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Mississippi native retires as a brigadier general

In 1978, Donna Williams, then a freshman at Vicksburg High School, joined the school’s Junior ROTC program.

On Jan. 1, 2018, she completed a 31-year military career that began as a JROTC cadet, retiring as a brigadier general and former deputy commanding general for support with the 412th Theater Engineer Command in Vicksburg.

From the time she first put on a uniform in high school until she said her farewells to her comrades, Williams had many assignments and held unit commands across the continental U.S. and Hawaii, and was deployed to Baghdad for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

She received a master of business administration in information technology and military management, and a master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College. She received numerous awards for service, including the United States Army Engineer Association Bronze de Fleury Medal.

In some way, she knew joining the U.S. Army would be a career decision.

“I enjoyed the camaraderie that we had there (in JROTC),” she said, “And then I joined ROTC in college at Jackson State University.”

Williams graduated from Jackson State with a bachelor’s degree in computer science with an emphasis on programming, and received her second lieutenant’s commission 1986. She joined what was then the 412th Engineer Command.

But she never got to use her skills as a computer programmer.

“I’m an engineer in the Army Reserve. When I was commissioned at Jackson State, I was commissioned as an engineer officer, so I’ve been an engineer officer for over 31 years,” she said.

“It was because of my math background that I was selected an engineer officer. It was (math) what they called a hard science degree.”

She attended the four-month engineer officer basic course at Fort Belvoir, Va., in 1988 to learn basic engineer skills.

“They taught us engineering, they taught us combat, all the engineer-related skills.

“I was mainly with the construction part of the engineers; they built roads buildings, did electrical work, did bridging, and that was part of the engineer construction I was involved with. That’s when I was assigned to the 412th. I went to school in 1988.”

She joined the active guard reserve program and became an active duty reservist in 1990.

While she was based in Hawaii, her two engineer companies built bridges, roads, repaired buildings and built weapons ranges. They also held field training exercises for combat skills.

Computers, she said, were used to meet the needs of the daily operations. “There were some programs we used as part of our engineering operations, like Auto CAD, and we used Project Manager, but as far as actually programming — writing programs — we did not write programs.”

Williams said no one mission during her deployments stands out, adding there was always one overriding mission.

“Taking care of the No. 1 commodity of the Army, and that’s taking care of the soldier, and then following that is executing the mission,” she said.

“Once you take care of the soldier, you train the soldier, you provide the soldier with the resources to be successful, and if you do those things, then you will automatically improve readiness, therefore you will have no problem executing the mission.

“Missions? There were so many. I wouldn’t say it was just one, because with all the missions I was involved in were involved in improving the overall readiness, and preparing a soldier to execute his mission then he completes the operation.”

Williams returned to non-active reserve status in 2015, and was promoted to brigadier general Jan. 5, 2015.

“That was an honor and a privilege to be selected as a brigadier general in the Army Reserve,” she said. “I was very humbled that I received it, and I always think of it and me as sharing my professional growth with others, because I depended on others; it wasn’t me.

“It was everyone else, the noncommissioned officers, the officers, the civilians I had worked with that helped me achieve the rank of brigadier general.”

She said she was very surprised by the promotion, “But at the same time very grateful that the army recognized my qualities, my leadership qualities and capabilities and entrusted me to be a senior leader in the Army Reserve.

“I sincerely thank the Army Reserve leadership for having the confidence in me, my ability, and entrusting me to be a leader in this fine institution.”

Williams is presently employed with the Engineer Research and Development Center at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reachback Operations Center where she is a team leader of the Request For Information Team.

She serves as a coordinator between engineers and subject matter experts to provide fast, innovative and the best technical solutions to issues facing soldiers and civilians working in the field, whether during military or civilian-related operations or natural disasters, and to support the armed forces and the nation.

She said she’ll miss the camaraderie of the Army units and serving the nation.

“I’ll miss being with the soldiers … the Army is an institution that you just develop relationships, missions and skills,” Williams said.

“You home in on your missions and skills and you develop the relationships. I’m going to miss also the missions that we were involved in as a 412th soldier.”

(Originally published by The Vicksburg Post)

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