Maj. Gen. Vincent E. Boles, '76: NU ROTC's Highest Ranking Graduate
December 16, 2011 by Lisa McMahon, MA'09
When Maj. Gen. Vincent “Vinny” E. Boles, ’76, returned to Monteagle Ridge in October of 2011 as the featured speaker for Alumni Weekend’s “Pantheon of Warriors” event, he shared memorable experiences from his 33-year career in the Army. And there are many. The highly decorated general, who is the highest ranking graduate of Niagara’s ROTC program, has had a distinguished career preparing troops for, and at times leading them into, war. But what he was looking forward to most that day was the opportunity to connect with the ROTC servicemen and women who have served from the 1950s on. “Just to be there and to be considered a part of that arc of history is pretty humbling,” he says.
Vinny’s humility is obvious when he’s asked about his achievements. He is proud, he says, of being considered a good teammate by his soldiers, of being thought of as someone whose best got better and who helped others be their best as well. “What it’s ultimately about is, are you a teammate folks can count on?” he says.
During Vinny’s service with the Army, hundreds of thousands of soldiers counted on him (and the units he served in) for the ammunition, equipment, and training they needed to support them in campaigns including Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was the commander in charge of the Army’s Field Support at the time of the September 11 attacks, and later, from commands in Kuwait and Iraq, he assumed control of all war reserve supplies and equipment from around the world to prepare for and support the Coalition’s operations into Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, and the Horn of Africa. He was promoted to major general in 2004 and assigned as the Army’s chief of Ordnance, where his experience with the global war on terror was a crucial component in the training programs he developed for Ordnance Corps soldiers in the fields of mechanical and electronic maintenance, ammunition handling, and explosive ordnance disposal.
Vinny assumed duties as the assistant deputy chief of staff for logistics in the Pentagon in 2006, where he again played an integral role in the management and support of logistical operations worldwide, with special emphasis on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the time he retired from active duty in 2009, at the age of 54, he had earned numerous awards and decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal (two awards), the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal (three awards), the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the Parachutist Badge, and the Army Staff Badge.
Ironically, a career in the Army was one of the furthest things from Vinny’s mind when he left his hometown of Bronxville, N.Y., for the Niagara University campus in 1972. His father, an Irish Catholic immigrant who worked in the restaurant business, had expected that his son would follow in his footsteps. But Vinny had other ideas. Deciding that he had to come up with a “Plan B,” he enrolled at Niagara as a business major, not quite sure where the degree would take him. In his sophomore year, at the urging of friends who were in the university’s ROTC program, he took a military history class. He enjoyed it so much that he changed his major to history, and although he was unsure about what he’d do after graduation, he said he never thought about making the U.S. Army a career.
Even after Vinny learned about and applied for the ROTC scholarship that would pay for his last two years at Niagara, he never expected to spend more than the required four years in the Army. But a leadership development course he took during the summer between his junior and senior year changed his mind. He “got turned on” by the cadets he was training with and the opportunities he was given to lead, he says, and he discovered that he enjoyed getting tasks accomplished and had an aptitude for doing so. He especially liked the fact that the Army’s valuesbased environment mirrored Niagara’s, and that anyone who embraced the Army’s standards could succeed. “I found that tremendously liberating as a young man,” he says.
So Vinny returned to Niagara with a new enthusiasm for the ROTC program. He planned to pursue service in infantry, military police, armor, or military intelligence, but was commissioned as a second lieutenant of Ordnance. His disappointment was tempered by the fact that only a handful of his classmates received assignments.
After graduation, Vinny headed to Fort Knox, Ky., to begin service as a maintenance officer. In 1982, he and his wife, Cheryl, also a Niagara alum from the Class of 1976, moved to Berlin, Germany, where he was chosen to be an aide to Maj. Gen. John H. Mitchell, a position that he calls “the most seminal development opportunity of my life,” and one that confirmed his decision to make the Army his lifework. Although his goals were characteristically modest — he wanted to become a major — his knowledge and skills propelled him up the Army’s career ladder until his retirement two years ago.
Vinny’s military leadership and logistics expertise serve him well in his new vocation as a speaker, teacher, consultant, corporate board member, and executive coach. While on active duty, he conducted dozens of presentations for the Army’s outreach program and today, he speaks to groups, sharing the lessons he learned while leading one of the most important and complex supply chains in the world.