COLUMBIA, S.C.— Another chapter in the South Carolina National Guard’s history closed today when the South Carolina National Guard’s first female African-American command sergeant major retired after dedicating 34 years of her life to her fellow soldiers and the S.C. Army National Guard.
Family, friends and fellow soldiers recalled their experiences with Command Sgt. Maj. Gail Williams during a retirement ceremony July 13 at the adjutant general’s office in Columbia, S.C., where she was awarded numerous awards, medals and gifts.
Williams, originally from Timmonsville, S.C., began her career in 1978 as part of the Women Army Corps. She struggled and worked her way through the ranks overcoming not only the stigma of being a female in the military, but also the difficulty of being an African-American who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation.
“There have been a lot of challenges and obstacles I have had to overcome in my life,” said Williams, “but I wouldn’t change anything about my life. With God’s help and the support of many of you in this group here today, I made it through and succeeded.”
She was deployed as part of Desert Storm and Desert Shield in 1990 and made her first mark in S.C. Guard history five years later by becoming the first female first sergeant.
She continued to make history rising through the ranks and eventually becoming the first female African-American sergeant major in 2001 and the first female command sergeant major in 2008.
Her dedication to taking care of Soldiers was noted when she was inducted to the S.C.N.G.’s Enlisted Hall of Fame at McCrady Training Center in 2008.
She has been written about, talked about and honored by businesses, in magazines, calendars and halls of fame. Her awards, medals and achievements are numerous, including the Meritorious Service Medal with Five Oak Leaf Clusters, National Defense Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal and Global War on Terrorism. And through all of this, she states her greatest achievement is, “being a child of God,” knowing that He would bring her through it all.
After receiving the awards and accolades from her fellow soldiers and other guests, Williams had these parting words,
“Many of you here have played an important role in my life and have helped me get where I am today. And I am a much better person for it. And although I have learned a lot from many of you, I hope that I have been able to pass on just as much.”