Gen. Dennis L. Via closed the book on his 36-year Army career during a special retirement review at Summerall Field on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Oct. 6.

A native of Martinsville, Virginia, Via’s final duty in the Army was as the 18th commander of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, which he took over in August 2012.

“Dennis defied the odds and ascended to the absolute highest ranks of the United States military,” said Gen. Mark A. Milley, Army chief of staff.

The son of a house-painter, Via was the first member of his family to obtain a college degree. He is the first African-American from Virginia to be promoted to four-star general, as well as the first graduate of Virginia State University’s ROTC program to become a four-star general. And he is the first Army Signal Corps officer to be promoted to four-star general in the Army’s 241 year history.

Via worked at a local textile mill while attending high school to help his family with their expenses. Milley said Via did not originally expect to go to college, but a high school teacher encouraged him to apply to Virginia State University, a historically black college in Petersberg, Virginia.

There, he met his future wife, Linda, and graduated as a distinguished military graduate in 1980.

Since graduating, Via has commanded nine times throughout his 36-year career and made great strides in the field of cybersecurity.

He was responsible for founding the United States Strategic Command’s Joint Task Force Global, America’s cybersecurity defense organization.

Commander of Army Materiel Command, Via oversaw an organization with a presence in all 50 states and 144 countries, and a budget of more than $50 billion.

“It is an unbelievably complex and exceptionally competent organization … and Dennis lead it all,” Milley said.

Milley said the Army was losing a Soldier of skill, compassion and character.

“You can leave our ranks today with the confidence that you leave behind a generation of leaders who’ve grown up under your outstanding mentorship,” he said.

During his remarks, Via thanked his family and the many mentors who helped him achieve his many successes.

He thanked his sons, Brian and Bradley, and his wife in particular.

“Linda has brought me a very, very long way. I may not have been the brightest cadet at Virginia State, but I was bright enough to ask Linda to marry me,” he said. “Linda, you have been an anchor for our family. Thanks for turning those 23 houses that we’ve lived in over the years into homes … and for your constant display of selflessness. There would be no Gen. Via without you.”

Via also thanked his father, who passed away when Via was 19 years old but who Via said still had “the best seat in the house” for the ceremony.

“Although he only had a 5th grade education, he had a PhD in common sense. He taught me the value of hard work,” Via said.

Via saved a special surprise for his wife, as well. Her father, Frank Brown, served in the Army during World War II as a technician on the Red Ball Express missions, supplying allied troops after D-Day.

“Linda, you often mentioned to me that your dad never received his medals for service in the Army. Today, I’m proud to present your father’s medals to you,” Via said.

Via said he was immensely humbled and that he will remember his time in the Army for the rest of his life.

“While I may no longer be in your formation, I will always be on the Army team,” he said.

Pentagram Staff Writer Guv Callahan can be reached at wcallahan@dcmilitary.com.