Vincent Viola talks to the media about the future of the Florida Panthers during a news conference in Sunrise, Fla., on Sept. 27, 2013. President-elect Donald J. Trump has picked Viola as secretary of the Army.

Vincent Viola talks to the media about the future of the Florida Panthers during a news conference in Sunrise, Fla., on Sept. 27, 2013. President-elect Donald J. Trump has picked Viola as secretary of the Army. (J Pat Carter/AP)

WASHINGTON — Billionaire New York businessman and Army veteran Vincent Viola is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to serve as the Army’s top civilian, Trump’s transition team announced Monday.

Trump said Viola’s business acumen was just as important as his Army background in choosing him to lead the largest of the military services. Viola and the president-elect met Friday at Trump Tower in New York City.

“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. “He is a man of outstanding work ethic, integrity, and strategic vision, with an exceptional ability to motivate others.”

Viola joins retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who Trump has nominated for secretary of defense, as the only Pentagon appointments announced by Trump so far.

Viola is a 1977 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York who served as an infantry officer on active duty and later in the Army Reserves. He retired as a major, according to his biography.

Since his military days, Viola has worked as a trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange and, in 2008, he founded Virtu Financial, a high-frequency electronic trading firm, which became publicly traded in 2015.

In 2013, he purchased the Florida Panthers, a NHL franchise, for $240 million.

In the Monday statement, Trump called Viola “living proof of the American Dream.”

Viola was born to Italian immigrant parents and raised in Brooklyn. His father worked as a truck driver and served in the U.S. Army in World War II, which Viola has said helped inspire his own service.

According to Forbes, Viola is worth about $1.8 billion, which puts him among the 400 wealthiest Americans.

Viola has remained involved in national security policy since his time in the military, primarily though Army and West Point-related philanthropic work, according to the Trump statement.

He provided funding to help establish the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point in 2002, according to the academy.

“Viola’s leadership and commitment is fundamental to the center’s ability to study the terrorist threat and shape the outcomes of national policy,” a biography of Viola on the West Point’s website reads.

He has also served on the West Point Fund committee, which supports academy cadet programs, and helped develop a digital battle strategy textbook for cadets.

His selection must be confirmed by the Senate. He would replace Army Secretary Eric Fanning, who has served in the position since May. Fanning’s nomination was blocked for six months by some Republicans in a protest of President Barack Obama’s desire to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

As Army secretary, Viola would oversee a Fortune-10 sized company with a base budget of about $125 billion. The service has about 475,000 active-duty soldiers, 343,000 National Guardsmen and almost 200,000 reservists. The Army additionally has more than 245,000 civilian employees.

Trump has promised greater funding for the military and aims to add some 60,000 soldiers to the Army’s active-duty force. Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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