By Amy Perry, Fort Lee Public Affairs
FORT LEE, Va. – A long military career was the last thing on Michael Williams’ mind after graduating from West Point in 1983.
The former co-captain of the Army Black Knights football team had been selected as All-American with an invitation to the coveted Hula Bowl in Hawaii. Williams – who took charge as president of Army Logistics University in March – was posturing himself for an opportunity to try out for the Oakland Raiders.
Back then, NFL teams sent letters to players they were interested in. Williams received one from the Raiders that asked him to keep the team in mind after his commitment to the Army.
“I knew my GPA was high enough. If I picked military police, I could choose my duty station,” said Williams. “Fort Ord in California (now closed) is close to Oakland (so that’s where he last served a military officer). I did end up trying out for the Raiders, completed one week of the combine, and got cut. That’s when I became a DA Civilian.”
Williams joined the federal service as a GS-5 transportability engineer within the Transportability Engineering Agency in Newport News in 1987.
“My goal at that time was to be a GS-13 subject matter expert in my chosen field,” said Williams. “Next thing you know, they are sending me to leadership courses and putting me in charge of teams and branches. Ten years after joining, I was a GS-15. I was fortunate because I was in an engineering discipline with a high-grade structure where if you did well as a GS-5, you were quickly promoted to a GS-7, and so on until GS-13. GS-14 and 15 were a little trickier to get.”
Working hard is vital to making one’s way up the ladder, said Williams.
“I’ve always thought if you tackle the tough problems and you’re successful with them, folks will give you more challenges,” he said. “Work tough problems. Work tough jobs. Never turn down an opportunity to work a project. When folks say ‘well, that’s not my job’ – I think individuals miss some wonderful opportunities to learn more.”
When the TEA moved to Scott Air Force Base, Ill., as part of a BRAC relocation, Williams went out to make sure its history and legacy stayed intact through the process. The end result was the Army’s TEA would stick around, and it and the other services would fall under one umbrella called the Joint Distribution Process Analysis Center or TRANSCOM’s Analysis Center.
The Army TEA was the only organization with a senior executive service member in charge, so it was the lead agency and its leader dual-hatted the top role at JDPAC.
After helping build the organizational structure, Williams applied for the top billet to become a member of the SES in 2007. Since then, he has served in several senior civilian leadership roles, including some at Headquarters, Department of Army at the Pentagon.
But Williams always desired coming back to the area, and said Fort Lee was one of the spots on his “dream sheet” since moving to Illinois.
“I’m from this area and wanted either Fort Monroe or Fort Lee,” he said. “I wanted to be around the Home of Logistics, so Fort Lee worked out even better.
“I have 37 years of working with the Department of Defense, and most of it as a civilian,” he said. “To be able to come back and be in charge of training and educating the next generation of logisticians for today’s mission and the next generation – it’s a dream come true. You get to give back. The same investment others made in me, I get to make in the lieutenants, captains, warrant officers, NCOs and civilians around here.”
Williams said he loves being a director and relishes the opportunity at ALU.
“I get general guidance and intent from the boss and it’s my responsibility to execute,” he said. “You’re not on a staff. Here, I’m the university president who has a campus to run. I like being in a leadership position.”
Some of the goals Williams has for the university comes from the guidance of Maj. Gen. Darrell K. Williams, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general. In particular, he looks forward to building strong bonds with the local universities and working on a strong credentialing program to ensure the skills officers, warrant officers and NCOs learn here translate to the private sector.
Additionally, he is focusing on keeping the material relevant and ensuring training methods are current.
“While I was doing my orientation at TRADOC headquarters, one of the challenges we identified was in today’s enterprise resource planning world and change coming around so quickly, how do we build processes in our program of instructor to give us the ability to update them more rapidly so we are teaching out students the most current doctrine that is available?” he questioned. “How do we stay current with how the population is being trained and educated? I think that’s going to be our challenge given the Army is a big organization, and it takes a long time to change things. The pace of change is happening so fast we’ve got to find better ways to go from a requirement to teaching in a classroom. The worst thing we could do is teach stuff that is not current, just because it’s been approved.”
Williams said he has faith in the staff, commandants and deans to meet those challenges and said it’s invigorating to be around the enthusiasm found at the university.
“It’s the way people walk into the building,” he said. “There’s excitement, urgency, youth and energy. At the Pentagon, there’s parking, then the metro, then security, and then they have to navigate the halls to their office. You can tell some people are just beat down by how long they’ve been doing it.
“You see the energy here, and you just want to be part of it,” Williams noted. “You can’t walk in that front door in the morning saying hi to captains, lieutenants, warrant officers and NCOs going back and forth and not be inspired.”