FALLS CHURCH, Va.- Sgt. 1st Class John Williams knows something about teamwork and working toward a goal. More specifically, a goal line; as the 1st Platoon Sergeant at the Joint Base Lewis Mc Chord Soldier Recovery Unit, he was also a former NFL player.
“I tell my Soldiers all the time something I live by. You gotta want it to get it!” How’s that for motivating Soldiers who need to recover and overcome? He lives this truth every day.
The former Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears football player, also an ordained minister, takes us back to his journey. Williams is from Hammond, Louisiana. He played for the Hammond Tornadoes and went to Southern University, where he played football. He comes from a football family; his father played at Southern University, and his younger brother played for the New England Patriots.
“I got picked up in 1997 with the Baltimore Ravens. I started on the practice squad, finished the last several games in 1997, and played all of 1998. I was a cornerback and played on special teams and played on the defensive side.” After the start of the 1999 season, he was released and was picked up by the Chicago Bears.
“I suffered an injury in preseason, which was my last season in the NFL. I decided to go to the XFL in 2001. I was on the Memphis Maniacs. Then I went to Arena football and played with the Nashville Cats, where I tore my knee.” He had almost a year of rehab but didn’t quit.
“I played Arena Football until 2005. I played in Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Austin, Texas. I decided to retire after that.”
He moved to Los Angeles and started a business with his brother, but after a while, he knew it wasn’t his ultimate goal.
“One night in 2007, I was praying, asking God to guide me on what to do. After I prayed, I found a military helmet with a W in it, and my last name is Williams, and it was a sign. I should give my life to my country. It was divine intervention. I joined the Army and was a 12 Whiskey, which is a carpenter. Yes, I became a carpenter at 33; I seriously wanted to be like Jesus.”
He started as a carpenter, became a construction company Platoon Sgt, had many assignments throughout the Army, and then found a job at the SRU at JBLM in September of 2022. “Health and wellness were always one of my strengths. I have a bachelor's in health and wellness and a master’s in healthcare administration.”
Williams feels like this is the ultimate touchdown in his career and is happy his education and life experiences are helping others.
“It’s been great helping Soldiers in this capacity. I’ve been in the Army for almost 16 years, and just seeing these Soldiers get here and go through treatments and to help them in their recovery process is a blessing. It’s the best assignment I’ve ever had.”
He stresses that every Soldier’s journey is different, and most have difficult days. When that happens, he has a solid playbook to offer if needed.
“My testimony itself is a great tool. Some of these soldiers have similar injuries to the ones I’ve had in the past. I try not to add that into the conversation; I don’t talk about my football career as a first option. But, if it can help, sure I share, and then Soldiers are like, wow look at Sgt Williams, he came back, his morale and confidence is strong, and he continues to push on.”
The married father of six encourages young Soldiers to do their part in the SRU. It’s a team. Every team requires participation from every teammate.
“We all want to win. We all want to do better and get better. You have to trust your leadership and your cadre or your coaches.
He says the JBLM SRU is second to none, and it’s a valuable resource for any Soldier should they need it.
“There is such a wealth of knowledge at our SRU. The treatment I’ve seen Soldiers receive is world-class. The cadre, nurse case managers, and occupational and physical therapists are like one big family. Soldiers should be optimistic and take advantage of what's in front of them. I've seen Soldiers come in and go back to duty, and I've seen Soldiers come in and get med-boarded out and move on in life. This place is for everyone and helps everyone no matter what direction they go.”