Jim Williams, a retired Naval officer, is a volunteer with several organizations in the Anniston area. He is currently training to volunteer as a service officer with Disabled American Veterans (DAV). Williams also puts his military experience to work as a mentor in the Veterans Court program. He also ran as a Democrat against Del Marsh, R-Anniston, for Alabama State Senate in 2018, but was defeated.
What is your professional background? After I graduated from college, I joined the Navy and started out as an explosive ordnance bomb disposal officer in Vietnam. I left active duty and got my doctorate in history. I went back on active duty to teach at the Naval Academy. I came down here in 1984 to work in the Army Chemical Corps. All through that, I was in the Navy Reserves. I left here to go to the Army War College in Pennsylvania for seven years. I ended up going to Saudi Arabia for a year and running shipping operations during the Gulf War. I left Carlisle, Pa., and went to Fort Knox. I spent a year in Bosnia doing peacekeeping operations. Then, I got a job at Fort Rucker, Ala. In 1999, the Navy said, “You’ve been around for 30 years; you have to go away” (laughter). So, they retired me.
What interested you in joining the Navy? I was opposed to the Vietnam War, but I did not qualify as a conscientious objector. I also had a couple of fellowships to do my doctoral work, but I did not feel the way the draft operated was fair. If you had money or education, you could go off to graduate school or hide out. If you weren’t in those categories, you were likely to be drafted and sent to Vietnam. So, as a kind of act of conscience, I ended up going into the service, and the Navy appealed to me more than the other branches. When I got into the Navy, there was a need for officers to go into explosive ordnance disposal, so that was nice from my standpoint because it was preventing destruction as opposed to causing destruction. As far as the other 27 years of my affiliation with the Navy, one thing led to another (laughter).
What interested you in studying history? Both of my parents were very interested in history, and my father had done a lot of traveling around the world back during the Depression. When I was growing up, our family did two-week travels where we would go around North America, down into Central America on camping trips, and we always visited historical sites. My undergraduate degree was a double-major in history and religion.
What interested you in running for elected office? I never had any political ambitions. While I was in graduate school in Indiana, I worked for three years in the governor’s office. I was hired to work in the state archives just about the time the state legislature passed a set of laws that were not supposed to pass, but they screwed up and passed them. I worked on troubleshooting how to make this mess of legislation work. In the process, I saw all the politics that I ever wanted to be around: the deal making, deal breaking, lying and cheating. Legislation affects all of us. Since I could not get anyone else to do it, I ran.
Tell us about some of the organizations you are involved in. Volunteering and service have always been central to me. As a federal retiree, I got involved with the national advocacy organization for federal civil servants, and I was the chapter president and state legislative officer. I had to resign from that when I ran for State Senate.
We moved up to Anniston five years ago, and there are a number of organizations we got involved with. The most recent organizations are Disabled American Veterans and Veterans Court.
I discovered the Veterans Court about a year ago. I was highly impressed with the way they approached the whole thing. The veterans have mentors that encourage them and reinforce what their expectations are. The mentors are not psychologists, counselors, taxis or the bank, but we are people that the veterans going through Veterans Court can call on as a sounding board and for encouragement.
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