By Barney Blakeney
After 26 years of consistent rank advancements in the U.S. Army, Awendaw native Lt. Col. Willette Alston-Williams in June will assume battalion command at the Chicago Military Entrance Processing Station in Illinios. It is one of the Army’s major military entrance processing stations.
Alston-Williams is the youngest of former Awendaw Mayor Rev. William Alston’s four daughters. The 1989 Lincoln High School graduate will accomplish a rare achievement for either African Americans or females in the Army when she assumes battalion command at Chicago MEP. But she’s accustomed to stepping into uncharted territory.
The military was an unexpected choice for Alston-Williams who admits being somewhat of a tomboy as a child and a self-confessed sore loser. Both characteristics have served her well in the military.
Growing up she liked sports, but hated losing. “I’m very competitive. But when we were losing, I’d quit and go home,” Alston-Williams said. Still that tendency, which drove her playmates crazy, had nothing to do with her will to stay the course and endure.
She recalled once when she was about 10 years old leaving the house without permission, climbing a tree and getting her knee stuck in a joint between some branches. It soon began raining, but Alston-Williams endured the situation some five hours until some of her friends’ fathers came to her rescue.
In 1990 she enlisted in the Army National Guard after her freshman year at Benedict College in Columbia. It took four more years, a six-month deployment to Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Storm/Shield, the birth of her son in 1992 and a distaste for entry level jobs in local fast food restaurants before Alston-Williams returned to college.
In January of 1994 Alston-Williams enrolled at Johnson C. Smith University. The next fall she joined the ROTC program. She had a plan to become an officer, but she remained in the reserves. In 1997 she became the first Johnson C. Smith graduate in 15 years to earn a military commission. Upon receiving her commission she left her Army Reserves job as truck driver to become a desk jockey in personnel. Until 2013, that was the only job she performed since becoming an officer.
After serving two years as an executive staff officer at the Pentagon, Alston-Williams currently has been stationed in Arkansas as a Military Science professor at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff where she teaches ROTC students. Alston-Williams said she wants to end her military career with a bang. She’s on course to doing that as battalion commander of Chicago MEP where some 10,000 recruits are processed each year.
She is slated to assume command at Chicago MEP June 23.