Cedric Williams '12 at Camp Farah, Afghanistan.
In February 2011, Limestone College biology major Cedric Williams was readying for graduation later that year and completing applications for medical schools. Then he received a phone call from the U.S. Navy Reserves.
"I had just left Dr. (Mac) Wicht's Microbiology Lab when my phone rang and the voice at the other end asked, 'Is this Petty Officer Williams?'" he recalled. "It took a few minutes for things to sink in but I was told that I was being called to serve in Afghanistan."
The 23-year-old Greenville native had enlisted in the Navy Reserve in 2008 to take advantage of the Navy's education assistance benefits. "I had no idea that by being in the Navy Reserve I'd be serving in Afghanistan."
Before receiving the fateful call, Williams was on track for what promised to be a sterling career in the medical field. He had been one of only a handful of students from throughout the Southeast selected to participate in the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program at Winthrop University, and had revitalized Limestone's student Science Club. Professors had marveled at his degree of self-motivation and high aptitude for critical thinking. "My lifetime goal," he said at that time, "is to save someone's life through the work I do with medicine."
That goal was still in Williams's heart, but the phone call meant that it would have to be put on hold for just a bit. The revised schedule called for training at Fort Bragg (North Carolina) and Camp Atterbury (Indiana) followed by a six-month tour of duty at FOB Farah in the western part of Afghanistan.
With the rank of E5, which is equivalent to the US Army's rank of Sergeant, Williams was initially assigned as a Communications Specialist at FOB Farah. "Our group of three individuals was responsible for troubleshooting and maintaining computers and radio transmitters," he explained. "The equipment used by the military is so much more advanced that what I've seen in the civilian world. For example, the military's version of a GPS device is called a Blue Force Tracker, and consists of three components: a CPU, keyboard, and touch screen."
Williams's innate leadership skills eventually led him to a supervisory role over the compound's supply and storage facility. "There were quite a few Afghanis from the town of Farah who worked on the base, and I supervised a group of them in the supply facility. We were responsible for the unloading and sorting of shipments from trucks and planes. I wasn't intimidated in the least by supervising a group of men who were old enough to be my father. My attitude was that there was a job to do, and it was my responsibility to ensure that it be done. The unloading of trucks was especially time consuming as once they drive up to the perimeter of the base they had to sit idle for 24 hours before being inspected."
In describing the Afghanis who work at Camp Farah, Williams said 'They are extremely hard workers. The language barrier was a bit of an issue but once they understood what I wanted them to do and how I wanted them to do it, they'd get the job done. I was amazed at the level to which they would push themselves. I noticed one worker limping one day and sent him to the medics who then assigned him to another duty. His coworkers requested that if I noticed them limping to not have them reassigned. It was their sense of pride showing but I had my orders and remembered that we, the US military, would be held liable in case of injuries they received."
While FOB Farah had not been attacked for over a two-year period, Williams said that there were a couple of incidents that raised blood pressures and awareness. "We did receive a bomb threat that kept everyone on edge for about a week but never materialized. Another camp about 50 miles from us was attacked quite heavily one particular week and we naturally thought we'd be next but things stayed fairly quiet."
Although Williams anticipated a tour of duty lasting somewhere between nine months to a year, his orders changed and he returned home in August 2012.
Now back at Limestone, Williams is back on track to his medical career. He will graduate in December, and is back to completing applications for medical schools. "The whole experience taught me a number of things but most importantly perhaps was a sense of patience and open mindedness, which is important regardless of where you are in life," he said.