Trump taps billionaire businessman as Army secretary

President-elect Trump has selected West Point graduate and billionaire businessman Vincent Viola, a supporter of the Combating Terrorism Center and Army Cyber Institute at West Point, as pick for the top civilian slot in the U.S. Army.

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President-elect Donald Trump has selected a billionaire businessman and owner of the Florida Panthers hockey team as secretary of the Army, a selection that could provide a boost to the Army’s cyber initiatives.

Vincent Viola graduated from West Point in 1977, and despite a relatively brief military career, he has maintained strong ties with the service academy.

Viola funded and launched West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center in 2002, and more recently he has been a strong supporter of the Army Cyber Institute.

“Mr. Viola was influential in the establishment of the Cyber Chair at West Point,” said one official at the institution. “[Viola’s] contributions have enabled the integration of technology into curriculum and research.”

“Mr. Viola has served as an informal advisor to the Army Cyber Institute, and West Point at large, providing professional expertise not available within the military to the ACI director and leadership,” the official said. “This in turn, has enabled partnership efforts between the Army and private industry.”

The Pentagon declined to comment on the selection of Viola for secretary of the Army. However, one defense official who was not authorized to speak with the press expressed optimism that Viola would come to the job with a strong appreciation of cyber as a war-fighting domain and an understanding of the needs and challenges the Army faces in adapting to cyber threats.

Viola grew up in Brooklyn as the child of Italian immigrants. The first in his family to graduate from college, he attended the Infantry Officer Basic Course and Ranger School after graduating from the USMA.

Viola earned a J.D. from New York Law School in 1983 and worked as a trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange before going on to found a number of finance and banking businesses, including Virtu Financial and Pioneer Futures.

“If confirmed, I will work tirelessly to provide our President with the land force he will need to accomplish any mission in support of his National Defense Strategy,” Viola said in a statement released by the Trump transition team.

“A primary focus of my leadership will be ensuring that America’s soldiers have the ways and means to fight and win across the full spectrum of conflict,” he added. "This great honor comes with great responsibility, and I will fight for the American people and their right to live free every day."

If confirmed, Viola would replace outgoing secretary Eric Fanning, who has been a strong proponent of cyber and innovation initiatives.

Fanning oversaw the creation of the Army Rapid Capabilities Office and just announced the launch of the Army Digital Service, an offshoot of the Defense Digital Service, which has run the Pentagon and Army bug bounty programs and is working on a number of tech initiatives such as next-generation GPS.

Senior officials and outside experts have expressed some concerns that the RCO and other innovation initiatives launched by the DOD in recent years could fade if the incoming administration does not make them a priority. The selection of Viola could allay some of those concerns.

“Whether it is his distinguished military service or highly impressive track record in the world of business, Vinnie has proved throughout his life that he knows how to be a leader and deliver major results in the face of any challenge,” President-elect Trump said in a statement.

NEXT STORY: DHS cyber exec resigns

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