Redstone Arsenal has always been an important place for the U.S. Army, and a catalyst for Huntsville’s success.
But beyond the arrival of Wernher von Braun on post in the 1950s, perhaps no other time is as important in Redstone’s growth as 2005 – when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission decided to move the Army Materiel Command from the Washington, D.C., area to Huntsville.
Since that decision was made, and AMC officially planted its flag here in June of 2011, Redstone has exploded to more than 40,000 employees and become the center of not just missile and aviation technology, but just about every mission the Army takes on. The AMC motto is “If a soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, communicates with it, or eats it – AMC provides it.”
That AMC was led by a four-star general was the ultimate feather in Huntsville and Redstone’s military cap. Previous lead commands on the arsenal were headed by two-star generals.
It just so happens that the first two of those four-star generals to lead AMC in Huntsville are now bona fide hall of famers.
On Tuesday, the Army Materiel Command Hall of Fame inducted five new members, including Gen. Ann Dunwoody, who oversaw the command’s move to Redstone, and Gen. Dennis Via, who firmly established AMC’s foothold here. The other inductees were Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Mellinger and Senior Executive Service civilians Kathryn Condon and Vincent Faggioli.
Dunwoody retired in 2012 as the first woman in military history to attain the rank of four-star general.
The daughter of a brigadier general, Dunwoody’s own Army career began in 1975 with her commission as a second lieutenant in the Women’s Army Corps. What followed was a series of historical firsts:
- First woman to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division;
- First female general officer at Fort Bragg, N.C.;
- First woman to command the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia;
- First four-star general in the history of the U.S. Army.
Her career included serving overseas during Operation Desert Shield/Storm in Iraq and overseeing logistical support for the initial phases of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq as commanding general of the 1st Corps Support Command.
As the commanding general of the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, Dunwoody oversaw the largest deployment and redeployment of U.S. forces since World War II. As a three-star general officer, Dunwoody was the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for logistics.
When she received her fourth star in 2008 and took over AMC, she became the leader of the largest global logistics command in Army history, which at the time had 69,000 employees worldwide and an annual budget of $60 billion. Overseeing the move to Huntsville was historic in itself, as Redstone is considered the first-ever permanent headquarters in AMC’s 58-year history.
She retired only after overseeing the Army’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 – moving hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment, gear and soldiers, in an unprecedented and efficient fashion.
Though she recognizes that people see her as a trailblazer, Dunwoody sees herself mainly as a soldier.
The Army, she said during her retirement ceremony, “is a profession and an institution that has been a part of me since the day I was born. From the very first day that I put my uniform on, I knew there is nothing I would have rather done with my life. It is a calling to be a soldier, and there is a great sense of pride and camaraderie in serving the greatest Army in the world.”
Dunwoody passed her command to Gen. Dennis Via, who led AMC from 2012 until he retired in 2016.
He was a trailblazer himself, becoming the Army’s first signal officer to achieve the rank of four-star general and one of only eight African-Americans to become four-star generals in Army history.
“I’ve been privileged to stand on the shoulders of so many great men and women who came before me,” Via said in an interview with AMC public affairs. “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 credited his rise through the ranks to his many mentors, and pointed to one of his high school teachers in Martinsville, Virginia, Edward Fontaine, who helped him get into Virginia State University. At VSU, Via would join the ROTC and begin his ascent to the top of the Army’s ranks.
“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.” Throughout his career, Via made it a priority to work with students and ROTC cadets and help them find their paths in life. “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.
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