Vincent Stewart was born and spent his childhood in 1960s Kingstown, Jamaica, coming to the United States when he was 13. Arriving from a predominantly black country, Stewart had to suddenly navigate being in a “minority — separate, and unequal.” Growing up in Chicago, Stewart endured racial slurs, unwarranted police stops, and suspicious stares, experiences that shaped his perspective as he eventually rose to hold one of the highest military offices in the nation.
Stewart earned a BA in history from Western Illinois University, where he was part of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). He was commissioned into the U.S. Marines after graduation, initially specializing in tanks and then signals intelligence. His early posts included Alaska and Japan.
In an exceptionally distinguished 38 years of service with the Marines, Stewart rose through the ranks and broke barriers. He served as director of intelligence for the U.S. Marine Corps, and as commander of the Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command. In 2015, he was appointed director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), becoming the first African American and the first Marine to hold that post. On his final tour of duty, he served as deputy commander of the U.S. Cyber Command.
His awards and decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, and the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal.
Stewart is a principal with Washington, D.C.-based Global Security and Innovative Strategies (GSIS), a security consulting and business advisory firm, leading its cybersecurity practice. He is also the CEO of Stewart Global Solutions (SGS), his own consulting company.
Stewart holds a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College and another master’s in national resource strategy from the National Defense University. Additionally, he has completed executive development programs at Harvard University.
The U.S. military was officially desegregated in 1948 and has long been considered one of the most integrated institutions in the country. Yet even in the military, discriminatory attitudes shaped Stewart’s career. In a recent op-ed, he looked back: “It’s hard for me to explain and help you understand the pain of being described as the best black officer in a unit, never able to be described as the best officer in the unit; never the first choice for visible prominent assignments in spite of a record of performance that was superior to my colleagues.”
“I am by all accounts a successful American who has truly lived the American dream,” Stewart writes. That rise, he notes, would not have been possible without the mentorship and advocacy on his behalf by military leaders whose backgrounds were very different from his own. During this time of renewed discussions on racism in American life, Stewart urges people to use their power and privilege to “take real, specific actions to uplift others.” And he remains optimistic: “I can’t stop believing in the promise of America, because if the dream is not possible here, it’s not possible anywhere.”