls every type of equipment in the Army inventory. In addition, AMC executes the Army’s Foreign Military Sales mission and is responsible for one out of every six contracting dollars in the Department of Defense, the brochure states.
Millner said that during the ceremonies and reception, Via, 54, “was calm, smiling, cordial, just thanking everybody for being there.”
Millner said he traveled to Alabama in a van as part of a group of nine people. Via’s first cousin, Faye Harkness, a teacher at Magna Vista High School, arranged the trip.
Millner said they left at 7 p.m. Monday, arrived at 3 a.m. Tuesday, and after showering, dressing and eating, attended Tuesday’s 8 a.m. promotion ceremony and 10:30 a.m. change-of-command ceremony, which was followed by a reception.
“Family and friends had designated seats” at the ceremonies. “I thought that was really great,” Millner said.
Millner’s group got back home at 2 a.m. Wednesday, said Millner, who added, “I slept from 2:30 to 7:30 a.m.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it. I missed the (Henry County Public Schools’) convocation for the first time in 10 years. I can go to convocation again. That’s the last promotion he’ll (Via) ever get in the military,” Millner said.
He called Via’s achievements “outstanding.”
“I couldn’t have been more proud of my son,” Millner said.
Millner said in an interview in 2009 he first met Via in 1980 when Via reported to duty as second lieutenant to Ft. Bragg, N.C. They were standing in line in mess hall. They struck up a conversation and found out that Via’s mother was baby-sitting Millner’s niece. Millner had completed 20 years of service then and was a maintenance chief warrant officer.
Even though Via outranked Millner, “he called me ‘sir.’ I said that wasn’t proper. He said his mother (Juanita Rumley) taught him to respect his elders,” Millner said in 2009.
Via said in an interview in 2009 that, growing up in the Spencer-Preston area, he attended Samuel H. Hairston Elementary School and Carver High School and had perfect attendance for 12 years. At Carver, he played football for two years (halfback and cornerback), and he was the trainer on the boys varsity basketball team.
During his last years at Carver, he worked at Fieldcrest Mills and toyed with the idea of becoming a professional brick mason after graduation, thinking he would not be able to go to college.
He worked his way through college doing painting jobs and also got grants and scholarships. After their father died, he and his brother, when he also was a student at Virginia State, worked to help support their mother, he said.