MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- When Donald R. Williams, Jr. played basketball for Marion-Abramson High School in his hometown of New Orleans, he had everything all planned out. The young basketball star wanted to attend Louisiana State University on a basketball scholarship and then the sky was the limit.
He soon found out that things don’t always go one’s way. After graduating in 1997 and receiving only a partial scholarship for basketball, Williams decided it was time to look at other options.
“Because I didn’t get the full scholarship I needed to go to college, I had to find another way to pay for school, so I looked into the military,” Williams explained.
Eventually, Williams decided to join the Marine Corps, because he said it was the most challenging of the branches of service.
On July 14, 1997, Williams signed up for recruit training and was given a job in the supply field.
“I pretty much just went up to the recruiter and pointed at a picture of a Marine on the wall with a rifle and camouflage paint on his face and said ‘I want to be that,’” Williams explained. “It just worked out that I got a supply job.”
After two years in the Corps, in 1999, Williams went to Marine Security Guard School in Quantico, Va.
Williams served at American embassies in Russia, South Africa and Croatia. He described what his experiences were like.
“It was a good experience, traveling and learning new cultures,” he said. “It was awesome, going to these different countries, and the food was amazing. I probably gained 20 pounds on all that food, and I’m a small guy.”
Williams reenlisted while he was in South Africa. He credits his decision to his desire of wanting to see what else the Corps had to offer.
“I was a sergeant by the time I was ready to reenlist,” he explained. “I figured I had done pretty good up until that point. I wanted to see what else the Marine Corps had to offer,”
On Jan. 2, 2003, after being selected as MSG of the year, Williams was meritoriously promoted to staff sergeant.
After Williams left MSG duty, he joined the Marine Security Forces Pentagon for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he provided internal and external security for the Chiefs of Staff and protected classified material.
Shortly after his tour of duty at the Pentagon, Williams reported to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. Four months later he deployed to Al Qa’im, Iraq, near the Iraqi-Syrian border in February 2005.
“It was a learning experience for me and my Marines,” explained the supply chief. “It showed them how we support the battalion in a deployed environment, and for me, it was another stepping stone- -something I needed to accomplish to further excel in my career.”
The hardest part of Williams’ deployment came toward the end in August, when Hurricane Katrina hit his hometown and wiped out his home.
“We had just finished an operation, and I went to the chow hall for dinner,” Williams explained. “I saw on the T.V. that a category five hurricane had hit New Orleans. For about two weeks, I tried to get a hold of my family to make sure everyone was alright, but I couldn’t.”
“I assumed that they were smart and got out of there before it hit, but I still needed to make sure,” he continued. “Finally, two weeks after I first heard about it, I got a hold of my family and found out that they were all in Texas, but all of their stuff was destroyed. I was just glad they were all alive.”
After returning to the United States in September, Williams’ extended family stayed with him and his wife, who is a Marine staff sergeant at Camp Johnson, N.C.
“It was great to return from Iraq and then have my family with me for a month, especially after I had worried about them for so long,” he explained.
Now that Williams is back here, he looks to the rest of his Marine Corps career.
“I’m going to stay in for the full 20 years before I retire,” explained the 26-year-old. “I would like to become an officer or be stationed in Florida and finish up school.”
After eight years in the Marine Corps and all of his experiences he explained how the Marine Corps has helped him understand how the world works.
“It opened my eyes to the variety of jobs that are out there,” he said. “I’ve learned to always expect the worst, because if the worst happens, I’m prepared. If not, when people ask me how my day was I can say it was a good one.”
Now, as this 26-year-old staff sergeant from New Orleans looks back at his career thus far and why he decided to join the Marines, he came up with this explanation.
“I learned at an early age that nothing is going to be given to you,” he explained. “You have to overcome all obstacles in your life to be successful and that’s what I’m doing.”