Proud to wear a uniform
It took Jim Williams a couple of times to finally decide to enlist in the Air Force, but when he did, he never thought he'd still be in the military 26 years later.
"I'd gone and sat in front of the recruiters station in Lawrence a couple of times," Williams said. "I sat there and stared at it a little bit and then drove off. I wasn't really sure that's what I wanted to do."
But the Baldwin resident eventually made up his mind and enlisted, which was just the beginning of his military life.
"I never dreamed I'd make a career of it," he said.
But he did make a career of it.
After 26 years in the Air Force and the Air National Guard, Senior Master Sergeant Williams retired Thursday from the 190th Air Refueling Wing at Forbes Field in Topeka.
"It's been a pretty good life," he said. "I can't complain a bit."
His career began after college when he decided to follow in the footsteps of his two older brothers and enlist in the Air Force.
After working his way through basic training, technical school and personnel school, Williams worked as a personnel specialist, the Air Force's version of human resource management.
"I dealt with all personnel records of officers and enlisted folk," he said.
After two years in the Air Force, he decided to transfer to the Air National Guard.
"It was tough to move up in the ranks, so I decided I wanted to try something different," he said.
When Williams transferred, he still worked in a personnel affairs program sorting through military awards and decorations and keeping track of flight records.
He also visited with families when enlisted people died to discuss their rights and benefits.
"It really was a pretty good challenge," he said.
But Williams didn't stay in personnel for long. A year after transferring to the Air National Guard, he said the Commander asked him if he would head the Disaster Preparedness Program.
"I trained everybody how to respond to major accidents, natural disasters and enemy attacks," he said.
So for the last 18 years, Williams worked in the Disaster Preparedness Program.
He trained people about search and recovery, how to preserve evidence and how to maintain and control accident areas. He helped develop an awareness program about how to handle natural disasters.
He also trained people how to operate and survive during a time of nuclear, biological or chemical warfare.
Williams said the threat of war have changed over the years.
"When I started the job, the biggest threat was a nuclear attack," he said. "Then it progressed to chemical warfare and we taught everybody how to operate in a chemical environment. Now we're in a biological threat."
He said the biological warfare is the threat the military has been the most worried about, especially since Sept. 11.
"We've had years of training for bioterrorism," he said. "In the last two years especially, several of us have been training the state of Kansas on being ready for this type of situation."
The military's efforts haven't gone unnoticed, Williams said.
"One thing about this is I'm glad to see the country is behind the military. It's solidified the country," he said. "When I'm walking down the street in Lawrence, instead of looking away, people will actually say hi. It's really kind of a good feeling."
Williams job required more than just training for natural disasters or attacks. Part of the program, he said, required him to write several emergency plans, including a state defense plan on how the National Guard will support Kansas in a time of disaster.
Williams has received several awards and honors for the plans he has written.
His awards weren't just for his ability to write plans. He also received the Meritorious Service Medal for helping save the life of a person involved in a car accident just outside of Baldwin a few years ago.
But despite the number of people he has trained and the numerous awards and honors he has earned, Williams said he knew it was time to retire.
"Something tells you it's time to retire. I've been doing the same job for 18 years," he said. "And it's a very stressful job knowing that the training that I provide people, their lives depend on it. For the good of the unit and my own peace of mind, it's time to retire."
For awhile, Williams said he plans to write emergency and security plans for private companies.
"At some point, I'll hopefully retire for good and enjoy life," he said.
Even though he's looking forward to retirement, Williams said he will miss aspects of his job.
"I've had a good career and I've really enjoyed it," he said.
"And the proudest thing is wearing that uniform," he said. "It will be kind of tough to retire and realize I'm not going to be wearing the uniform anymore."