FORT DETRICK, Md. -- David Williams’ career in the U.S. Army actually began on a football field in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, in the 1970s.
At 5-foot-9, Williams wasn’t one of the biggest players on the University of Toledo football team, but an ROTC recruiter saw big things in him, like grit, determination and a strong work ethic, that would translate well to the Army.
“[The recruiter] said ‘what are you going to do after football?’” Williams recalled. “The Army could be a good opportunity for you.”
It turned out to be a lifetime of opportunity for Williams, 68, an experienced medical logistician who recently retired after 45 years of continuous service, including 30 years on active duty and 15 more as a civilian in senior leadership roles.
Colleagues from past and present assignments, including U.S. Army Medical Logistics Command and U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, recognized Williams’ career during a retirement ceremony Aug. 21 at Fort Detrick.
As explained by guest speaker Brig. Gen. Michael J. Talley, Williams “is nothing short of a national treasure” in the field of medical logistics.
“In his long and remarkable career in uniform and beyond, there will never be a complete accounting of all that David has done for the Army Medical Department, the joint medical and warfighting force and the nation,” said Talley, commander of MRDC and Fort Detrick. “From a junior officer to a high-level adviser, David has literally done it all.”
Since 2005, when he retired at the rank of colonel, Williams has served as director of materiel under the former Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and, most recently, as director of strategies and concepts for the G-3/5/7 at AMLC.
Known as a mentor always quick to dish out credit to others, Williams spent most of his time during his remarks reflecting on those who helped him along his journey in service of the nation, including numerous colleagues and his family.
And it’s the people, who embody “the best of what a merit-based, multi-ethnic system can be,” that he said he would miss the most in his retirement.
“I mean this sincerely when I say it’s been a privilege to be amongst people who symbolize and embody those values,” Williams said.
A change in plans
As a student at Toledo, Williams initially planned to go into coaching for his career. Homer Smith, former head football coach at West Point, had caught his ear about joining his staff as a linebackers coach.
But after some thought, he decided to take up his ROTC recruiter’s offer and serve his country, earning commission as a Medical Service Corps officer in 1975 after completing his degree.
“I thought I would go into it for two years, then get out and coach football for my career,” the Ohio native said. “But I ended up liking it.”
Williams made the military his career for 30 years, starting with his first assignment at the 86th Combat Support Hospital based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Moving a total of 14 times over three decades, Williams’ time as a logistician for military field units and medical centers has taken him around the country and abroad, including a seven-year stint in Germany that included his first company command in the 8th Infantry Division.
He recalled working at a military hospital in Berlin just before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
“I didn’t want to leave,” he said, looking back on his time serving in Germany, “but you don’t make rank if you don’t move.”
Williams came back to the U.S. to continue his schooling, but quickly deployed overseas again in support of Operation Desert Storm in December 1989. Another deployment took him to Somalia in 1993 to provide humanitarian intervention in Mogadishu.
“We were there before the U.N. took over,” he said. “That’s when Black Hawk Down happened. We were there to help stabilize the country.”
After returning to the U.S., Williams served several years under the Army Surgeon General before moving to Fort Sam Houston, where he commanded the 147th Medical Battalion and later worked as chief of logistics management under Army Medical Command.
He left Texas to assume command of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency in 2000. The assignment was for two years, but again, like in his collegiate days, Williams decided to make Fort Detrick a more permanent destination to continue his career as a civilian.
When the responsibilities of MRMC were realigned last year under an Army reorganization, Williams transitioned to Army Medical Logistics Command, which was created to oversee medical materiel readiness and placed under Army Materiel Command.
Williams has played a key role in establishing the still-young command.
“This is a mecca for our business,” he said about his decision to continue serving the Army in a civilian role. “Fort Detrick was the mecca for medical logistics, not only for the Army, but for the Navy and the Air Force too. This is like the pantheon of places to be.”
An accomplished career
Among Williams’ many career accomplishments, he was the “visionary, chief architect and primary builder” of the Army Medical Logistics Enterprise, or AMLE, that became the model for all business communities or enterprises within the Army Medical Department.
Williams also led multiple theater supply-chain assessments to validate and improve delivery of materiel, played a critical role in the reorganization of MRMC that led to the creation of AMLC and served as a mentor to hundreds, helping to develop the next generation of medical logisticians.
“He is directly responsible for ensuring Army Medicine has critical strategic capabilities,” said Jon Kissane, a close friend of 30 years and a senior medical logistics analyst for AMLC. “I consider him to be among the most impactful AMEDD leaders I have known, and I’ve been working for the Army for 46 years.”
Kissane used words like honorable, dedicated and loyal when reflecting on Williams and his career, reiterating his role as the driving force behind the AMLE effort, Defense MEDLOG initiatives and the establishment of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Korea, among others.
“He’s part of a generation of medical logisticians that built MEDLOG to what it is today,” Kissane said. “I will miss his leadership and the influence he impressed on senior medical leaders to remember the value of medical logistics.”
Talley said it was only fitting that Williams’ final assignment was in a building that he helped build, where every medical logistics organization within the DOD is represented.
“In short, he and the team he built are directly responsible for ensuring that Army medicine has critical strategic capabilities,” Talley said. “For this reason, David is considered the father of all things MEDLOG. Not just for the Army, but for the joint services as well.”
“Mentor” is a common word used when talking about Williams.
Chris Roan, USAMMA’s current chief of staff, said Williams has made a difference for him “on so many levels,” both personally and professionally.
“As a young hard-headed major, Lt. Col. Williams selected me as his executive officer for the 147th MEDLOG Battalion and then he was my commander at USAMMA,” Roan said. “He was extremely patient with me and saw potential in me that I did not.”
Roan said Williams, a close personal friend to he and his family, pushed and challenged him in many ways, becoming a valuable mentor for the rest of his military career.
“He advised me both personally and professionally for nearly 20 years,” he said. “Mr. Williams would not only coach me but also hold me accountable when he saw me waiver.”
Through his active-duty career and his work as a civilian, Williams remained focused on the success of medical logistics within the Army and the joint community. Roan said he never shied away from “thorny topics at all levels” and ensured that senior leaders were taking care of the talent within their ranks.
“During nearly a decade of dramatic change in medical logistics, Mr. Williams was the single consistent entity that kept the medical enterprises key and critical strategic programs moving forward,” Roan said.
A model for life
Williams’ motto during his career -- a maxim adopted by many, Talley said -- was “healthcare starts with medical logistics.”
“It was always forefront and relevant while he and his teams were executing the Army’s mission,” Talley said. “He was unrelenting in his effort, uncompromising in his standards, and he held high expectations of human performance, beginning with his own tireless work ethic.”
Talley, who worked alongside Williams when serving as commander of the 6th Medical Logistics Management Center, said he will be missed by his work family “for all the good” he brought to the command every day, emphasizing his legacy of teamwork, mentorship and an unwavering commitment to mission and human decency.
“All who have worked with David, myself included … we consider ourselves blessed to be educated, mentored and inspired by David Williams,” Talley said. “I hope the mold that created you isn’t broken, because you are the model of how everyone should live their life.”