By Michelle HarlanMarch 26, 2012
Women's History Month, recognized annually during March, celebrates women and their achievements. This year's theme, "Women's Education -- Women's Empowerment," is exemplified by Vanessa Williams, a country program manager at the Security Assistance Command and colonel in the Army Reserves, who relies on lessons she learned throughout her education and career to be a role model.
Williams attended the University of Houston on an athletic scholarship, but when a friend told her she could earn extra money by joining the Army, her military career began. In addition to a full scholarship, attending basic training over a couple summers helped pay for textbooks. According to Williams, she had found a win-win situation of earning an income as a Soldier and being able to afford the things her scholarship didn't provide. Williams completed basic training at the top of her class and enlisted in the Reserve Officers Training Corps Simultaneous Membership Program so she could complete her college degree while becoming an officer. Once she completed her degree in management information systems, Williams joined the Army Reserves.
"The Army has given me my foundation of structure and balance. Without the military I wouldn't be where I am today," she said. "I was a team chief at the Pentagon during Operation Iraqi Enduring Freedom. I was able to make full-bird colonel, which is a huge achievement for a Reserve officer."
After her promotion, Williams was given the mission of establishing a new Expeditionary Sustainment Command in Wichita, Kan., a unit consisting of 262 Soldiers.
Williams attributes her success to leading by example and believes you earn more respect if you are willing to do something yourself, no matter what the task.
Williams was also influenced by other women, such as Gen. Ann Dunwoody, the first female four-star general and commander of the Army Materiel Command, poet Maya Angelou, Emma Wilson, fellow reservist and USASAC G3/5 operations contractor with Sigma Tech, and her mother.
"My mother is my number one influence. She propelled me to do anything I wanted to," Williams said.
Williams and Wilson worked together at the G4 headquarters at the Pentagon under Dunwoody. Coincidentally, their careers have crossed paths numerous times. They met in the Reserves in Florida and both were certified teachers there. They also worked together at CENTCOM and most recently at USASAC.
"Vanessa is the epitome of professionalism in everything she does," Wilson said. "She is definitely a role model in many ways."
Eventually, Williams hopes to return to education as a school principal.
"Everything she has done with her career, she has done as single mom, and that speaks volumes," Wilson said.
Williams' 11-year-old son, Kamron Josiah, is the driving force behind her decisions.
"My son is the reason I do what I do. I want him to see me succeed," Williams said. "He wants to join the military and follow in his mom's footsteps."