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Billionaire West Point Grad Tapped for Army Secretary

In this Sept. 27, 2013 file photo, Vincent Viola talks to the media about the future of the Florida Panthers during a press conference in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
In this Sept. 27, 2013 file photo, Vincent Viola talks to the media about the future of the Florida Panthers during a press conference in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

President-elect Donald Trump on Monday announced he plans to nominate a billionaire West Point graduate and former infantry officer to become Army secretary.

Trump intends to nominate Vincent "Vinnie" Viola, the founder and executive chairman of the high-frequency trading firm Virtu Financial and owner of the National Hockey League's Florida Panthers, to become the top civilian at the military's biggest service.

"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," Trump said in a statement.

Viola trained as an Airborne Ranger and served in the 101st Airborne Division, according to the release. He's "living proof of the American dream," it states, born and raised in an Italian immigrant family in Brooklyn. His father worked as a truck driver and served in the Army during World War II -- an experience that inspired the younger Viola to serve his country.

Viola is a 1977 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, according to the release. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, he graduated Infantry Officer Basic School and Ranger School before becoming a member of the storied division nicknamed the "Screaming Eagles." He later served in the Army Reserve.

After earning a law degree from New York Law School, Viola worked as a trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange -- where later in life he was appointed chairman -- and founded multiple businesses, according to the release. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., Viola helped found the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Viola has a net worth of $1.8 billion and his company Virtu Financial was featured in Michael Lewis' book, "Flash Boys," as an example of how high-frequency trading has an advantage over the conventional method, according to Forbes.

He has previously suggested technology will transform military operations, specifically cyberwarfare, and said the Army must rethink its model of the soldier.

"I think the army of the future will be built around a gestalt of geekdom," he told several thousand attendees at a military network conference in Tampa in 2011, according to an article on the Defense Systems website. "We've got to find geeks who love their country," he added. "At my company, I’ll gladly trade 10 pull-ups and five minutes on a run for 20 IQ points and heart."

In the release, Viola said he was honored to be nominated for the post.

"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," he said. "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. This great honor comes with great responsibility, and I will fight for the American people and their right to live free every day."

Trump has turned to former military officers for key positions in his cabinet.

The president-elect has appointed retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, for national security adviser. He has also nominated retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, the former head of Central Command, for defense secretary; Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Republican from Montana and a former Navy SEAL, for Interior Department secretary; retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, the former head of Southern Command, for Homeland Security Department secretary.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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