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The Secretary's Sergeant Major

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2001 – When the defense secretary has a question about the enlisted force, the military's top civilian leader doesn't have far to go for an answer.

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Sgt. Maj. Marshall Williams (left) and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen enter the Pentagon together. Williams has been the secretary's senior enlisted adviser since May 1995. DoD Photo.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

He turns first to Army Sgt. Maj. Marshall Williams, his senior enlisted adviser. Williams' office in the outermost E Ring of the Pentagon is just yards from the secretary's.

Williams, who was born and raised here in the nation's capital, has served as senior enlisted adviser to the defense secretary since May 1995. The 22-year veteran soldier holds four masters' degrees and a doctorate in organizational behavior from Northwestern University. He will remain in the position until March to assist the incoming defense secretary during the transition.

"The great part of this job is to be able to tell the incoming secretary as well as my successor the importance of the senior enlisted members' role in DoD," he said. "We ensure senior leaders and the military's top commander are aware that before any decision is made that involves our enlisted force, that we can provide sound advice."

Along with providing information on the military's 1.3 million active duty enlisted members, Williams is the liaison between the secretary and the services' senior five enlisted members. The secretary meets regularly with the senior enlisted members and calls special meetings are whenever an issue arises involving the enlisted force.

"If the secretary has an issue," Williams said, "I pass it to those individuals, they go out to the fleet, bring it back and that's how we get the information we need. They've gone out and talked to the command sergeants major or the master chief petty officers around the world to get their input and information."

"Last year, the big thing was pay," Williams told the American Forces Press Service during a December trip to troop bases in Germany and the Balkans. "So we probably met on 12 different occasions just for those particular issues as we were ironing out things. Right now, we're working on housing."

Because the services have different needs, the senior enlisted try to make sure they're "not overlapping one another or keeping one another from getting whatever it is that they need to service their troops," he added.

The services' current senior enlisted members have a unique camaraderie, Williams noted. "This is probably the greatest relationship I've seen in the five years I've had this job here. This is a fantastic group of people. I'm not sure why they get along so well, but they do."

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