FALLUJAH, Iraq --
FALLUJAH, Iraq (June 25, 2008) – For those who accept the challenge to become a U.S. Marine, most never consider that one day they may again cross paths with their drill instructor.
A person they once feared, and one who challenged them with constant mental frustration and pushed their physical abilities to the limit.
That day came for Cpl. John Williams, a section leader with Mobile Section, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, when he reunited with his senior drill instructor from Platoon 1012, Company B, 1st Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
At the unit’s home station, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Williams was on duty the day Staff Sgt. William Willis checked in as the platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, Company I.
“One day I was sitting in the company office working as the platoon sergeant for the day and in comes Staff Sergeant Willis,” Williams recalled. “I looked at him and said, ‘Man, I know that guy.’ Somebody said it was Staff Sergeant Willis and I said, ‘Oh … that’s my senior drill instructor!’”
Willis, with a bold, direct and sometimes high-strung demeanor, dropped an all-too-familiar drill instructor line on Williams.
“He looked over at me and said, ‘Do I owe you money? Because you’re looking at me like I owe you money,’” Williams said.
“No staff sergeant. I think you were my senior drill instructor,” Williams replied. “We started talking and he said, ‘Yeah, I think I was.’ It wasn’t until we got to Iraq when we started getting a little closer.”
Willis checked Williams into Platoon 1012 from the Medical Rehabilitation Platoon January, 2006 at recruit training. After a leg injury set Williams back two months, he finished the final phase of recruit training with Willis and graduated Feb. 10, 2006.
“When I saw him for the first time, he was standing on my quarterdeck with all of his seabags and his rifle,” Willis said. “I walked in, asked him who he was and where he was coming from. I got him in, got all of his processing paperwork and put him in my platoon.”
Willis described how he remembered Williams before he earned the title of a Marine.
“Cpl. Williams was a good recruit,” Willis said. “He was already on the island for a while and he came to us right before The Crucible. I had to motivate him through it and get him to graduate. I think if I would’ve had him longer, he would’ve probably been one of my squad leaders.”
Williams said it was Willis’ leadership and guidance that he remembers most.
“He was a really motivated senior drill instructor,” Williams said. “He was infantry, so he was from where I was going and got me to see what the infantry side of the Marine Corps was like. Yeah, there were a couple of times I really didn’t like him that day, but I really looked up to him a lot and I still do. He motivated the hell out of me.”
Another motivational sentiment that sticks with many Marines is their drill instructors’ often repeated phrases. Williams’ reminder is present every day, as Willis is often seen reminding Marines to ‘Stay fired up!’”
During recruit training drill instructors often stress that a Marine’s true colors will show in a real combat situation. The two met that challenge earlier this year when they coordinated a medical evacuation after one of their patrols was attacked with an improvised explosive device in the city of Fallujah.
“I was out doing a (convoy) run,” Williams said. “I actually wasn’t supposed to return until later that day. I was far away when the (command post) made the call and they told us to just stand by. I said, ‘Hell no, we’re going there to help them out.’”
Willis was the watch officer for the day and was responsible for coordinating platoon operations by radio messages. With Willis’ timely information, Williams’ section quickly evacuated the injured Marines in less than 20 minutes.
“The response time was good and they did a really good job with the MEDEVAC,” Willis said. “They did exactly what they were supposed to do. They got in and got the injured Marines out. I was actually surprised at how fast they moved.”
Since then, the two have built a stronger working relationship with each other and amongst the platoons in Company I. Williams attests that it is easier now as a Marine to find respect on a two-way street.
“Dealing with him as a drill instructor on Parris Island and seeing him now as a platoon sergeant puts things into a different perspective,” Williams said. “I get a little more respect back than when I was just a recruit. Now I can talk to him man-to-man. He’s an awesome guy.”
Willis said it is rewarding to see former recruits like Williams excel in the fleet.
“It’s good to see your recruits who are doing good things in the fleet,” Willis said. “It’s very positive for drill instructors. Corporal Williams is with Mobile Section, so he’s responsible for moving us here and there and getting stuff we need. We depend on him a lot. He’s part of our company’s [quick reaction force] and we depend on him to get us out of trouble if something does happen.”
On duty at a joint security station in Fallujah, Willis declared that Williams and all of his Marines are the best in the battalion, because they ‘Stay fired up.’ Before he could explain why, one of his Marines sprinted past him through the hall wearing physical training clothes, sneakers and a pack that probably outweighed him. Since these Marines don’t have the luxury of going outside for a jog down the street, they adapt and overcome to what limited training spaces they are given.
“You see that – Did you see,” Willis yelled as the Marine blurred by. “That’s why we’re the best. That’s how we stay fired up!”