(A version of this article will appear in the September 2021 issue of Military Officer, a magazine available to all MOAA Premium and Life members. Learn more about the magazine here; learn more about joining MOAA here.)
Over his 34-year Army career, Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins, USA (Ret), led troops in Egypt, Afghanistan, and all over the U.S. Now, he is back where his career began to take on a new, yet familiar, military mission.
In April, Wins was appointed the 15th superintendent of his alma mater, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). This marks the first time an African American has held the position in the institute’s 181 years.
Wins said it’s vital to lead cadets with integrity — starting with a personal mission to clean up the allegations of racism and sexism that had been festering on campus for decades.
“I spent the first 45 days of my tenure as superintendent meeting with and listening to cadets, faculty, and staff,” Wins told Military Officer. “I spent countless hours doing deep dives with my staff on VMI’s policies and procedures.”
His finding wasn’t far off from the conclusions of a state-ordered investigation into the culture at VMI, Virginia’s oldest state-supported military institution, he said. Some problems needed to be addressed.
Wins formed an action plan he titled “One Corps — One VMI” aimed to unify cadets and staff at VMI and help the institution move forward. The plan outlines what is expected of cadets and the institute: honor, diversity and inclusion, building leaders of character, preparing cadets to compete and win, and recognizing strength through diversity.
Military Officer spoke to Wins about race and empowering young leaders.
Q. The state-ordered investigation found incidents of racism and sexism at the school. You weren’t around as those incidents occurred and tension mounted, but as you stepped into the superintendent role, how important did it become to you to change the culture at VMI?
A. My findings were consistent with the commonwealth’s recent investigative results. Our policies and procedures are applied fairly and equitably to all cadets. However, like many other schools in the country, we have had incidents of racism, sexism, and sexual assault that must be addressed.
During my first address to the Corps of Cadets in November of last year, I made it clear that racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination were not going to be tolerated during my administration.
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Q. Last year, after George Floyd was killed, senior military leaders came together and made strong comments publicly condemning acts of racism within the ranks. How can your work to combat racism and sexism at VMI make a difference as these cadets commission and take command?
A. Each year, between 50-60% of our graduating class commissions as officers in one of the various branches of the military. In addition to providing them a world-class education, we have a responsibility to prepare them to be excellent military officers. We have a long track record of doing so. Part of that responsibility is to ensure they are prepared for the realities of life in the military, and the real world after the military.
Our cadets must be prepared to lead diverse groups of individuals who come from all walks of life. We do them a disservice if they leave VMI believing that everyone they will work with thinks, looks, and acts the way they do. While VMI has done a good job over the past decade, our efforts to recruit cadets and faculty members who represent various racial, gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds will be vital to a cadet’s preparation for life after VMI.
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Q. The first woman in the school’s history recently took command. What does that signal to you about the future of VMI?
A. I think it signals that VMI’s future has been and will continue to be very, very bright. I think it’s emblematic of the quality of young men and women that come here. I think it certainly reflects the progress that the school has made, but also, and more importantly, the young women who’ve chosen to come here and take on this challenge, just like everybody else.
Q. What does it mean to you to return to VMI in this role?
A. It’s humbling. ... I was very proud of where I’d gone to school and very proud of what I’ve been able to do here and the fact that I graduated from VMI. But there’s so many other things that I can tackle in life that extend beyond college life, and I felt like I was prepared as a result of my time here at VMI. So, very humbling, and very gratifying. I see a lot of opportunity in the ability to help shape and direct the lives of young men and women.
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Q. What was your experience like transitioning to the civilian workforce?
A. I knew that the time was coming, but I was still committed to trying to give my all to the job. And that’s one thing that I think I would recommend to people. At some point, you’re going to have to disengage, and you’re going to have to think about putting more of a focus on that transition piece as opposed to putting a continued focus on the job at hand. … So that’s probably what I would recommend – know when the right time is to disengage to give yourself enough time to prep for the next chapter. I think the one thing that made that whole process not as challenging is that I told myself that I was going to take a little break and just kind of decompress a little bit. Take a little break, take a little time to think about things, take a little inventory of your life.
Q. How did MOAA help as you made your transition?
A. There was a briefer that came in and talked to us about that whole transition process and what MOAA offered – everything from the opportunity to secure insurance … for yourself and for your family to the assistance that they would provide for resume preparation and to include the opportunity to help you get your resume out there based on certain opportunities that they may not be aware of. I was able to take advantage of all those resources that were offered by MOAA.
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