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Retired Maj. Gen Cedric T. Wins became the first in his family to earn a college degree when he graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1985.

Now, 34 years later, he’s returning to lead his alma mater.

“I believe in the experience,” Wins said in an interview Friday afternoon, explaining his decision to return.

VMI’s Board of Visitors on Friday morning appointed Wins as interim superintendent while the college searches for a permanent replacement following the resignation of Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III late last month.

“We are indeed fortunate to have a man of his caliber, of his leadership abilities, of his integrity and his devotion to VMI to serve as our interim superintendent,” board President John “Bill” Boland said following Wins’ appointment. “He has told me that he owes a lot of his life and career to the experiences that he had at VMI, and that he felt obligated to answer the call of duty to fill this space during this transition period.”

Wins, who retired from the U.S. Army in 2019 after a 34-year career, will be the first Black leader to hold the top post at the nation’s oldest state-supported military institute. He will guide the college through the next six months as it moves forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic and allegations of systemic racism.

Wins, 57, said he plans to hit the ground running, applying the same set of principles he has throughout his career: taking care of people.

“First and foremost is just making sure that their health, safety and welfare is taken care of so they can get through this academic year successfully,” he said.

Referencing the ongoing scrutiny facing the military institute — “the other things that are swirling around” — Wins said he wants to “create a buffer where that becomes less noise” so cadets can “focus on the things they need to focus on.”

He also said he welcomes the independent, third-party investigation directed by the state.

“We are going to be full and transparent with them,” he said. “I’m interested in doing my own assessment of what’s going on at the Institute and figuring out what our blind spots are or may be and then charting a path and moving forward.”

Would he consider staying on as permanent superintendent?

Wins didn’t rule it out. But he wants to first focus on the immediate task at hand.

“I don’t like to get too far out ahead of myself,” he said, adding that he needs to talk with his family first before potentially expressing interest to the superintendent search committee.

Wins, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, attended VMI on a basketball scholarship. It was his chance to play Division I basketball, and a chance to attend college.

“Were it not for the opportunity that I received from VMI, my path to college would have been much different,” he said. “I know that just because of the situation that my family was in at the time.”

A standout basketball player, Wins was one of the top five scorers in the college’s history when he finished his career there. He also led the team to the Southern Conference finals in his first-class year.

His time at VMI deeply impacted him, he said.

“It kind of set the building blocks for what it was that I thought I could become,” Wins said of his time at VMI. “I think that the model is a very good model. It creates an opportunity, but it’s not a model that can be put on autopilot. There are times where you have to have the right mechanisms to make sure that things are being done correctly.”

He remains close friends with his Brother Rats, including one of his VMI roommates, who he has been friends with “since the first day that I showed up at the Institute.”

Wins graduated in 1985 with a bachelors of arts in economics. He also holds master’s degrees from Florida Institute of Technology and the National War College.

After graduating from VMI, he commissioned into the Army as a field artillery officer.

His original plan was to leave after his initial three-year commitment.

Instead, he stayed for 34 years.

“I often tell people that the Army got three years out of me, and I got about 31 years of gravy out of the Army because of the real rich experiences that I had,” Wins said with a chuckle.

His military career was full of firsts, he said, from serving with the 7th Infantry Division in Fort Ord, California, as it transitioned from motorized to light infantry to being assigned to the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas, when it became the first digitized division under the Army’s modernization program.

In his final post before retiring, he was the first commanding general of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, the Army’s largest technology developer. He led its reorganization, he said. The CCDC was previously the Research, Development and Engineering Command, which he also led.

He also held numerous other leadership and staff assignments, including at the Department of Army headquarters and the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, according to his biography.

He is a graduate of the Field Artillery Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, Command and General Staff College and the National War College. His awards include the Distinguished Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with one oak leaf cluster and the Bronze Star Medal.

Since retiring from the Army, he has worked for a defense contractor and serves on a board focused on STEM opportunities for underserved youth and on an advisory board for Spelman College.

Wins said he has been married 25 years to his wife, Cassandra, and has two adult children, Asia and Matthew.

Brig. Gen. Robert “Bob” Moreschi, deputy superintendent for academics and dean of the faculty, has been serving as acting superintendent since Peay resigned late last month. Peay resigned a week after Gov. Ralph Northam announced an investigation into the military college’s culture following media reports of systemic racism.

“We have some challenging days ahead of us, but I know we’re going to be fine and come out of this a strong school, making sure that we continue to do the right thing, and that all of our cadets have a positive experience to the extent that you can under VMI’s wonderful system of education,” Boland said Friday.