My family history does includes some military service, although it was never a part of my life growing up. Except for a few passed down items like medals, flags and some interesting old coins from travels abroad, no stories were ever shared with me.
This profession has always been a distant mystery to me, marveled at through the lens of other people's cameras and news clips. That is, until I met Steve Williams. He and his family moved in next door September of last year. Steve is a Wounded Warrior. He is a 15 year Veteran with the Army. His Title is Steve Williams Staff Sergeant First Class 13 Bravo Field Artillery, in charge of a Section of 10 people. Steve has seen and survived things no one should ever see or survive. He has done his best for his Government, his fellow soldiers, his family and the people he was sent to help.
The more I know Steve, the more I see he is a fine friend and neighbor. His demeanor is tough and determined yet also gentle and funny. Adjusting to civilian life again, he battles horrific memories that are reluctant to let go, but I can see a different side a compelling forward motion into healing, each day finding joy in the ordinary; peace in family routine.
He has graciously agreed to speak with me about his tour in Iraq. There are many sides to his story, but this one ends with life lessons learned about the power of friendship, the necessity of compassion, self forgiveness and watching hope for the future rise out of chaos like a phoenix. Continuing on, never leaving a fellow Soldier behind, but in the end becoming a better person with so much to teach the
rest of us.
Andrea Hines: At what age did you enlist and why?
Steve Williams: I decided to join the Army when I was 19. I wanted my own
money, my own life, I wanted out of that town.
AH: You were offered incentives to stay on longer. Was it worth it?
SW: Yeah, it was. I had two kids and wasn't high rank so I didn't make a lot of
money and at ten years the army was the only life I knew. Back then it was like a 9-5 job. When they offered me an incentive to stay longer, and I could go anywhere in the world I wanted, I took it, because two newborns take a lot of money.
AH: You were a father figure to some of the young men in training?
SW: You can't ask a soldier to do something you haven't done yourself. If you take the time to know them, and lead right, it helps them. It gives them courage and integrity and good characteristics of a leader. Teaches them how to be a leader themselves. There's times when you've got to discipline them, but you can't be hard on them all the time. I had soldiers follow me into the gates of Hell. You've got to understand what kind of courage it takes to lead, have someone follow you into a gunfight. I'd say "follow me" and they'd say "lead the way".
AH: Did you find that helps them mature?
SW: Of course it does. 90% of parents after basic training, they're like, "thank you so much. That's not the same kid I sent here." You pretty much emotionally and physically destroy them, and then mold them back to what you want them to be. Most of them do really well. 90% of them continue on to be good soldiers or productive people in civilian life.
AH: You have many stories. Which one left you feeling positive about life?
SW: when you go to combat stuff is going to happen. But if you can take a Section
into a gunfight, or into battle, and you can bring them all back safely, makes you feel good about life. We lost some guys, but 98% of every situation we went into, when you can all come back alive, and all your body parts it's a pretty good feeling. Makes you appreciate the little things like have hot water. We take all that for granted.
AH: What was your biggest accomplishment?
SW: Getting to the rank I did. Getting promoted is not easy. You're competing with thousands of other soldiers for one or two positions. Those guys are go getters. If you don't want to be promoted they don't need you. They get rid of you and there's someone right there behind you to take your spot.
Believe it or not, I kind of regret not staying in. I still think about guys that are still fighting and I feel I could have made an impact over there. Kind of let my country down, let soldiers down. I had some good soldiers, and I miss them and I could have made a difference maybe. I'd do it again.
AH: What would you like to see different for the next generation enlisting?
SW: I'd like the promotion system get better. A lot of kids join because we are at War, and getting promoted faster than they should and they don't really have the skills to move to the next rank. But people are getting wounded and the numbers getting out are amazing. I don't think they should force kids into positions they aren't ready for and that's why a lot more soldiers are getting killed and wounded. It's scary. My gun driver got killed. He was a good soldier and in the army awhile. But they promoted a guy to take his place and I'm stuck training him .That's just what they gave me. I got something a lot less that what I had. We weren't ready to go into these cities and street fighting thing. I'd like to see the training shift over from Vietnam Era. Before Iraq, we were training in the woods. We weren't ready to go in the desert. But a lot of guys are graduating basic training and going straight to war because they don't have enough people. Your actual ground force is nothing and when you're losing guys daily to IED attacks, arms, legs, medically discharged, you can't sustain. People are coming back and not reenlisting because they know they will go back to war and a lot aren't joining because they know a brother, sister, mother father that got wounded or killed in Iraq so they are having a hard time getting and keeping people in.
AH: What would you tell young people who want to join in the future?
SW: If you want to do it, do it. It was good for me. You aren't going to make a lot of money but you're going to go through training, meet a lot of people. You're going to go places and see stuff. You're taught loyalty, duty, and ethical Army values that they just shape into you. Midway through my life I have been to more countries than most people have visited states - Korea, Germany, Iraq, and. I don't regret it. I'd do it again.
AH: What is the next chapter now that this one is closing?
SW: Enjoying the rest of my life because you never know. I see myself living happy and raising my kids and gardening and fishing, sitting on the front porch watching my kids grow up I guess.
AH: Is there a special person in your professional life that you would like to be
remembered in this article?
SW: Special Stewart Moore, from Texas. He had a little girl named Candice. She
was one and was born while he was in Iraq and she'll never know her father. He
was a good kid. He was only 20, 21 and he got killed by an IED. The other guy
was Platoon Leader Lieutenant Saltz from Montana. He got killed that same
day, Dec 22, 2011, same IED. He was fresh out of college, only been in Iraq a
couple of weeks. I think about those guys a lot. It's funny, you talk about stuff
you're going to do when we got back to Germany, but he didn't come back. It is
what it is. It's tough.
AH: You have a special kind of humor. Do you have a favorite family friendly
SW: (Smiling) Hmmm. That's a tough one. I'll have to get back to you on that.