'Security' Is the Only Game in Town for Master Sgt. Kurt D. Williams
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J., Feb. 14, 2002 On a flat stretch of country road down a piece from glitzy, glamorous Atlantic City, a billboard featuring airborne F-16 fighter jets directs motorists to "Break left" for the home of the "Jersey Devils."
Master Sgt. Kurt D. Williams, a member of the New Jersey Air National Guard, is a security flight chief at the 177th Fighter Wing in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Louis, NJANG.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Kurt D. Williams does just that each morning as he reports to work. Wearing camouflaged combat fatigues and bearing a loaded M-16, he does his part to safeguard the jets, pilots and crews of the New Jersey Air National Guard's 177th Fighter Wing.
The 177th currently flies combat air patrols over New York City seven days a week. Williams, a master sergeant with the unit, heads a shift of 15 security troops, one of four "flights" that secure the gates, defend the base and protect the flight line.
"Those are real planes, these are real bullets," Williams said. "They protect the skies, we protect the ground."
For 17 years, the Philadelphia native has been what he calls a "traditional" Guardsman. On average, he served two weeks a year and one weekend a month. On Sept. 11, his world flip-flopped.
When the president activated the reserve components in the wake of the terrorist attacks, Williams left his job as a customer account manager with the Defense Logistics Agency to become a full-time Air National Guardsman.
"I always knew I could be called and I was always ready for that," he said. "My family was always supportive and ready for that call, whenever it came." Still, the call to defend American soil was beyond anything he had ever imagined.
"You knew you could go anywhere in the world," he said, "but there's no greater calling than to be called to defend your own country.
"That's the way I feel and I try to impart that on the men who work for me," he said. "We're all pretty much on the same page with that. We would have been glad to go do whatever our country asked us to do, but to be here now is the most rewarding call any of us could get."
For some people in Williams' shift, active duty is similar to their civilian jobs as police officers. For others, the change has been dramatic. One is a construction worker. One is a car salesman. Another works in guest services at a casino. Yet another is a U.S. Customs Service dog handler.
Overall, Williams said, the team's employers have been very supportive. "We haven't really had any major problems," he noted. "If a guy's having a problem with his boss, I refer him to our chief or our first sergeant. They usually make a phone call and speak with the employer."
Williams assembles the flight each day at 6:30 a.m. for "guard mount." He inspects their appearance and equipment and ensures they're fit for duty. He gives a brief on firearms, vehicle safety and the day's threat condition and posts the guards to their assignments.
On Feb. 12, for example, while watching the morning news, Williams learned about the FBI warning of a possible terrorist attack. At guard mount, he told his men what he'd heard and advised them, "Stay alert. Stay ready. Don't let our guard down. Don't forget why we're here."
The security forces are on watch for anything that could affect the mission of the base in a bad way, he said. "As long as the planes are able to fly and the people are safe and able to do the job they need to do here on base, then we've had a successful shift," he added.
Williams said base security officials have a good relationship with local law enforcement authorities.
"We get a lot of good support," he said. "We make a phone call and they come out right away. If it's a disabled motorist, we try to get them assistance to get them away from our fence line."
Williams said part of his job as flight chief is to be a motivator as well as a supervisor.
"You're the coach. You're the father. You're the chaplain," he said. "I have other duties that make me feel like I can't miss a drill weekend. I'm the career adviser. I try to keep guys in for another enlistment. I keep them abreast of college benefits when something new comes out."
With 17 years now under his belt, Williams said he originally joined as a way to earn money for college and for the opportunity to see places and things he wouldn't otherwise have been able to. He plans to stick with his Air National Guard career.
"The Guard has been very good to me," he said. "It's been very rewarding. And I'm a product of the Cold War, so patriotism had a lot to do with it." Over the years, Williams said, the military unit has become like a family and being a member has come to mean a lot.
"Everyone should acknowledge that there's something bigger than themselves," Williams said. "Alone, I'm just one little individual. But when you're part of greater team working for a greater good, or a common good, that's something that makes you feel good inside."