Soldier in focus: Never quit
November 20, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - More than most, Soldiers know about never quitting, it is in their ethos and creed - a code they have embedded in their hearts from the beginning of their military careers.
Sgt. 1st Class Pierce Williams, once a young infantry staff sergeant, has had moments in his life where quitting was given as an option, but instead, he chose the ethos.
Williams, a native of Sturgis, S.D., an intelligence noncommissioned officer for future operations for the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, now on his third deployment to Iraq, never thought he would be shuffling through intelligence reports-not after one fateful day in 2006.
He joined the Army in May 2002, six days after he graduated high school; following in his older brother's footsteps.
In February 2003, less than four months after arriving to his first duty assignment with the 82nd Airborne Div. in Fort Bragg, N.C., he deployed to Iraq.
"I was 19 years old and coming over here to Iraq was crazy. You're shooting at people, you're getting shot at," he said. "It was nothing that you'd experience back in the States."
With one deployment behind him and after a year-long training period with his new unit, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, he was on his way back to Iraq.
For the first 65 days of his new deployment, he wasn't very impressed with the amount of enemy action. It was a welcome lull in fire fights and daily rocket attacks of his last deployment.
That all changed the night of Dec. 10, 2006 - day 66.
Williams volunteered his Soldiers to go on a patrol so that his comrades could get some much needed rest.
But his decision to do so almost immediately brought on uneasy feelings. What made it worse was his Soldiers had the same premonition.
"I had quite a few Soldiers coming up to tell me that they didn't feel comfortable going out on this patrol," said Williams.
As a leader, you have to show that you have no fear and that everything will be okay, he said.
"That part was probably a little difficult for me because I was such a young staff sergeant," said Williams.
But none of that mattered; Soldiers have to put their feelings aside to accomplish their mission, said Williams.
Night fell and the convoy set out.
While on the road, Williams was constantly trying to radio his headquarters for an updated status of his route in regards to improvised explosive devices, but to no avail.
"After I made my last radio call, I kind of looked over at my driver and team leader, who was also in my vehicle, and was getting ready to say, 'I can't get a hold of these [guys]!'"
But before he uttered those words in frustration, he was blasted in the face by a giant fireball that slammed him violently against his door.
"My initial thought was, 'I've just been blown up by an IED,'" Williams said.
As the daze from the blast began to clear, his brain started processing information normally. This brought into view the rest of his Soldiers still inside the vehicle.
Only Williams and his driver made it out alive.
After other Soldiers pulled his door off using another vehicle, his medic approached him and asked if he was okay.
At the time he could not feel his left ear and thought his left shoulder was dislocated.
"That was the first time, as soon as I stepped out of the vehicle, that I felt pain," said Williams.
The medic pulled down on his arm, which caused a stream of profanity to flow from William's mouth, but his shoulder was not separated.
"I kept asking if my ear was still there and he said, 'yeah,' and kept wrapping," said Williams.
Shortly thereafter he was medically evacuated by the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, the very unit he now serves with, he said.
It turned out that he did still have his left ear; it had been filleted from his scalp by a piece of shrapnel.
The left side of his upper torso was pelted with numerous entrance wounds from the explosion and debris.
The list of injuries goes on: second degree burns to his face, neck and hands, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and bi-lateral hearing loss. He even has a couple dozen pieces of shrapnel inside his body - some the size of quarters.
Month by month ticked away as he made his way through therapy for both his body and mind.
Like many Soldiers in his place, he felt the pang of fear and pain, a reminder that it would be so much easier to relent, but he pushed back. Williams was not going to let anything stop him.
The IED did not take his life, so he had a heightened fervor to become the best Soldier he could in lieu of his injuries. His goal was to come back stronger than ever and continue to fight as an infantryman.
It took 22 months of surgeries, physical therapy and counseling for him to finally go before a medical board which held his military career in its hands.
They then handed down an opportunity which was, to him at the time, a devastating ultimatum.
He could medically retire or stay in the Army, but he could no longer be an infantryman.
"After 22 months of healing and fighting to get better [only] for them to tell me that I can't live my dream of being an infantryman was absolutely crushing," said Williams.
"I was contemplating on whether or not I was just going to get medically retired or if I actually wanted to continue on [with] active duty," he said.
But his wife reminded him of his ultimate goal to become a sergeant major-something he would be giving up on if he chose to get out.
Instead of quitting, he became an intelligence sergeant, which was an intimidating idea at first, he said.
However, it turned out he already had a knack for the intelligence field.
"I was the type of squad leader that wanted as much intel as possible on whatever operation I was doing - whether it was training or real life," he said of his days as an infantryman.
"Little did I know, at that time, that I was doing an intelligence job," he said.
While in training, he passed along his personal story to other Soldiers - a story about never quitting and never leaving a fallen comrade.
Many of the Soldiers he came in contact with during his time at school still keep in contact with him as he helps motivate and mentor them through their Army careers.
Now, sitting in an office chair surrounded by multiple computer screens with red secret stickers on them, he feels the direct impact he makes on the Soldiers - in this case aviators - who go outside the wire.
"I've gone out on missions where I've had bad intel ... where things have gone horribly wrong," he said. "So I know ... that if I don't do the job to my best abilities, then something could go horribly wrong; that's what drives me every day."
Williams puts all of his energy into making sure Soldiers are safer on the streets and in the skies of Baghdad. He never leaves a fallen comrade by not letting them fall in the first place - giving them intelligence to do their jobs.
His story and his actions motivate the Soldiers around him as he puts a hundred percent of himself into his work.
"I don't like to fail. I like to be first in everything I do, whether it's being an infantryman or doing intelligence," said Williams.
As for his goal to become a sergeant major, well, he has not quite made it yet, but like most of his life thus far, quitting may be an option, but it is not one he will choose to take.