MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. -- As the month of February concludes, Black History Month officially comes to an end. As a fitting closing, Marine Corps Logistics Command’s commanding general shares how racism and segregation affected his early life, reveals his Black heroes, discusses his military leadership style and points out the main thing he intends to accomplish here.
Since Maj. Gen. Willie J. Williams took command at LogCom, a number of local and even national stories have featured him as the first-ever African-American commanding general at the southwest Georgia Marine Corps installation. His feelings on being the first are “unimportant;” and he admitted that he didn’t even know he was the first until someone told him.
“Black History Month,” Williams said, “gives us an opportunity to reflect on what it means to have ordinary citizens fighting for others to have opportunities … and on the fact that these people have a God-given spirit and capacity to work for the betterment of societies where past and present oppressors and would-be oppressors live.”
Growing up in the state of Alabama during the civil rights movement, it would seem Williams would have had plenty of personal dealings with oppressors and oppression. In reliving those past personal experiences, Williams shares no horror stories and harbors no bitterness. Instead, he explains those dealings were viewed as opportunities instead of anything negative.
“I grew up in the segregated south where, during my early years, almost everything that happened to and for you was racially biased,” the Moundville, Ala., native said. “But I must admit, at the time I did not see them as obstacles that would imprison or channel me. I saw them as opportunities to set records straight and prove to the uneducated and non-believers that what resides inside dictate and influence one’s future — not the color of his or her skin.”
Williams’ outlook sounds quite familiar. After all, this view was shared and verbalized by his hero — the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Other black heroes listed by Williams were his mother, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.
Williams sited King, Washington and DuBois for their “nonviolent approach to social change,” and praised his mother for teaching him that he could do anything that any other man could do. Williams wanted to attend college and become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, and that is exactly what he did.
Williams looked beyond his dark-colored skin and aggressively pursued his educational dreams; earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a Master of Arts degree from National University in San Diego, Calif., a Master of Science degree from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, and an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Stillman.
As for his military career, he was commissioned in the Marine Corps in May 1974 when only a few African-Americans made that push. Since that time, he has built an extensive supply/logistics background, seen combat and pinned two stars on his collar.
As commanding general – the first-ever black commanding general in Albany – Williams is widely viewed as a ground-breaking African-American leader. While he doesn’t consider that achievement much to boast about, the 55-year-old general clearly takes a different approach to leadership than most general officers.
“I look beyond color and just see myself as a servant leader,” the Marine of 33 years said. “I am a servant. I serve God, country, Corps and the people I lead. I have a servant-leader mentality, and without that type of attitude I feel you can become self-centered.”
During a local interview shortly after Williams arrived here, one reporter described him as an “easy-going leader who relies more on personal rapport than intimidation or rank.” This description seems to be right on target, and Williams revealed the one other source that helps him maintain his perspective, aside from God, country and Corps – his wife, Bobbie.
Bobbie is a very active spouse aboard the installation and can usually be spotted alongside Williams at most every non-work-related event that her husband attends. The general smiles frequently when discussing his first lady and shared that the couple has one daughter, Yolanda, 32.
“Throughout my 33 years of service in the Corps, I can honestly say I have enjoyed most every duty station Bobbie and I have ever been at,” Williams said. “The hardest time for me was when I was a young lieutenant on an unaccompanied tour.”
It was clear that not having Bobbie and Yolanda by his side made that the hardest tour for the general.
Williams is always quick to listen and slow to speak; maybe except when he’s talking about his wife and daughter. His noble attribute of serving others is usually seen in his day-to-day approach, and can be identified in his vision of his command — LogCom.
“I want to position the command to be a viable and positive logistical force, supporting our warfighters today and in the future,” Williams said.
Warfighters and Marine Corps top brass should be confident in the service Williams provides — he maintains a positive outlook, works to serve others, and looks far beyond the color of his skin — his only concern is for those who wear green.