Thursday, December 24, 2009

Who Fights This War? A Father and a Son


It’s a very proud Dad who has a child that follows him into his profession, so Sgt. First Class Gary Williard of Delta Company, Task Force Diablo, is a doubly proud man. Williard has two professions and each of his two sons has chosen to follow Dad into one of those professions. Williard is a retired police officer and Army National Guard aircraft maintenance platoon sergeant. His older son, Gary Jr., joined the Tower City police force where Dad retired in 2006 as chief of police. His younger son is Sgt. Joshua Williard, of Bravo Company, 628th Aviation Support Battalion. Joshua worked in the next hangar over from Dad during much of the deployment and is currently completing his deployment with final processing in America.

“I pinned on Joshua’s sergeant stripes when he got promoted here on August 27,” said Gary Sr. “That was quite a moment for me.” Joshua said he plans on a career in aviation maintenance with the Army National Guard.

The Williards are a close family. Gary Sr. and Joshua managed to get the same day off, Friday, through most of last summer here in Iraq. They watched bow hunting and deer hunting videos and football together on their day off. Gary Jr. worked for his Dad for five years in the Tower City police department before moving to the Pennsylvania State Police where he has worked for seven years. Williard and his wife Dina ran an automotive repair business together. Now they have apartments which they rent. “Dina runs the apartments while I am away,” said Williard. “With Joshua and I deployed and Gary Jr. busy with work she’ll be very happy for us to come home.”

Gary Sr. began his military career in 1976 as a prop and rotor mechanic for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and remained with the Guard through his entire career. He had an eight-year break in service from 1982-90 and after returning to the Guard has worked in maintenance on many aircraft. Gary Sr. previously deployed in 2003-4 to Kuwait in both aviation maintenance and security roles. “Even on deployment, I was still a cop,” said Williard.

Who Fights This War? And Just Keeps Going

I have mentioned my roommate before. Sgt. Nickey Smith joined Echo Company with a dozen other guys from Connecticut at the beginning of the deployment at Fort Sill. All the other CT guys in our company are fuelers and have mostly been assigned to remote bases to refuel aircraft. Nickey was the only CT guy assigned to the motor pool. And from his first day he was put in the squad with the squad leader who was already showing signs of being overwhelmed at Fort Sill. More and more as training progressed, Nickey found himself in charge of a team and picking up the slack as his squad leader fell apart. Shortly after we arrived in Iraq, Nickey got assigned to as the maintenance sergeant at one of the fueling bases. Life is a lot more Spartan on these bases, but one of Nickey's best friends was there and he was away from the drama of his squad. He was very happy to go and not so happy to be back.
When he got back, his squad leader fell apart completely and was assigned to another company doing and enlisted man's job. Nickey took over as squad leader and as a maintenance team leader. For a while he was the only sergeant double assigned that way.
Despite all this, he was rated as just average when he got his NCOER (NCO evaluation report). When many other sergeants, myself included, took jobs at battalion or somewhere else, Nickey stayed in the motor pool, worked at a job a pay grade above his own, and did everything necessary to continue the mission. When the PT Test loomed before us, and the maintenance soldiers had to report to the motor pool at 0600, Nickey was getting up at 0300 to work out at least three days per week.
Two nights ago when I came back from my work he was sitting on his bed surrounded by papers making sure all of his squad got good evaluations for the work they did here in Iraq. Earlier in the year he made sure they got awards when that ball had been dropped by his predecessor.
Nickey fits no definition of average. I encouraged him to appeal his NCOER. He was told it was too late and he would have to wait until we return to America. Nickey deserves better. There's a lot of things I will miss about my year in the Army when I return to civilian life, but I won't miss the way paperwork crushes reality.

Family Black Sheep Flies a MEDEVAC Blackhawk

Brooklyn-born Amira Talifi, (not her real name) is a helicopter pilot I served with in the Army National Guard. She is one of seven ch...