Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Oral History Interview with Jessica E. Williams

Wisconsin Veterans Museum


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[Interview Begins]

ROWELL: Today is August 8th, 2022. This is an interview with Jessica Williams, who served with the United States Army Reserve from October 5th, 2011 to October 4th, 2020. This interview is being conducted by Kate Rowell at the narrator's home in Wisconsin. The interview is being recorded for the I Am Not Invisible Project and Wisconsin Veterans Museum Oral History Program. So Jessica, let's start with where you grew up.

WILLIAMS: I grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

ROWELL: What was that like?

WILLIAMS: I would say I had a very good childhood. My mom and dad were very supportive and really tried to ensure that I had the most diverse experience as possible. I grew up on a five acre farmette in southern Wisconsin or Oshkosh, and I attended public school, Lakeside Elementary, and then I went into private middle school and high school.

ROWELL: And can you tell me a little more about your parents, what they did?

WILLIAMS: Sure. My mom was a food service director for the United Catholic Schools District for elementary, middle and high school. She was actually a 00:01:00chef, too, growing up, but when she had us, she realized that she wanted her weekends and holidays with us, so she was able to transfer. And then my dad served as a fireman for 27 years.

ROWELL: Okay. And were there military veterans in your family?

WILLIAMS: So not my immediate family, but I had a couple uncles that were. My grandpa, which was my dad's dad and a few of my aunts as well.

ROWELL: And what was your perception of the military when you were growing up?

WILLIAMS: I would say my perception was it was not going to be for me. I didn't think I had the personality, I guess, or the strength to join the military. And I actually would be more than happy to share the story of how I even got to this point at some point in this interview.

ROWELL: Absolutely. And can you tell me a bit about your college career?

WILLIAMS: Sure. So I went to Alverno College in Milwaukee. That was a suggestion 00:02:00to me because it was a nontraditional college, meaning it was an all-female college. They didn't focus on grades. They focus on more of the abilities. What are the nine abilities that an employer would want out of an employee? Examples were communication, analyzing, global perspective. And so I went there to take like a in-home class type of dynamic and just fell in love. It was all tables and chairs with groups. The professor maybe talked to you for 20 minutes and then allowed you to actually network and talk. And it wasn't that by PowerPoint, it wasn't a structured hall where all of them ended up sitting in chairs and just listening for hours. So it was a really great interactive and actually think that Alverno set me up to be that strong woman as well as analyzing because when you go for your master's, there's more so go for that critical 00:03:00thinking. And so I graduated in three and a half years, so I entered in 2006 and was done by 2009.

ROWELL: So did you plan on doing a master's when you were going into your undergrad?

WILLIAMS: No, that was never a plan as well. To be honest, I was doing what society kind of made sense. You go to college, you get that degree, then you find that lucky Mr. someone, and you get married and have kids. But actually, I was with someone for three and a half years, made that call and I said, You know what? He isn't the one. There was a lot more that I wanted to explore, and that's kind of where that military started thinking.

ROWELL: Yeah, so do you want to tell me more about what brought you to consider the military as an option?

WILLIAMS: Sure. So the honest truth was I realized that the relationship I was in was good, but it wasn't really what I wanted. I just spent three and a half years studying all the time, taking summer classes, taking weekend classes, and 00:04:00I wanted to explore more. I didn't want to be stayed at home, I guess you say, and I wouldn't want to be that stay at home mom with all the kids, no. Well, we'll get to that later on because life changes. But at that moment, I wasn't thinking that's not what I wanted. So it was also 2009 kind of recession. So really I was struggling to find a job after society says, get a college degree, you'll be making 50,000. That's not the truth. How that was working. So actually my aunt who is actually in this picture right here. This is retired Master Sergeant Karen Dumke, and she's the one that approached me and said, Why don't you go into the National Guard? You could get your masters, have the different experience of the military and the education. And so I really was starting to talk about it. She told me I was smart enough to take the ASVAB and I would be just fine. I did pass, but I didn't get the score I wanted or needed to get my 00:05:00loans paid back. So I had 40 days or 30 days to study and then retake the ASVAB. Well, I needed 50 and I retook the test and I got a 49. One point away, and I'm like, All right, you know, God's got a plan for me. We'll figure this out. Well, at the same time, I had applied and got accepted into UW-Oshkosh for a master's in leadership. And I applied for the Wisconsin Challenge Academy job, which is out at Fort McCoy. I had a second interview and the last day that you could potentially drop out of your courses and not pay was the day that I took a big leap and I said, You know, I think I got this job. Sure enough, the next day I got the phone call, they offered me the position. I'm like, great, drop all the courses, I didn't need any to pay for that. I don't need the military. We're good. I finally have a job, so I picked up and moved to Sparta. Lo and behold, I'm working on a military base, Fort McCoy, working with cadets. And these are students, sixteen and eighteen year olds that can't graduate. They're 00:06:00struggling, they're at risk. Well, at the same time, I'm meeting a lot of soldiers because at this point, with the Iraq and Afghanistan war, there are a lot of soldiers are coming back and volunteering to train the upcoming soldiers. So I met a lot of people while on base and started to rethink. So after a year now, technically two, two years of really thinking about it, talking to numerous different recruiters, numerous different military members, took that ASVAB again. I got the score I needed. And needless to say, I'll tell you the funny story that recruiters were probably not a fan of me. I was 24, I'm a little blunt as it is, and I know my worth. And I went to Army Guard, Army Guard and Army Reserves and an Air Force. Marines too tough for me. Navy just never seemed to be interested and Air Force said, sorry, we can't pay back college loans. I'm like, okay, I'll see you later. National Guard, unfortunately, didn't reach out to me fast enough. Army Reserves came back like, All right, you could be a 00:07:00military police officer. My cool! That's totally different than my degree. My degree is human resources, marketing, journalism, working with people--I, love this different. Do I get my loans paid back? They were like, no, like, okay, call me when you tell me I get this, this and this. So finally they called and said, okay, we have a human resources job, which was my last choice, because I didn't really want something that was with my civilian life, but pay back my college loans, got an enlistment bonus. And so I said yes. So I went to my MEPS, enlisted and family, I think, was pretty, pretty proud, but also a little shocked.

ROWELL: So, um, can you tell me about that day that you were inducted.

WILLIAMS: Huh? So that was a whirlwind because I was told that I was 10 pounds too heavy per say, so I had to lose that weight before I enlisted. So thankfully, I had some good soldier friends that told me all the tricks and all 00:08:00the trades to lose 10 pounds in a week. I don't advise it, it's not healthy. So I just stuck with water, egg whites, cottage cheese and the lowest calorie turkey. And so the funny part is I would put on a garbage bag and then put on sweats and layers and be on layers. And I would go running on a treadmill for 10 minutes and I would go sit in the sauna for 10 minutes and then go to an elliptical for 10 minutes and go sit in the sun. And I did that for all week. So by the time I actually swore I look like a mess, like I had the cold, my whole face was red, my nose was running, because clearly my immune system was out of whack. But I just remember the recruiter driving me, dropping me off at the hotel. At the time I had a boyfriend that was pretty supportive of it and he was in the military and like trying to talk me up and I'm like, I'm really doing this. I really said, no way in hell. I'm about to sign my life away. But it was 00:09:00pretty rewarding just to be there. Interesting, because MEPS really wants you to sign everything without reading it. And I'm one of those people that I like to read everything, so I think they're a little impatient with me, but just swearing that oath. And I was just super excited to just do something part of our country.

ROWELL: So where did you go to boot camp?

WILLIAMS: So they would call it LAX and Jackson, or otherwise known as Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

ROWELL: And how did you feel going into it? Like what was your mood?

WILLIAMS: Woo! I was pretty ecstatic, pretty excited. But then, of course, the day of. You are really starting to regret that you just made this decision because I am envisioning being screamed at. Obviously doing push-ups. I'm very fearful that I would not be a good soldier in the sense that I would not be able to protect other soldiers because I've never shot a weapon in my life. My parents tried when I was 12 to take hunter safety, and I screamed and cried and 00:10:00I wasn't going to shoot anything. So it's kind of a crazy thing. So just super nervous but super excited to meet new people because I love people and love diversity and experiencing many different things. I think that very first beginning, though, reception is three days and that three days is pretty exhausting and they basically make you not sleep. So when you're going through all of these steps and being pushed like cattle, it's kind of overwhelming. And you have so many emotions that you can't even react to these emotions because you got people to the left and right of you just pushing you through and you just have to sign this or that and you don't even know what's really going on because the instructions aren't why. They're just do this. And I'm usually a why am I doing this type of person? So a lot of anxiety was that going on.

ROWELL: And so how did you kind of deal with that? What got you through that? Was it just the sleeplessness just kind of, you know, you just shuffled through 00:11:00it? Or was, did you kind of have a shift of perspective at any point where you're like, okay, I can do that. I can do the directions without [inaudible].

WILLIAMS: I think for me, I kept the people and I am religious, so I believe in God. And I really kind of kept him at the forefront saying, I can do this, I can overcome. I have a lot of support to network. I know people were going to write me. I know that I am. I had them cheering me on and I'm pretty positive that especially at Alverno, like women empowerment, you can do anything you put your mind to. You just have to take a deep breath, say a prayer, and then just tackle the mission.

ROWELL: Okay. Um, can you describe for me how your perspective might have changed when you were, once you were, you know, in basic, you're kind of, you know, going through it about that, I don't know if my personality is cut out for 00:12:00it. And did you, did you have a change of heart with that at all, or did that stick with you for a while?

WILLIAMS: Physically, I was a little concerned because I mean, PT makes you sexy was what the comment was to try to get you through this, like, okay, they're going to push us and that'll be fine. No, I actually, to be honest, I realized that I did have the personality to do it, but I was also in basic training. I was the mother hen. I'm 24. The rest of the females especially [inaudible] 18, 19 years old. So maturity was definitely a problem and that's something I didn't even think of. I was all concerned about the drill sergeants yelling at me and if I'm going to do something correctly. And what actually I struggled with is, I'm doing the right thing by basically following the rules. I'm a rule follower, always been and so on. Some of the girls would not like to follow the rules or 00:13:00weren't comprehending it was a struggle for me to like how do I support and not tell them what to do because I was the mother hen according to them. So I realized that, you know, I have the personality and the organization. But I think the result, the realization was ideally when you're going into the military with a college degree, you should be an officer. I chose not to go in as officer. I went in as an enlisted soldier, so a specialist. So with that being said, I'm a leader of the soldiers, but I'm not the planner. And that's what the officers are. And I have a strategic planner in my brain. So I think that made it even more difficult because I acted as if I was an officer, now not disrespectfully, not like rank wise, but just the outward thinking, the planning, like, why are you guys doing that? Like this is how it should be done. Like smarter, not harder. So I think that was more a realization. But at the same time I strategically decided to go in enlisted because I talked to many 00:14:00soldiers and I wanted to earn that respect. I wanted to be boots, ground and really experience it before I started telling people what to do because really every situation is different.

ROWELL: So what are some things that you maybe did to to make that, you know, strategic thinking work for you in an enlisted role? Like, how did that work for you?

WILLIAMS: Oh, I didn't tone it down. Yeah, to be honest, I think because of my bubbly personality and I generally care, it did actually work in my favor because I think people realized that I wasn't trying to go or gloat for any type of role. It's just that I genuinely wanted to do the right thing, support my soldiers, go above and beyond and be that leader regardless of what the position was. I think because of my personality and because of the thinking process I 00:15:00had, I already connected with the officers. So as much as they knew I was this NCO, they treated me like an officer, probably because I was talking to them professionally in the way that you need to be, I guess. Now, needless to say, there were still probably hiccups in certain areas that maybe became a little too much where I had to back off and learn.

ROWELL: So can you talk about, just walk me through some of the central things that you learned in boot camp?

WILLIAMS: Well, actually, physical training is a huge a component at that time. So I listen to [inaudible] during the time, it was still the two mile run, the two minute sit ups, two minute push ups. So everything and I was just spacing on the word. Every time we did something wrong, we got. Now I'm spacing on the 00:16:00word. Okay. We'll come back to it.

ROWELL: Yeah, no worries.

WILLIAMS: So basic training. Obviously, the physical fitness was a big thing. The. The whole operation. Like, how do you stand in formation? What's the correct procedure if your hands behind your back. The salute, customs and courtesies. I learned about the values and that's actually pretty huge in the military. And when leaders don't treat it, then that's where you've got the not such great leadership, but memorizing like the creeds, the warrior ethos, and really honing into what that is. Being broken down to be built up again was a very interesting concept and I don't even think it's easily explained. Like, I still don't know how to explain it to people because I didn't understand when I went in. But it's just something that it just kind of beat you down and not in a negative, bad way, because throughout time they've learned, right? No swearing 00:17:00at the soldiers, no carrying sandbags because it's going to break your back--like they've learned over time. Like there are certain things that they shouldn't be doing in order to obviously keep us as healthy as possible, to keep us in the ranks as long as possible. But just learning that, hey, your focus is here, you need to let go of any possible first world problems and put it aside, and you got to focus on this and focus on what's at hand and who you're taking care of.

ROWELL: And can you tell me about some of the people that you met, maybe like your battle buddy or friends that you may have made in basic?

WILLIAMS: Sure. So my bunkmate, this is Roberson. Roberson. Yeah. She's my one-time battle buddy. She had my back. She was a bad ass. She was actually in the ROTC program. And so she knew everything from the push-ups and how to be a leader. And so it was really great to bond with someone that already had some 00:18:00skill sets and had your back. I also had a battle buddy McClain don't have a photo. She is a skinny, very shy, intimate person. And it's amazing how much strength she has. She has gone through a lot in her life just sharing her stories. And she went to be a paratrooper. And I'm like, you're going to jump out of planes like you. I'm just I'm just doing paperwork. But she was just the kind of saw, no matter what. So I did have a couple of battle buddies that were really especially in basic training I could really count down, which was really nice. And that's the coolest thing I think about the military is that you automatically have that camaraderie and you protect each other. Brothers and sisters, you just know regardless, like if something were to happen, they would have your back. And even when you're out, you usually can bond and figure out who the veteran is. Just because we've all gone through basic training. It might 00:19:00be different, but because we already went, ah, went through something kind of traumatic, per say, you always kind of have that bond and that support.

ROWELL: So can you tell me, is there anything that you want to talk about, about boot camp that you remember before we move on to AIT?

WILLIAMS: Sure. So boot camps. Interesting. So they give you obviously specific uniforms. And I got to tell you, their boots are awful, beyond awful. So they're so awful that I decided I'm not wearing the issued boots and we have a ten mile ruck march. And so the entire ten weeks I actually did their issue of the winter boots, those were the only boots that were comfortable. Now, the older soldiers would probably tell you that I was in the new army, meaning that we were treated nicer. We could have cell phones. Not all the time, but we could have cell phones. Our drill sergeants allowed us to go to the PX and actually purchase anything we wanted, and that was unheard of. So I bought these babies. These are 00:20:00my ruckies, my entire career is in these. These were worn only three days before a ten-mile ruck march. And I never had a single blister. And this also carried me through the AIT, and then the Ats, and then also [inaudible] talking about the best warrior. So that's kind of my uniform. The other story I love to share is [inaudible] my dress. I pay attention to detail, but I have learned in the military to pay attention to detail. So one day we're out at the range and we are split into groups. This one group, we went to the range. Afterwards it started raining and they told us to put the Gore-Tex, the coats on. [Inaudiible] put the coats on. Stopped raining, but no one told us we could take it off. So we go to chow, which is otherwise known as lunch. I met up with one of my battle buddies, who was in the other group. She did not have a Gore-Tex on, so we're walking together as battle buddies paired because you're always supposed to be 00:21:00with your battle buddy, with your weapon in hand. And Drill Sergeant Clark comes in and starts screaming at me because I'm not paying attention to detail. I should be in the same uniform. Obviously, you can't talk back to a drill sergeant and you try to explain what you know, why. But as he's yelling at me, he acknowledges that I'm a specialist and apparently never noticed that however many weeks that we were in. And now he's even more mad because I'm supposed to be more of a leader because I'm not a private, I'm making making more money per say, and I should have more leadership skills. So I was supposed to do the front leaning rest, which is like a push-up position. And then as I'm doing, and I had to put the weapon on top of my hands to pay attention to detail, my dust cover was open, so now I'm being yelled at because I don't have the same coat on, or it's off, and apparently I'm walking around with my weapon with the dust cover open, which is not good because I basically create potential malfunctions in the weapon because dust could get into it. So now I'm supposed to talk to him while 00:22:00in the [inaudible] or position of tension--now I'm messing it all up--with the weapon and explain how it is. And so from that day forward, I really pay attention to detail what I'm doing, who I'm talking to, what it's all about. And it was a love hate relationship. I really despise that drill sergeant, but at the end of the day, he taught me the most because he was doing his job. Yes. Yelled at me. I know I was also struggling with my runs and he was like, Try this technique. Because every runner has a different breathing technique and it's all about the breathing. So those were kind of my highlights. There's one other thing that I probably would like to explain. Basic training was tough because I'm a rule follower and I hold integrity to the highest degree, like my entire life is surrounded by that value, so I never shot a weapon in my life. I did have the boyfriend at the time who was an Army Reserve soldier and during 00:23:00Christmas break he brought his own weapons to my parents backyard and he helped me train me. So that way when I went back to basic training, I could tackle it and not be completely, completely done. So we get there. We do the first practice and I'm like a sharpshooter. I'm like, getting it, killing it. It's great. I was, like, ecstatic. Well, comes the day of actual qualification. Meaning they're actually going to test me and I couldn't shoot for shit. Like nothing. I was not getting it. I don't know. I just couldn't concentrate. My breathing was off. I was awful and I'm freaking out because I can't graduate without passing. And this is it. So one of the drill sergeants who I don't know who was tells me, you know, Williams, get down there and and I'm like, okay, drill sergeants are waiting all of sudden, I'm like, What's going on now? [Inaudible] Shoot the next twenty. He was like, All right, you're good to go. I'm like, What do you mean, drill sergeant? And he was like, You're good to go. I'm like, No, I'm. To get 24 to pass and you just shot half of my. So basically 00:24:00the drill sergeant was trying to get us to pass. But in my brain and my thought, my heart, that's not integrity. Like I need to graduate on my own because I'm not going to deploy and take the risk of not actually being able to protect someone. And I'm not going to graduate under a false reasoning that I actually have that skill. Unfortunately, this created a big problem with my bay or my platoon because I refused to leave until I did all the shooting and I passed. So they all went back. Now, I never said anything, but of course, when you're dealing with fellow soldiers that could be, you know, younger than you, they think you're a tattletale. They think that you are a snitch. So now I'm being, I guess, ostracized or left out or yelled at by my peers because they assume that I complained or reported on their drill sergeant when I never said a word. They had no idea that all I was trying to do was shoot correctly. So that was a very 00:25:00painful moment because, now I like to be liked and it's difficult because I just want to do the right thing and trying to internalize and realize that I enlisted expecting potentially to deploy. And I wanted that mindset where some didn't seem to have that mindset, even though like even my aunt or family members, they would say, you know, any time you deploy, they'll train you. They'll go a couple of months of like what you're focusing on for that mission. But that high anxiety of wanting to be perfect, the perfectionism and making sure that I'm not responsible for any damage. So, yeah, a lot of life lessons. The military made me grow even more mature, maybe a little bit better in anger. I'm not sure. A little bit more blunt, as you could say, or for females, unfortunately, we're too aggressive or, I would like to say, maybe assertive when, you know, have to fight for bigger things and make a bigger demonstration.


ROWELL: Okay. Thank you. So let's talk about AIT. When did you start your Advanced Individual Training?

WILLIAMS: Literally it was that weekend that I graduated from basic training. So we had like two or three days off and then right went right into it.

ROWELL: And can you tell me what that was like for you, what your what that training consisted of?

WILLIAMS: Sure. So AIT was also at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. And what we were told was that it was supposed to be like college. We took a step up. We took a step down. Basic training was brand new buildings, beautiful showers. I felt like I had more, I don't know, control per se. AIT? Not so much. It was the old barracks. The rules were even stricter for some odd reason. Yeah, it was not my favorite. I did not enjoy those nine weeks. I actually enjoyed basic training more than AIT.


ROWELL: Um, and can you tell me a bit about some unique experiences you may be had in AIT in terms of new qualifications, new experiences that built you as a soldier?

WILLIAMS: Sure. So, at the time, the boyfriend that I had, he actually gave me his watch, which I still have. He's an ex now, but he encouraged me to be that leader that he knew I was. Now, he wanted me to be a platoon sergeant, and I was like, That's a little too much. So I went for a squad leader. And so actually I was the only squad leader in our battalion that actually made it all nine weeks. The rest all got fired at some point. So that was pretty cool because at the end I got a certificate of achievement, of being able to complete and not get fired, which is great. So that was a really great experience of being that leader. I was in charge of the squad, meaning every morning, every night, any time we had formations. I had to make sure the accountability was there. Where are my 00:28:00soldiers, if and then being, able to report on them, take care of my soldiers, make sure that any communication was delivered to them. That way they were there on time and was successful.

ROWELL: And can you tell me a little bit about what you felt like brought you through that maybe some of the other squad leaders maybe didn't have or did. But for you, what do you think made that experience a follow through to the end?

WILLIAMS: My organizational skills. I'm already an organized person and I already have a deep care for people and usally when I'm working with people they're not numbers to me. So it's easy to establish relationships, get to know them. And then because of my organizational skills, I know the time where to be. I don't really tend to be late or well, maybe now, but back then I was definitely very honest as well.

ROWELL: And it was at that point, were you engaging in any of that H.R. training?


WILLIAMS: Correct. Yep. So that whole entire nine weeks was really a learning. What is it that you do as an H.R.? It's very different than the civilian world. You're dealing more so with awards or writing the, um, I guess the certificates of the awards, you're doing accountability because if you are ever deployed, it's all about making sure we know how many boots are on ground because we're obviously taking care of this many people and this amount of equipment and we need to report back to our leaders. Other things were finance, benefits and your retirement, ribbons, [inaudible]. A lot of it was just a lot of tracking records, data, information. But then also in my unique position, because I'm an organized person, I'm very outgoing. Another key part that you could also be involved with H.R. is any type of speaking. So if you have [inaudible] in and 00:30:00outs, being the speaker for that, participating in the color guard or funeral honors. I definitely do not do very good in marching. I don't I'm not coordinated, but I know how to speak. So there's different things like that.

ROWELL: And during the course of your AIT, did you find anything especially rewarding or especially challenging?

WILLIAMS: Hmm. So, Monica. I think rewarding wise was, you know, you get through basic training and basic training is more stressful because you don't know what you're doing. AIT, you have the basics now and you're able to kind of move forward. So I think what was rewarding for me was I was able to finally process it all. I, like I mentioned, I am religious, but that comes and goes, right? But when you're there and they allow and specifically give you X amount of hours on 00:31:00every Sunday, I took advantage of that. So I went to church. I went to confession. I was able to do a lot of reflection. Most military members will tell you, especially when you're in the Guard Reserve, is every time you went to training and you removed yourself from back home, from your civilian life, it's an odd vacation. No, it's not a vacation because you're working and doing stuff. But you don't have to think about anything else. You don't have to think about the bills, people, gossip, social media. You just get to focus on what you're doing every single day. And I think that is a time where I was like the most present and just reflecting on life and where I want to go. And the cool thing about AIT especially is they start teaching you about what is the the track. So within your career you do X, Y, Z to get to this rank and then this rank and then here is a different identifier. And there's just a lot of training and constant progression for promotion. And on the civilian side your work 00:32:00experience really isn't like that. The only time you really can kind of progress is if you leave a job or go somewhere else, because nowadays it's not a set path. The most difficult? Again, just the females. For the we are really catty. I got along with the males a lot better, females really difficult. It's just different that's, but at the same time, even though it's difficult, it's really rewarding how diverse the military is. I mean, every possible religion, ethnicity, race, like just so many people with different backgrounds and it helps you kind of open your mind a little bit more. Like, not everyone had two parents. Not everyone actually was taught how to do chores like [inaudible] or laundry or hygiene. Some have no organizational skills. You just have to figure out how can you work with them and how can you, you know, you don't have to necessarily be friends but be kind and find their strengths, find your strengths 00:33:00and kind of fill in between. So that was probably the most challenging just to get on everyone's page because a lot, again, people just assumed this is college. So now it could be more times to brush off, not care. And I'm like, No, we're here to do a job. Like, I don't understand why you guys can't just, this is not vacation. You guys have to work. So I think that was probably the difficult one, you know.

ROWELL: And can you tell me a bit about some of those courses that you took at Fort McCoy, like your Warrior Leadership Course.

WILLIAMS: Good old Warrior Leadership Course. So that is a three-week course. And it's the initial one of how to be a leader or your NCO, which would be a sergeant. Some of the, now it's tailored also to fit your MOS or military occupation. So for HR, it was more so how do you fill out certain documents like memorandums, speeches, awards, things like that? But the other ones are how do 00:34:00you conduct yourself as an NCO? So like noncommissioned officers have what's called NCO [inaudible]. So your leader is going to be basically writing your strengths or weaknesses or like evaluations, doing that, producing counseling. I would say that is the probably the biggest and coolest thing I've ever learned. And I wish the civilians would take it on. So counseling is basically setting them up for success. So we were taught on how to have a conversation with your soldier. Lay out the expectations that you have of them and expectations of you, of yourself. And then you have a track record. You have documentation. So every month or whenever you interact with them, you can kind of keep going off on that. And that can be good, like career wise, like, well, what's your goals? Where would you like to go? Or they could be negative. Hey, you 100% were not allowed to do this. And this is what we need to do because consequences happen. You just drove this Humvee to McDonald's and that is not okay. By the way, that 00:35:00really did happen to one of my soldiers.

ROWELL: I was just going to ask.

WILLIAMS: Yes. So just finding out how to be a leader and to do the right paperwork and then, of course, the standard soldier rules. So we did land navigation, day and night. How to produce the awards? You had the physical fitness tests, essay writing, medical, kind of like the basics, driving.

ROWELL: And then you also took a combatives course and a combat lifesaver course. Do you want to say something about that?

WILLIAMS: Sure. So combatives is hand-to-hand combat. If you were and based upon the military, they do a lot of research. And they combined basically everything out there and made it into this big, huge thing. So I was supposed to take that because it was a requirement to participate in the best warrior competition, which I'm sure we'll be talking about. The funny part is I was scheduled, but 00:36:00the actual course didn't take place until after I competed. So tell me how funny that was. But I was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, beautiful state. And it was a week of a lot of corework. I learned how to do shrimps. And shrimps are like when you shrink and you have to keep doing without use your hands on the on the floor and do the entire like gym. I also got punched in the face because that's what you had to do. You literally had to get punched and just find a way to get away from it without punching back, because you need to feel what it would feel like. So that was an interesting experience. I never thought I'd have to do that during the military. So, yeah, so comparison is, I would say the biggest comparison would be it's very similar to jitsu, so, not good mouth guard. Always keep this because, again, you'll be punched in the face. So that was an 00:37:00interesting experience for sure. Combat Lifesaver is also something that is beneficial for all soldiers, yes on human resources. But you have to remind yourself like you need to know the basics because if you were deployed, that's about to come anywhere like it doesn't matter what your job is. So Combat Lifesaver was also a requirement for the best warrior competition, and it's just basic medical skills. How do you put a tourniquet on if someone got shot? How would you stop the wound from, the blood rushing out? Someone's choking. So basically a CPR first aid AED. And then, of course, more of like a combat lifesaving. So I really appreciate it because at that time I had a lot of support, and combat lifesaver course I was able to get it taught to me through Case DeWinkel. So unfortunately he passed at a very early age, but I'm really 00:38:00glad I had that time with him because he was a really patient soldier, really great leader, worked really hard with me to make sure I fully understood because again, it wasn't just a competition for me. It was really I want to make sure that I could take and save a life if I need to. So he was a sergeant first class and he passed at 35. And so he is actually one soldier that I always keep in mind, because he really was one of those great leaders that was always there for every soldier.

ROWELL: All right. And then can you talk about, um, the unit that you were serving with, like, during this period of training?

WILLIAMS: So this was 646 Regional Support Group, but they were under the 377th Theater Sustainment Command. So this is kind of like their their logo per se. This was located in Madison, Wisconsin. And the uniqueness of this unit is it 00:39:00was the first unit I went to when I relocated from Fort McCoy to Madison. It's the unit that pushed me to go to Warrior Leadership Course, to become a sergeant, because they said, you need to stop being a specialist, you need to become a leader. So I also got promoted out because of that. But then I also returned because it was such a great unit and became a Fox Five Postal Operations, which is an additional identifier. And really in 2015 is when the Best Warrior happened. So our command sergeant major, we were actually out at A.P. Hill, which is in Virginia for our annual training that's during winter. I was actually covering the night shift and at this time we have the army record briefs or automated record briefs, and that's a huge thing for the HR personnel to do, and that's to help the soldiers take care of basically their army, like, 00:40:00transcript, as it were. It has everything, every award, every training, every unit they're part of. And it was a new system. So my job was to basically transfer the old software into the new one, and then there's going to be lots of missing gaps. And so at the night shift, we're working on that while holding down the fort. So one day when I was supposed to be sleeping, during the day, I was requested to be in the presence of my sergeant major. And he says, you know, needs strong females. I really think you represent, you know, what do you what would you say about, you know, competing this best for your competition? And to be honest, I don't even know what he was saying to me. I think I was just saying, acting like freaking out, like the sergeant major wants to talk to me. I don't really know. Okay. So he's like, so you on board? I'm like, yes, sergeant major. Scurry down to my barracks, I Google. That's warrior. And I'm like, Huh? Oh, dear, what did I just sign up for? So the Best Warrior competition is where I think is a highlight of my military career. I have never deployed, 00:41:00unfortunately, just never happened. Just my units never went. But that's where I learned the most. It's where I experience the most. It was a really great honor to represent my battalion and compete and it really was all about the support I would have never done as well as I did without the support. A nice, cool little thing is that I was a National Guard contractor, so I was actually working my civilian job taking care of our military with employment in Madison. This was at the Armed Forces Reserve Center. This is where 646 is housed. So because of that connection, I had even more support because my civilian job knows that I work with that and she's like, Yup, however you want to put your 40 hours in doesn't matter to me. So I had a couple of leaders. Yeah, this one right here, Sergeant Harding. So he really was the sergeant that made me a true NCO, truly. So he got 00:42:00some Army Guard Reserve HR soldiers on board and interviewed me four times to give me practice for the board, because a board is the military equivalency of like a job interview. That's a lot, because you have to think on your feet. You have to be game ready for any question that they throw at you. And of course, they all had to be goofy and try to make fun of me, try to make sure I wouldn't laugh that way. I could keep my composure because again, this is a military. I can't use my hands, I can't smile, have to be a little bit more strict. So he was huge. I also had a marine, Garbo. He was fantastic. He showed me the proper way of packing my rucksack. Apparently the army doesn't teach you that, but the Marines know. So he actually took me on a couple ruck marches with the pack and 00:43:00gave us some great pointers, and I did really well on the ten mile ruck march. And then my other good friend Bob. Bob Niles was focusing on weapons in the Navy for 17 years, and I was really scared of the nine mil. I don't know what it was, but the M-16, the M-4, that's big weapons. I'm totally fine with it. But the nine mil, woo!, small guns I don't like. So he took me to the range and he helped me figure out my breathing and to get over the anxiety. And the coolest, bestest part was at the actual competition. I got 37 out of 40 with the nine mil and that put me at number one against all competitors. And so he was super proud because that was a fear I overcame and I did even better and got a specific certification or certificate of treatment for that. So those were really key players of Best Warrior. This is my brother's favorite photo of me. He says 00:44:00what's scarier? This is my sister with the bazooka and the fact that you know, this is kind of badass. So that was pretty cool. This is my biggest highlight. We had to run, shoot this off, then run again, stop and then put the mask on as if there was gas, gas, gas. So part of this is I competed in twice, I had the battalion and the brigade levels and I was the runner up for the first one. But the sergeant that won really wanted to do that warrior leadership course. So he was he basically said, let Williams go, she'll knock it out of the park. So the second round was even better because one, there was only two of us females. This is the whole crew that competed. She actually won and she was beyond epic. She did four years of active duty and I learned a lot. But the reason why I like this competition the best is because the sergeant major running it said he was there at every activity and he said, this is not just a competition. I want to 00:45:00make sure I know what you know, because what you know means we're good. But if you you soldiers don't know X, Y and Z, then that means that us as leaders aren't doing our job and we need to figure out what else to do. So it's kind of a double, double thing.

ROWELL: We're going to take a pause, really quick. So this ends segment one of the interview with Jessica Williams on August 8th, 2022. This begins segment two of the interview with Jessica Williams on August 8th, 2022. Okay, so last time we talked here, we were talking about Best Warrior competition and the prep work that you did. And so the results you saw and you just showed us your photograph. Um, do you want to talk more about, um, how, um, what kind of the most challenging, some of those other most challenging things were about, either the competition itself, the day off or the prep.


WILLIAMS: So the prep for Best Warrior, I think, was difficult for the mere fact that it was short term, short term time, short term, I literally had two months to physically, mentally, spiritually in a sense, be prepared. But because of all the support from civilian job to the various different branches helping me, it was definitely doable. And to be honest, any type of goal I take on, I'm very focused, so if I'm pretty passionate about doing well in something. I'm going to make the time for it. And I was just very energized, kind of reflecting back and seeing the memories. I was studying all the time, studying the book, because when it comes to Best Warrior, you have certain tasks, positions, activities, 00:47:00things that you'll have to partake in. However, there's miscellaneous or mystery events as well. So while you're waiting, while another contestant is doing something, they might pull you aside and challenge you. So you really have to study everything and anything about it all. So it wasn't just for the board. Usually they want you to know the NCO creed. Since I'm a sergeant, what are the warrior ethos? What's the Army song? But they also want to know if you're keeping track and being involved with our society, what's going on in America, what are the, I guess, events happening, specifically medical; or smoke bombs, what are the different colors; weapons; the physical fitness test. You also have to write an essay. So there is a lot of preparation and challenge with that. I think the first competition, the most challenge was the fact that it was like a 00:48:00five-day event crammed into three days. So I like slept for 2 hours. It was crazy insane. It was also weird because the very first competition, I was the only NCO that competed. So to make it fair or give me actual competition, they last minute said, Hey, sponsor, so and so, sergeant, you've competed before. Would you mind competing? So it was kind of exciting because throughout the entire event my sponsor, the support, the people really enjoy my company, they kept on saying, Williams, you got it in the bag, you got it in the bag. And I'm like, Really? I'm like, this is awesome. Like, All right, cool. And I was so devastated because come the day of, I'm supposed to be the winner and, nope, I'm the runner up. And it's because they really looked and I was just shy on the physical fitness test, just shy of everything else, you know, knocked out of the 00:49:00park. But it was really cool and I wish I remembered his name, but the winner is the one that wanted to go to Warrior Leadership Course. And so he couldn't continue competing. So he, you know, said, let the runner up Williams go. So that's where the really great experience was because this time around was much more organized. It wasn't this cram and run around, but both events, which is kind of funny when we talk about combatives. I was supposed to be trained in that, but that actually happened after the competition. But the first competition we ran out of time or they didn't organize correctly, so we couldn't do it. So that saved me there. And the second time around they really wanted to ensure no soldiers got hurt. So we had to do various different stages. The first stage for the combatants was take a test, a written test, things that you know or don't know, etc. The second round was you competing with an instructor who 00:50:00was actually at a level four. So he wouldn't hurt you. You kind of did do X, Y and Z. And then the third round was, yes, you're competing against your peers, but you're more so kind of enacting. And they would really were making sure that we didn't go too far, per se, because it could get a little heated. Some things, I guess that was neat is the physical training. Normally you go in PTs, it's the gray t shirt, the black shorts, right? Oh, no. They want to trick, treat, treat as if you're in war. So we had to do the physical fitness test in our full uniform with the boots on, which was weird to me because I've never ran in my uniform. So that was interesting. What else was the Best Warrior? I mean, the camaraderie is great. I wish I had another photo somewhere else too. But that team was pretty cool. Oh, we did an obstacle course. So this is one of the professional photos that they took of going up the ladder and the other one is 00:51:00going underneath the barbed wire. So, again, I think this is such a highlight for me because I feel like I had the basics for basic training, but basic training was so fast paced that I don't really feel like I was actually probably learning, let alone retaining things. This was nice because the prep, it was more me, my time, what I put into it. And then I got the real life experience because I had other soldiers, Marines, Airforce, Navy, seamen that were all helping me out and teaching what they learned. So it was really a team effort. The other thing is because of the prep, because of the actual competition, it was almost like a form of deploying, in my opinion. I've never deployed, unfortunately, but it allowed me to feel like I was doing something to represent my command. Hmm. I think that's about it. I mean, I can't even think of anything 00:52:00else. Um, yeah, [inaudible].

ROWELL: You mentioned that you were one of two women who participated. Did that have any impact on your experience as a competitor at all?

WILLIAMS: Not really. Mostly because I think the fellow NCOs that we competed against were very respectful. They just were really great men. They had motivation. They had energy. They had positivity. And she was active duty. So she had four years and she actually had some sponsors and they took, they had been training for like a year. Like, she really had the heads up compared to me in a sense. So I learned a lot from her, but no difference. But again, I think it all comes down to individuals. And I think an interesting thing is normally the problem that people assume is that, you know, females shouldn't be in the 00:53:00military or they're unable to do certain things. And some females have had bad experiences with feeling respected. For the most part, for me, I never felt like I had to totally fight or compete. But I also don't know if it's also because I feel like I was maybe naive because I don't like to, I guess, take things too literal. I'm a little more blunt. I can I do actually have tough skin even though I wear my heart on my sleeve but, you know, us females fighting harder to get somewhere. I've always gone for what I want. I think that's a big problem, too, when it comes to becoming an NCO. So I had many soldiers that were all the same rank as me and I just worked harder. I filled out the paperwork and I became their NCO. So now we're at the same rank, same kind of age group, but now I'm in charge of them. And that's a huge dynamic and that's a kind of a huge problem, especially whealln I'm a female in charge of men that are younger and 00:54:00more immature. So I think with that dynamic, you definitely have to find a way to connect with your soldiers, let them know, Hey, I did X, Y and Z to get here. There is a commonality, unfortunately, that either--for females--you're either a bitch or you sleep around, you're a whore. So that's something that has always been an issue, I felt, or it is a concern of mine because that's with regardless, basic training, AIT, annual training. At the end of the day, it's just like anything else though, you know, you can have the same problem with the company, could have the same problem with a business, maybe your own family, friends. It just depends on obviously the people and the quality leaders that you get. But it is something that us women also have to kind of fight. But with Best Warrior, I think you have the elite, you have the best of the best. And because they represent them well, you really wouldn't have that disrespect or 00:55:00that letdown. If anything, all of them extremely were encouraging, like we all wanted each other to do. Yes, it was a competition, but it wasn't a competition where you wanted the other person to fall on their face. And I think that's the really cool thing about the military is that you really do take care of one another.

ROWELL: Can you talk a little more about that challenge of trying to connect with your soldiers that you have authority over and doing that effectively despite that barrier, right, or those stereotypes?

WILLIAMS: Yeah. So that they're all my my unit's, 646, was where I started. Turner will know I'm talking about him. So Kevin Turner, a great soldier of mine, a really good friend, he was the one that was the challenge. Remember I mentioned the McDonald's drive thru? Yeah. He was the individual that decided that he wanted to drive the Humvee up to the window of McDonald's. So that was a problem. You don't do that. That's not okay. And as being a new NCO I had to 00:56:00have the conversation and it's sad or frustrating because he was a soldier that lied to me when I had asked him point blank if he did X, Y and Z, basically the McDonald's, and he lied and I knew it. So I took the moment to let him figure it out. You know, I gave him the full day to kind of really figure out or think, does she really know? Does she not know? Is she going to, like, you know, counsel me or make me do 100 pushups? What is it? And thankfully, I gave him the time to mull over it. And he did come to the end of the day and own up to it and apologized for lying and doing the act. So there is a maturity there. So the biggest thing about being an NCO for soldiers is just like being a teacher. You have to fear who your audience is and what does that individual need because some need tough love, some need really a hold handing hand-holding aspect, you 00:57:00know. So for example, like Turner, he was motivated, but he was probably a little better. He was upset that I was an NCO and he had deployed and he'd been in just as long as I have. But unfortunately, he kind of lacked that professionalism and lacked the organizational skills he had to have to get him there. So it was a little finicky of taking our friendship to the supervisory role. I also had a soldier that was very difficult and unfortunately I got really mad at Sergeant Harding because Sergeant Harding gave me all of the troubled ones in a sense. He gave me more soldiers than I wanted to deal with. And that was really frustrating because like I had a full-time job and I'm an NCO. Why are you giving me all these child, children? And it's only because he's like, because I know you can do it and I know you have a heart and you're going to be able to help mold these soldiers. So it was kind of a thanks for the gift, but thanks for the challenge. But no, thank you because you just made my life 00:58:00hard. But it was well worth it. So one of my challenging soldiers, it wasn't necessarily him. He just had a bad background. He didn't have family support. He was living with friends that were smoking weed. And that's not something, you know, soldiers can do. He didn't have a car, didn't have a job outside the Army Reserve, so that like you can't afford anything on that. So his stuff came with more barriers. So I had to find a way of how to do that. And it sucked because at the end of the day, if your soldiers fail or anything happens, it's not their fault, it's your fault. And that's something that civilians don't do. And that's not something we focus on. But the military is very much no, it's the leader's problem. So how do I work that out? So even though it's a challenge, we just had to brainstorm. Okay, so I have this background of helping veterans with transition and resumes. So I helped him with the resume, helped him with skill 00:59:00sets of like interviewing, how you find a job. Sergeant Harding was fantastic. He had an extra side vehicle that he allowed him to test drive and get his permit, so that way he could drive. And then I had to take the responsibility of picking him up and dropping him off every drill because he was not going to be able to get to drill until we got this all out. So it took a lot of extra sacrifice of working with soldiers that had the extra barriers. And at the end of the day, you just had to say, Be the good leader. Do what you can and at the same time just understand that it might not necessarily be that that person just doesn't want to do something, just maybe never had that support, that education, that training. And then that also leads to such like physical fitness. A lot of my soldiers were soldiers that would fail the PT test. And that was shocking to me because they were males. And I was like, if I'm passing, how are you not passing? And I had to find different ways. Like I said, tough love or a little 01:00:00bit more encouraging. Positive words of wisdom, all depending on who that person was and how to get to that point. But with that being said, we're reserve. And so if you have a soldier that struggles with the financial piece and the motivation or getting all life things in the way, they're going to not pass their PT test, they're probably not even eating fully nutrition. So it is that dynamic that when you're active duty, you definitely are more so fully taken care of because you have everything at your disposal and it's obviously better pay. With reserves, you literally have two lives, your civilian life, your military life and trying to stay up on your physical fitness and nutrition is really difficult, especially for soldiers that might not have had that support or that financial gain. So it is a balance and it does take a lot of sacrifice when you are an NCO or an officer because you are doing more hours than expected and you're definitely not getting paid for those extra hours.

ROWELL: So let's talk about you. You're very, very similar assets, right, 01:01:00including, you know, post operations and also career counselor. So do you want to kind of go through them sequentially a bit and just talk briefly about what that was like for you?

WILLIAMS: Sure. So as you mentioned, I was a 42 Alpha human resources specialist. That was my initial M.O.S., all basically your promotions, your retirement, your awards, your transcript, as it were. Then what's called is I additional additional identifier. So Postal Operations Fox Five was an opportunity where I went to Fort Jackson again for a month, and it's basically learning how to work a post office. And I was actually amazed. I was like really six, four weeks to learned all this? Like, aren't you just like stamping and like, oh, no, it's very tricky. It is priority mail, post priority mail. A.P.O. addresses, the United States address and then figure out how to read addresses. 01:02:00And then it's all with the money and my goodness. So it was a really great experience. The [inaudible] for the goal was, normally if you have a Fox Five position, you would be more apt to deploy because ideally you will be helping with the mail transactions and getting mail to your soldiers on deployment. So I actually was hoping that that was going to put me on the docket to deploy at some point. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Now, I should say about that, I mean, it's just a full month. It was a great experience. New soldiers I met. I was just thinking of the guy that I did meet. He was a really great soldier, really great to talk to, and I can't think of his name right now. Oh, Dwight White. Really encouraging on where to go. So then a career counselor. So I was promoted out when I became a staff sergeant. At this time, I was actually 01:03:00supposed to be somewhere else, but the leadership or that I was back at Fort McCoy in a training division, I believe. Ideally they actually didn't they didn't want me. They really wanted their sergeant. But that sergeant didn't get promoted fast enough. But it was fine because the career counselor talked to them and said, Well, we could take her, would you mind? Which was fantastic. So I switched M.O.Ss from human resources to to 79 Victor, which is a career counselor, and a career counselor for the Reserves, is basically the recruiting and retention aspect. So I actually would try to retain our current soldiers, and I really wanted this position by this time. I'm already in seven years and I have been a pretty huge veteran advocate. And I want to make sure that when the soldiers stay, they're staying for the right reasons and they get the benefits that they deserve. A lot of times they're just unaware of what's going on. So 01:04:00super excited about taking on this role. This training took place at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Phenomenal. Four-week training. Again, the best thing is they treat you like royalty. I wasn't an officer, I was a staff sergeant. We got our own bedrooms, like our own rooms. We didn't have barracks. We didn't have the open bays. It was pretty fantastic. And you basically learn about the enlistments, all about the ETS date. You know, when does someone leave the military and how far in advance do you get to them. All the different benefits. And because of my background with helping with the education, the training, the entrepreneurship, employment, I really was able to provide a lot more and I was pretty excited. This is a picture. I keep looking at it when I was actually at the school. It's probably the happiest I've probably been. I just felt like it really fit. When you compare this with basic training, when I was like just centering on lack of sleep. So, I have matured. The one unique thing about saying I'm their career 01:05:00counselor is I actually had a soldier, peer, a peer soldier that was also being a career counselor and she failed her PT test and we had to shave off 3 minutes from her on time. And I was able to get it get her to get that done in one week. So that was a pretty awesome experience I just took upon myself. I'm like, Hey, I have had quite a few soldiers and I can get you there, but let me help you. And so we worked out every day. I told her about the 36 [inaudible] where you sprint for 30 seconds, then you jog or walk for 60 seconds. You repeat that until you get 20, 30 minutes up or you run for three miles. Once you run for three miles, you're done. And ideally, what the goal is, is that if you're run more than what you need to your body won't feel like you're dying because you're not used to 2 you're used to three. So it's fantastic because I ran right next 01:06:00to her at her PT test a week later, so she was not sent home. She was able to complete the course. We're still friends to this day, and that gave me that re-passion. It reminded me why I'm in the military because and I will share a little bit later. There's a couple of things that have happened in the military that aren't positive. They are negative. And there was a point where this is not for me. I don't trust anyone. This is really hard. But then when you have these moments of the people you've helped, that means a lot to me. And that was the entire goal, is to have that higher purpose and to be there for people.

ROWELL: Would you like to talk a bit about serving in the color guard you mentioned a little earlier and then potentially doing some funeral honors. You want to talk about that a little?

WILLIAMS: Sure. So with 646, another reason why I love Staff Sergeant Harding, he is the one that really made sure that we were involved. So he taught us how 01:07:00to conduct ourselves for color guard and funeral honors. I was the one that got to practice folding the American flag and unfortunately for the funeral presented to the next of kin and recite--how you do it now? It's been a quite a few years to remember. I have no coordination, so marching is really not my strong suit. I really have to practice it. So there's really great practice of just being able to do that. But we did actually experience conducting color guard at the Milwaukee Brewers stadium. There's four of us that got together and were able to do that and it was really hard. I think the sun was in my eyes and I have no idea if I was in step. Probably not. And there were thousands of people there. So yeah, pick and choose that. So I got involved with that. Another big thing too that I mentioned was the dine ins and outs. So that's 01:08:00where all of our military and their spouses come together. You have a program, you have awards that are given out, you have dancing, live music, dinner, whatnot. And I had was the color guard for that. For one of them. I was the emcee the entire time because I have no problem talking to people and being in front of people. So I partook in that. And then a big part of that as well is I was also a historian. So and the newsletter, a lot of units, especially with reserves, you only meet one weekend a month, two weeks in the year at minimum. So how do you keep the families involved and the soldiers up to date on what needs to happen? And so I was asked if I would produce the newsletter, and so I did that for every single month updating them. And I did it for actually two different units. And I was a historian as well, meaning, well, no one wants to read nothing but black and white words. You want to see pictures too. So it was another way of showcasing and getting our soldiers involved. I would do Soldier of the Month and I would interview them and get to know them and do like a 01:09:00little blurb about them. Any time they had any type of training, I would take those photos and kind of do like a recap. I would provide some type of local resource or activity or event every month. So those are just a little bit of the extracurricular activities, I guess you could say, or extra duties that I did to help strengthen my military career.

ROWELL: I believe you were also involved with a couple of, uh, contributed to some groups like the Army's program, um, potentially, which the, the suicide intervention program, um, and also others like the Sharp program. Do you care to talk about those?

WILLIAMS: Yes, sure. Oh, okay. So for the AIDS program, suicide prevention, the military has a way of trying to solve problems through death by PowerPoint, unfortunately. And I don't believe that's the answer. So I took the course to be 01:10:00certified to assist. But at the end of the day, I'm a strong advocate that you won't have suicide if you actually have people that pay attention. If you have people that are leaders and they're involved leaders just like parents and kids, your kids usually stay out of trouble if the parents are involved. Your soldiers will stay out of trouble or have come across issues if you have the support. So in my personal experience, I have had a handful of service members either have committed suicide or have thought about it, and I wanted to make sure that I could be that reaching hand. Kind of being in this role while also being a National Guard contractor. I had that Marine that I spoke of who was so wonderful that helped me pack my ruck in practice. That individual was getting out of the Marines and in my civilian role as a National Guard contractor, I was helping him prepare for transition, writing his resume, doing mock interviews, discussing what he wants to do. What's interesting about this connection is the 01:11:00fact that six months after he called me up one day and he just wanted to tell me thank you, and I was like, For what? I'm doing my job, no big deal. And he was like, No, because the day you call just to check in on me, I had a gun to my head. And that has stayed with me forever. I unfortunately, I hope he's well, I have no idea where he's at. He probably doesn't have a social media, but that is another deep reason why I do what I do is I have a deep purpose of taking care of people and making sure that they are feeling supported, desired, wanted, appreciated. And sometimes I think we're so busy focusing on the mission, focusing on making money or greed that people are lost. So part of that ACE program was learning on how to ask questions, what to do. But then I would take it at another level because I don't believe in just death by powerpoint or paperwork. On the other hand, I was also involved in Sharp. Now Sharp, I never 01:12:00was necessarily a leader per se, but obviously I took the courses on how to address the situations. Do you want me to share more?

ROWELL: Well, do you want to [inaudible] do you want to talk about that in the context of me, of, you know, finishing up your career in the military specifically? How do you feel?

WILLIAMS: I could go either way.

ROWELL: Okay. Why not now? Okay. If you feel comfortable. Okay.

WILLIAMS: Sure. So I had asked the question of sharing this now or later. Sharp is a problem in the sense that I never acknowledged it, so it didn't take very long before I was sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier, a soldier I had known for a year, that I established a friendship with, that I worked in the same building where this took place in 2014. I kept myself extremely busy with the 01:13:00military, with my civilian life, basically not allowing myself to have any of the feelings or to make myself feel like anything was wrong. So I'm a huge advocate on the Sharp program because I feel like a lot of victims don't necessarily have a voice because it is death by PowerPoint. Any time that they talk about Sharp or suicide prevention, you have the soldiers make comments, Oh, I'm going to shoot myself because I'd have to sit through this. Oh, that never happens. This is girls are just crying wolf. It's the MeToo movement. And unfortunately, you will have people out there that are liars. There are people that will state things or do things that aren't correct. And it sucks because that ruins it for the rest of us that actually have experienced that. I bring this up because the military is wonderful and I don't place blame on it because 01:14:00it's not them that did anything. It was this individual soldier. The problem I have, of course, is the leadership. Because leaders get paid more, they are held to a higher standard. They're required to know this information and to support you. And it's interesting because a lot of people that I spoke to noticed changes in my attitude from 2014 to 2019. But no one talked to me about it. I didn't notice it until I had a flashback that happened in 2019 when I was with someone, and that never happened in the years prior. So I didn't know what to do. I was kind of, Oh, it's I don't know what's happening and why am I getting these flashbacks? And that's why I reached out. And so in two things. One, I'm a huge advocate on Sharp and suicide prevention, but doing it the right way, being involved, getting leadership to understand that they have to dig deeper. They 01:15:00have to go the extra mile, that they need to only be leaders because they want to be, not because that's where the money's at, not because that's your own progression or career. Because at the end of the day, like, these are your battle buddies. They're going to take care of you when you deploy. We're the ones that less than 1% raise their right hand or sacrifice, and we want the freedom. So why would we hurt one another and why wouldn't we put each other up first? So with that being said, that is why my military career ran short is because I didn't get that support.

ROWELL: Thank you for sharing. Um, would you like to talk a bit more about, um, some of the, some of the other really good work you did while you were still in, like in your civilian capacity while you were in the reserves? Right. Um, because that clearly was a big part of your life, and you also clearly made a large impact.

WILLIAMS: Sure. Thank you. Yeah. As far as the job connection education program 01:16:00Wisconsin Program Manager in connection with Wisconsin Employment Resource Connection Work, which was that National Guard bureau contract that was in housed at the Reserve Center, we were located in different areas and that was huge. I got the job right after I enlisted in the military. It wasn't a qualifier to have this position, but it really did help. And the best thing about this role is it was kind of dual. It was a completely civilian role, but it allowed me to be able to reach all the different branches. And by being a military member, I was able to better and deeply connect. That's why my career also took me to working for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Working with former Secretary Zimmerman under former Governor Scott Walker. And that was focusing on all Wisconsin veterans with higher education, entrepreneurship and employment. So within these two roles, it was always a focus on veterans. And I 01:17:00think a big part about like the VFW, the American Legion's, all the various different veteran organizations out there, they're all very helpful, but they all are focusing on a certain branch or a certain person. And you have to look at the age gap too. Mine is more so the newest, I guess closest war that we've had and I haven't deployed, but I've had I still have a story to tell. You have other soldiers that have been out for 20 plus years and their experience was very different, but at the same time still very much the same. And so with that impact, it was really a hand, hand-in-hand, and I miss it. Transitioning I never thought would be tough for me because I taught transition. I was there for them. I'm like, you got this, you know, this is what you need to do to get through the HR system. That's what you need to do to get through this. And it's interesting because when I came down to it of leaving the military, I didn't realize how 01:18:00passionate I was. So you got this girl who never wanted to join the military ever, to now, I don't know what my life is without it. And that has been a huge sadness. I've been out since 2020 and it wasn't my goal. I wanted to go the officer route. I had the experience of that NCO. I was going to go that officer route, but as I mentioned, I didn't get that support from leadership. And I'm also going to admit that I was also a veteran that was suicidal, which is another reason why I feel so passionate about reaching out and helping because I've been there and I think it's easier to help others when you've been there as well. You can have those feelings, you can ask the right questions. You can just tell them, I see you and I hear you, and we might not have the same story, might not have the same barriers, but we understand and we have to find a way about how to care. And so part of, I guess, the goodness of all that is I wrote 01:19:00thousands of resumes and it wasn't even just writing resumes because I really could care less about writing resumes. I don't like doing my own. But it was helping the soldier, the Marines, the Air Force, see what their strengths were. They would say, Well, I didn't do much. I was just infantry. No, you were a leader. You were in charge of millions of dollars of equipment. You had to have the organizational and the management skills to organize all this. You had to have the customer service because you had to work with all these people. Then you had, you know, like just being able to really show their quality and their value and the strengths that they bring to the table. And at the end of the day, with everything I've done, because I was in the military, I was always able to share the knowledge I had because of that role. And you'd always see the soldiers kind of come in a little grumpy or a little sad, but by the end of them, you lifted up their spirits, you lifted up the hope because you had someone that actually cared about them, provided the information, and didn't 01:20:00just pass them along to another person who then passed them on to another person.

ROWELL: So along this vein, can you talk a bit more about your experience seeking out, like, veteran care resources in your own life, especially as someone who facilitated that care and connecting people in your career?

WILLIAMS: So, it's interesting because I had and knew all the right resources. I didn't want to reach out. It was almost like someone had to say something. So that's good to know, because if you're someone watching this and, you know, a veteran, the strongest ones are probably the ones that are hurting the most. It's just the ones that have the more smiles or laughter. They're the ones probably maybe overcompensating, getting too involved so that they don't feel, obviously, if they're drinking a lot, it's also trying to hindering it, 01:21:00anti-depressants, working out. So it did take a lot to finally get it to be clear. For my story, I wanted to go to the IAR because I knew I needed help. So in order to do that, I had to write a letter of reasoning. And I wrote the letter. And unfortunately, at that point in time is when I finally openly told someone I'd been sexually assaulted. That open investigation, which actually created more pain for me because it was years later I was videotaped. I was asked on my own dime, on my own time, to go down there and be cross-examined again. It was a big, huge ordeal. And I also had leadership basically try to blame it on, me say that I basically destroyed their career. And I'm like, that was not the intent. I asked for help. You refused. And now here we are. So it took a while before I finally got help. It didn't help in the sense that it also 01:22:00happened during COVID. So I really struggled because no counselors were available. Everyone was stay at home. So the benefit is the leadership knows that they screwed up. So they did provide me a month of being on orders so I could seek out help. But at the end of the day, it really came down to me knowing someone. I saw something on Facebook about suicide, Mike [inaudible]. He works for Center of Suicide Awareness, and I reached out to him, like, Hey, you give presentations. I just want to know how it's all about. Well, he could read between the lines and he knew what I was looking for. So he reached out. He got me connected to a great counselor and I'm going to do this huge shout out because seriously, Center for Suicide Awareness is a phenomenal organization and they don't want money or finances to be the deal breaker. So literally, she says, I asked her how much and she's like, Whatever you want to give me. And that's what it was. And I was not done at one hour, she literally would talk to 01:23:00me for 2 hours, two and a half. It didn't really matter. She did not have a clock. I was just in shock, and it was because she was focusing on me and did not want me to make that call, to, you know, I had more of life to live. So through that, really helped me through the situation. Then I had another veteran advocate, Tiffany Keller. She told me about Purple [Healing] Warrior Hearts and they have an MST weekend in Milwaukee. So that was a program I was able to go. So really the resources, as much as I knew about them, I didn't really want to reach out. I didn't want to own up to the fact that I felt like I was broken or it was my fault or everything I worked hard for. I was about to like get rid of. And it was really because I had some really caring about individuals and I said the right thing or people could read between the lines. But that's the huge thing about relationships. When you build relationships, you can really tell when someone is off or something's going on, and if they're not willing to talk 01:24:00about it, push a little harder, just a little bit. Just ask a couple more questions, or at least give them a point of contact. But at the end of the day, most victims don't necessarily want to do it themselves because it's already hard enough. They're already dealing with their feelings already spiraling. So if you recommend them to call the police, if you recommend them to reach out to so and so, maybe you reach out for them and provide the information, make sure that they get the right point of contact because no one wants to be on hold or sent to one person, to another person to another person, because by that time they'll just give up.

ROWELL: Are there any other areas in which you feel veterans may still be underserved, and are there any ways that you could see to addressing that? In your own experience.

WILLIAMS: I think in my own experience, the underserved is really just in general the military members and the leadership. Yes, there's still issues with 01:25:00racism. Yes, there's still issues with gender and women being. And, of course, now there's the talk about transgenders and different situations being readjusted. But for the most part, your military are intelligent people. They aren't necessarily. The stigma that, you know, you weren't smart enough so you didn't go to college, you join the military. That's not really true anymore. More than 80% have a college degree, but even then, sometimes having a piece of paper means nothing. So I think the biggest thing that they have to continue is to really hit on the values that we do, the creeds, what's the purpose, and just the leadership. Unfortunately, from my experience, really good leaders do two things. One, they can't handle it anymore and don't want to become a bad leader because they keep hitting their head against a wall, like myself, and they get 01:26:00out. And now you just lost a really good leader with all the skills, with all the passion that was really willing to do it, or, they become that bad leader and they stay in. And that's where we are right now, probably really bad leaders and not having the motivation. And because things keep changing and you're losing that discipline and what the focus is and the focus is safety and protection of our freedoms. So really, I think that's just something that in general, it doesn't matter who you are. At the end of the day, they got to focus and really fix the leadership issues.

ROWELL: So can you tell me a bit about any other veteran focused organizations you've joined or worked for following your service?

WILLIAMS: So, Team Red, White and Blue is a phenomenal organization because it really does get your veterans to be more social and active, more so physically. They do running, they do ruckings. Here in Wisconsin, there's actually 01:27:00four--Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison and La Crosse. And you'll definitely notice that they actually have the younger vets partaking in that. You do have your VFW, Veterans of Foreign Wars, obviously I do not partake because I never deployed. But being able to be helpful with that. So there is a VFW post up in Green Bay that I helped, and it's one of the younger ones. So if you're a Packer player or a Packer fan, go to those games because the VFW up there celebrating with you. Another one is I'm part of the American Legion post 539. It is an all- female post. There's actually two in Wisconsin, one in Milwaukee. And the one that I belong to is in Green Bay. We actually have 69 members right now, and it's a really great way to get to know other veterans, especially other women veterans, because as I kind of explained, we all have a different story, we all have a different experience, and sometimes you really do need to connect with 01:28:00your females. I normally get along more so with males, but I think when you retire or get out, you're no longer, you know, young twenties really. There's not much cat--there's not really that cattiness anymore. You really want to have that bonding and someone that you can share your stories because sometimes your family and friends especially are not military. They don't get it. And so when you transition out and you lose that sense of purpose, you lose that structure. You really want to hang out with other people. Another huge one that I've worked with is County Veterans Service Officers. There is one in every county. You also have the tribal veteran service officers. This is huge. They are the tip of the spear. They provide guidance and support for your veteran claims and all your benefits. They'll walk you through it. So anyone that's struggling mentally or physically, that's where you get your disability rating, they will help you with that. The Department of Veterans Affairs provides you all thestate benefits. If you're not aware, Wisconsin's number one in veterans benefits. We offer 24 of 01:29:00the 26 nationally known. But you don't get to use that unless you work with the Department of Veterans Affairs. You want to reach out to that. Other than that, there's a lot of different veteran organizations. It all depends on sometimes your branches, sometimes the area, but really try to get involved. Yes. You might want to isolate for a little bit. Yes, you might want to take a break. But sometimes you might need that camaraderie or feeling like they get you. So you'd be encouraged to seek that out. Seek local, literally just go to a county veteran service officer. They should know all of your local veteran organizations, and they probably know someone that knows someone that knows something. There are thousands of them.

ROWELL: So, if you could tell other veterans anything else maybe about seeking or receiving assistance, what would you want them to know?

WILLIAMS: I will want to let veterans know that they really are cared for and to 01:30:00not give up. We're already strong as it is and we are taught to never quit. So don't quit now. If the first one that you call or look into doesn't work, go to the next one. Find someone that you truly appreciate, trust, can really connect with knowing that someone's actually going to have your back. If it's too hard for you to take that leap, just ask a family member or friend again that you trust and that would be willing and able to do it. You just have to speak. Would be the biggest thing I'd have to say.

ROWELL: And as a very recent veteran, how would you feel that your experience might compare with women vets who served an earlier period based on your experience in the region? What do you think about that?


WILLIAMS: It's remarkable to hear the other female veterans that are much older than me, their stories. It's phenomenal the amount of barriers and problems that they had to endure. But they they were the arrow. They helped us women veterans get to this point. I still don't think necessarily everything's equal. Not everything is necessarily fair per say. But it has come a long way. So we might not necessarily have the same experiences with that, whereas I guess I didn't have as many problems getting to where I wanted to go with in my own career because of my personality and just the way the world has finally shaped. But I still think as a female, we've all kind of had the same experience. And unfortunately, sexual harassment, sexual assault is and has continued to be an issue. And it's going to continue until we have more people that speak up, more 01:32:00people that nip it in the bud, actually have more policies, take charge and get more people involved.

ROWELL: Um, and can you, could you talk about other ways in which you may feel that gender has impacted your experience in the Army? I think you told me earlier, you mentioned something about rank and promotion, something about that.

WILLIAMS: So, gender in the military is a struggle for a couple reasons. One is the physical fitness tests, right? So they are slightly changing it. But for the while it was, okay, males, you're this age, you need to do X, Y and Z; females your age, you know, height, weight, etc. But we were always at a lower bar. Now physically. Yeah. That most likely makes sense. There are exceptions, of course, or females that probably could kick this guy's butt with whatever they were tasked with. But, ideally, we have to be different standards just because 01:33:00genetically our bodies are slightly different. But gender can also become a problem in regards to your, just your everyday thing. I mean, yeah, basic training, AIT, all of our trainings, we had separate barracks. But when you talk to the vets that deploy, you have a separate barracks, but like women have their menstrual cycles and that's a problem when you're in war. There is a hygiene aspect. There is the aspect that, yeah, we're we are the only ones that can carry babies. So I could see why there's a lot of different dynamics about timing when we can do something, not do something. But when it comes to the position, my personal belief is if you can meet the standards, then you can do anything. If you are a woman that wants to be first line combat and that's okay for you and you can do everything that the guy can do. Great. A great example to better understand that, my dad's a pretty big guy, but he was a fireman. If a 01:34:00woman firefighter can not carry my dad out of a burning building, I don't know if I can be okay with that, because you want to make sure that everyone is taking care of their safety. So at the end of the day, when it comes to different genders or the experiences I've had, if you knew your job, you're kind of left alone. No one really had a problem with you for the most part. Yes. I think just like race and ethnicities and religious views and just your political views, you're always going to unfortunately have jokes, snickers, things that should be said or should not be said. And that's something we're going to have to continue to fight because that's not okay. You want to be supportive, and the more you kind of joke about things, the more you're demonstrating or telling that fellow battle buddy of yours that you don't really care. They're not supporting you. They disrespect you, and that's not okay. It's the same thing when someone says, I want to shoot myself because I've seen the stuff on PowerPoint. Well, that's a problem because now your soldier next to you that was 01:35:00contemplating suicide feels even more stupid is not even going to reach out because you were that jerk that was saying these things. So I would say in my personal experience, I didn't really have necessarily a gender problem. No one specifically said I couldn't do something because I was a female. I had more tears in my eyes than most females probably should or shouldn't. And men, of course, need to be, you know, [inaudible]. So that was a problem. But for the most part, I didn't. But I think it was just because I could come. I was able to do my job and do it well. I was also HR. So really, I'm not an engineer. I'm not a mechanic. If I was more like that typical stereotypical male dominated role, like my buddy Roberson, or she was the only female, I could see that being more of a problem. Unfortunately, I don't have that personal story, but I know it definitely happens because of all the conversations I've had with other women veterans.

ROWELL: Before the interview, we talked a little bit about the way that female 01:36:00service members achievements are discussed and the emphasis placed on their gender in those conversations. Do you want to say more about that?

WILLIAMS: I would love to. So, in the military, when anyone gets an award, of course there is a standard procedure. And it's fantastic because they read your rank, they read your name, they tell you why you're getting this award. And it structured perfectly dress right, dress. So every single person that gets that award, it's the same standards. Unfortunately, in society, everyone focuses on the first female, the first black woman, the first Asian to do X, Y and Z. And I think that is a problem because now you're labeling and you're titling someone instead of highlighting that person. Right now we're kind of talking about pronouns and that focus on who you want to be identified for. Whereas I just want to be Jessica Williams. I want to be Jessica Williams, that is a staff 01:37:00sergeant, that did these things which got me to this position. And I think that is a huge discussion or problem because as we continue to grow, for example, even with the state and the different appointees with and our secretaries, that's what's highlighted is the first female secretary. And it's a great honor. But at the same time. I don't know. Did you really get it because of all your qualities or are you getting it because I need to fill a quota and it would be really great to stop segregating and discriminating for that, because we're not going for equality if we continue to highlight and title and bring up more stigmas. So that also potentially is an issue when it comes to how did I get the role I got, how did I get promoted? Was it because I was a female, because I need to fill that quota? Was it because she slept with someone? And that's the that's the commentary. That's not okay. And that's what happens when you do add 01:38:00in some females with an all-male type of deal. Again, depends on the person. Not every organization is perfect and I'm not saying it is. You always have bad apples and you always have to fix it, but it's just something to really highlight because we are on center stage, we are representing our country and so we've signed our life away. So our focus or our persons and our everything on our I owe my life. My entire life is out there because I signed that dotted line. So I've got to watch out for that.

ROWELL: So kind of continuing this thread a little more, can you talk about how you feel maybe you've been received as a female vet or as especially the young vet as well? Can you, I don't know if either of those have shaped your experience, but could you talk about that?

WILLIAMS: Definitely. So, it's interesting because in the nine years that I was 01:39:00an Army Reserve soldier, I didn't hesitate. I asked for military discounts when I went to a certain store. If I was in uniform, I didn't really get any weird looks or anything. So I never had the issue that I thought was, My goodness, you're in the military. Like, Aren't you married to someone else? And how, you couldn't be in the military, where other females have had that experience. It wasn't until I got out. So now that I'm a veteran and I show up to American Legion meeting or I say I'm a part of American Legion or I'm in the VA system, I have all my limbs, I look okay. And a lot of people are like, Well, how, how are you in the VA? How are you a disabled veteran? How can you be this young and out? So it's interesting because I never felt that way before, but now that I'm out, it definitely highlights. If I say, is there a military discount somewhere 01:40:00at a store, they'll say, Oh, your husband served, I'm like no, no, there's no ring, definitely not married. No, for me. So that's kind of frustrating because I never really saw that. So yeah, it happens a lot. So females do serve in the military and they don't have to have a husband, although, you know, my grandpa did.

ROWELL: But no. Um. I guess more generally reflecting on your service with the Army. What does that mean to you in the present now?

WILLIAMS: Um. Okay, repeat the question.

ROWELL: Um, so, um, reflecting on your service with the army. What does that mean to you in the present, as you are now?

WILLIAMS: I hold my military experience at a very high, I don't know, high 01:41:00honor, per say.

ROWELL: So we can pause. Okay we're going to, this ends segment two of the interview with Jessica Williams on August 8th 2022. This be in segment three of the interview with Jessica Williams on August 8th, 2022. So, thinking about your service with the Army. What does that mean to you in the present, as you are now?

WILLIAMS: It was quite an honor and definitely something I don't regret. If anything, I probably regret that I didn't enlist right away. It was a phenomenal experience, even with the small bumps in the road, because it provided more than you could ever imagine. I mean, truly, every servicemember that enlists has their own reasons, and then they end up having their own stories and they have 01:42:00their own transitions and the people and the relationships. But I got to travel. Yes, I never deployed, but I went to quite a few states. I met some phenomenal people that really just enhance your learning because sometimes you don't learn just in the book. You learn from other people's experiences and interactions. You know, I am more physically and mentally tougher than I probably thought I could ever be. Yes, I've had some really low moments, but I'm still here and I'm a fighter and I don't think that I would be here without my parents, without Alverno college and my military. I really have those three to thank. The training. I mean, it's great. I have a bachelor's degree. I've been working on my masters. I'm about to become actually a vet, veteran entrepreneur. I have Whimsical Celebrations, LLC coming up. So I have all these really great things, but at the same time, the military provides you all this other trainings, things 01:43:00you never even thought of. I'm not in the medical field, but I had enough experience to help with COVID and swabbing noses during that. Who gets to say that they threw two live grenades, like that's crazy, just to serve a higher purpose. And I would say it's a wonderful gift, but maybe a slight curse as well because of being in the military and having this higher purpose. I do struggle on not having a civilian job that has a higher purpose, that passion, that something that's really going to take care of. But I'm very honored because I don't think many people get their dream job, let alone a handful of dream jobs. And I would say being in the military was a dream job. Helping our vets, working for Secretary Zimmerman. Those are all of my three top dream jobs, because there was that higher purpose, because I was helping people, because I got to go above 01:44:00and beyond and give all of the energy and passion and intelligence that I have. So in this present, as much as I didn't do the 20 years like I wanted, as much as it ended on kind of a bad negative note, I've been able to reflect. I've been able to look at all of these, do the Invisible project being here interviewed, and it all kind of comes together. And I feel like every single step brought me to where I need to be. And I'm just. I'm honored. I love my battle buddies. We still stay in contact. I've learned so much. And it's just that deep connection, that deep camaraderie that no one could ever take away from me. I will. I'm a vet, and I'll always be a vet, and I will always be able to support other veterans.

ROWELL: Okay. Is there. Would you like to say a little more about your present kind of career and what that looks like for you?

WILLIAMS: So right now, I work with the State of Wisconsin with apprenticeship, 01:45:00which is a really unique thing, considering the fact that my entire career has been working with employment. I did the college route, I did the military route, now I'm working with apprenticeship. So I basically promote and educate the public and how it's a great opportunity and it's really great, especially when I talk to high school students because I'm talking to them about, yes, you can do apprenticeship, yes, get to military, yes, you can do college. And I said at the end of the day, it's your life. It's not your parents, not your neighbors. You just have to decide what is it that you want to do? What will you enjoy, what will pay the bills? And that's a huge part of it. But with that being said, and working with the state and having six years working with the state and the military aspect, I would like to venture out as well. I am a creative person and because I have organizational and the hard work ethic skills I have, that's why I'm actually looking into entrepreneurship. So I applied for my LLC. It's called 01:46:00Whimsical Celebrations. Basically, I want to elevate people's life experiences, and that can be anything from housewarming parties to weddings to bridal showers to reunions, anything like that, bringing more games, activities, decorations, and bringing a highlight to that. So, within my career, I'm also going for a masters of public administration because I would like to be one of those leaders. I feel like the state needs some new blood, needs some new leaders to encourage, motivate, bring some new, fresh ideas. I'm hoping that that will also kind of help with my career. And basically, I'm a go getter. If you haven't noticed, I have a lot of accomplishments and things I'd like to do. I love to travel, so I'm hoping that a lot of these new endeavors will allow for that.

ROWELL: Okay. And is there anything that we didn't cover yet that you would like to discuss?

WILLIAMS: Just one highlight I would like to share. So these are my parents and 01:47:00these are my grandparents. Grandpa Don Williams served in the Korean War. And we really bonded, the fact that he was in the military, served in Japan and Korea, and that I served. And then my cousin, he was in Special Forces. Just a really huge bond. Unfortunately, we lost him about six years ago. And I really wish that he would have done the honor guard or the honor guard where we fly our vets over to D.C. He refused to go because Grandma couldn't go. And I am kicking myself because I was never that guardian. And I'm so appreciative for Holly Happy because she asked me to be her guardian. And it was a really wonderful experience because I could honor Grandpa being in the Korean War and that's something that we bonded over and then be able to honor Holly. Because as I mentioned, my immediate family were not in the military. It was all extended. My parents have been a huge support, huge supports. They went to every training, 01:48:00celebration. They were worried. Mom definitely was. But they still wanted me to be all that I could be as it says. So a big shout-out for that. And then also my brother, Aaron, he is type one diabetic for the last 19 years, which is why he couldn't join the military. And he was a huge support and a great motivator because he was handed, unfortunately, medical that you can't deal with. And that's another reason why doing the military I have the capability and you shouldn't ever take anything for granted because he didn't have that option. And I do. And he has showed me adversity, never quitting, going above and beyond. And so really military sent me a lot of people, but I wouldn't have even been able to get to that point if it wasn't my my core family. So I just wanted to say thank you to them. Who knows? They might be watching with some time. And of course, as I mentioned before, my aunts and uncles are in the military. They've been a huge support. And then also my other grandparents.


ROWELL: Yes. Could you say a little bit more about who you were, who you were a guardian for in the honor flight just and how you know her? Oh, sure.

WILLIAMS: Oh, sure. So Holly Hobby is an Air Force veteran, and we met at the American Legion post 539. And what I had learned is that an all-female flight was happening. I had sent an email out to all of our post members just expressing my excitement and hope that if anyone would want or needs a guardian, I'd be more than happy to do so. And I was excited because Holly Hobby actually called me when I was at an airport on my way back from I don't know what it was, Utah or something in Denver, Colorado. And she's like, I got in or go on another flight. Will you be my guardian? I'm like, Oh, my goodness, yes, please. I would love to. And to be honest, Holly and I didn't really know each other. I only met her like once or twice before we went. And we spent the entire weekend, heard 01:50:00all of her stories. And the biggest, coolest thing is that she has a big family and she could have picked anyone. And yet she picked me to be her guardian, and she wanted me to have that experience, take all the pictures. And we've really been bonding. And she's actually hung out with me twice since then. So she's been a huge support and she's a huge advocate for veterans. She actually works at the DAV chapter as well. And man, if you have any questions or concerns, you talk to her. She was a CVSO officer and she works at the DAV, like she knows probably all the policies, all the benefits, all the help you can get.

ROWELL: All right. To finish out, I would like to ask about why you've chosen to stay in Wisconsin and serve veterans in Wisconsin, what the significance of that may be to you.

WILLIAMS: Wisconsin's home. You know, [inaudible] I have a Wisconsin necklace on. I love traveling. I have been to 12 countries, all 50 states, but nothing 01:51:00beats Wisconsin. You get four seasons, you have the unemployment rate's at or below 3% always. You're below the national average for cost of living. You have the multitude of veteran organizations. You have a true support network. It's unique because Wisconsin does not have an active duty base. We only have four McCoy and Camp Douglas and those are Guard. But it's huge. The the state supports it, our government supports it, our community support it. And we just have these huge commonalities. I also think that we're just Wisconsin nice. People are just really kind, generous, hardworking. Yes. We don't necessarily have mountains per se, but we have the hills, we have the fields. You have so many different activities that you can be involved in. My family's here. And yeah, I could never, ever probably leave besides a little vacation somewhere. Wisconsin's home. And if you are not, that's not in Wisconsin. You should 01:52:00transfer on over. Because after living here for five years, you can get the Wisconsin GI Bill, and that's for your spouse and every child. So talk to the Department of Veterans Affairs for that.

ROWELL: Thank you. All right. Thank you for your time today, Jessica. This concludes the interview with Jessica Williams on August 8th, 2022.