20 Notable Black Americans in Telecom and Technology

In 2012, President Barack Obama nominated Via to 4-star general, only the second Signal Corps officer and first Black person to achieve full general rank in the Signal Corps.  During his 36-year military career, he commanded all levels from captain to general, including several years as commanding general and deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Material Command. Before that, he held multiple commands, signal and chief information officer roles, working on everything from communications infrastructure and cyber security to global logistics.

General Via was born in 1958 in the industrial town of Martinsville, Virginia, the son of Henry Via, a house painter and small-contract repairman, and Margaret Via, a homemaker. He had worked in a local textile mill and intended to skip college and become a building contractor until a high-school teacher who taught him masonry convinced him to enroll at his alma mater, Virginia State University, an HBCUs in Petersburg, Virginia, founded in 1882. At the end of his sophomore year, Via entered Army ROTC training and in 1980 graduated as a distinguished cadet with an officer’s commission. Later, Via would become its first graduate to achieve 4-Star General rank and is one of 13 alumni to achieve flag officer status.

Via’s first assignment was as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps commanding troops as a platoon leader at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Via rose to commander of the 3rd Signal Brigade and held staff positions at the battalion level at posts in the United States, Europe and Southwest Asia. He earned a master’s degree in management at Boston University, then graduated from the United States Army Command and General Staff College in 1991, and the United States Army War College in 1999.

In 2002, Via relinquished command of the 3rd Signal Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas, to take a desk job in Washington, D.C., but his most significant assignment was as the 18th Commander of Army Materiel Command, from 2012 to 2016, headquartered in Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. In this assignment, Via supervised a command with a presence in every state and 144 countries, employing more than 140,000 soldiers and civilians, with a $50 billion budget. One of his major achievements was founding the United States Strategic Command’s Joint Task Force Global, the nation’s cybersecurity defense organization.

As a military educator, Via contributed numerous articles on his fields of expertise in such publications as Army MagazineArmy Communicator, and Army Times. In 1999 he authored The Division G6: Strategic Signal Leadership for Information Superiority in the Army After Next, a 45-page report published by the U.S. War College.

A member of the Council of Foreign Relations, Sigma Pi Phi and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternities, Via ended his 36-year military career in October 2016, retiring to his home in Woodbridge, Va.