From Private to Brigadier General
Staff Sgt. Edward villines
367th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
(FORT LEE, Va.) - The sound of friends and family greeting and hugging echoed throughout the cavernous Fort Lee Club. They were gathered to celebrate an event that was more than 30 years in the making. At the back of the room, 18 meticulously arranged tables were required to host the elaborate reception to follow.
But before the ceremony began, a voice came over the loud speaker and took the attendees back in time to an historic day 50 years prior. The voice of Dr. Martin Luther King rang out, proclaiming his dream of freedom and equality for all Americans.
It was a day full of history on Saturday, August 31 as Col. Michael Dillard was promoted to brigadier general and became the first African-American commander of the 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, headquartered in Indianapolis.
Dillard has in fact been in command of the 310th since January 2013 and had officially been promoted in July. This ceremony was a hometown affair for those closest to him. It gave them a chance to come together and celebrate him as an example of the equality and opportunity Dr. King called for in his speech.
Dillard graduated from nearby Sussex Central High School and entered the Army as a cannon crew member in 1981. In 1983 he was commissioned in the field artillery and went on to become the first of his family to graduate from college, earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Management from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.
In his introductory speech, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Ives, deputy commander of the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, highlighted Col. Dillard’s rise from private to general.
“You came from a private slick sleeve in 1981 to brigadier general in 2013, HOOAH!” he said. “That’s big, that’s huge. I love it.”
Ives spoke about the many hats a reservist must wear, particularly a general. It’s a courageous line we walk between our families, our civilian careers, and our Army Reserve commitment, he said.
“You’ve walked this line for more than a few years, and you have more than a few to go,” he said.
Ives then administered the oath and presented Dillard with the general’s customary sidearm pistol. 310th Command Sgt. Maj. Virgil T. Akins then unfurled the commander’s colors, the red flag with gold trim and gold star in the center. Dillard’s wife Jennifer and daughters Jasmine and Jocelyn pinned the new stars on his uniform.
In his speech afterward, Dillard emphasized that his accomplishments were truly a team effort with his family.
“To my wife of over 25 years of marriage and who has always been by my side, thank you for allowing me to serve this great nation,” he said. “Without you, my success is void.”
He praised his oldest daughter Jasmine for being accepted to medical school, and younger daughter Jocelyn who was recently voted her high school’s first ever African American homecoming queen.
He also thanked his mother, Ellen. “Thank you for never allowing me to believe in the word ‘can’t’ and always believing in me when the naysayers were all around us,” he said. “With your mentorship and guidance, I have learned and embraced the importance of hard work.”
Dillard thanked the command team and staff of the 310th ESC, and offered his vision for the future of the command.
“My goal is for the 310th to become the definition of success for an expeditionary sustainment command,” he said. “Accordingly, we will become the number one ESC in the military.”
Dillard acknowledged the importance of hard work and self-reliance he learned from his family and how those qualities allowed him to overcome the challenges that are a way of life in the military. He then encouraged others to apply those lessons in their own lives.
“Realize and accept that you are never alone, because your strength and character is driven from the people that have surrounded you throughout your life,” he said. “You will receive the power and strength to achieve, to succeed, to do and be the impossible.”
He called on his guests to apply their strength to renewing Dr. King’s dream and being a force of change in America.
“We must take control of our destiny,” he said. “Once you realize who you are, things begin to happen…you find yourself not running away but running to take on the world. It is you that will rise to make the change.”
Before he left the podium, Dillard thanked the over 100 family and friends in attendance by referencing another African American icon.
“Maya Angelou [wrote], ‘When I walk into the room, I come as one, but I stand as 10,000,’” he said. “You are my 10,000.”