News: Tragedy brings community together for ‘day of celebration’
Story by Staff Sgt. Lindsey Kibler
SPARKS, Ga. - “Little Will” brought laughter and love to all who knew him in the small town of Sparks, Georgia. A dynamic football player and dedicated wrestler, teachers and coaches within the community fondly recall the shy, but respectful, student athlete.
So it came as no surprise to the town of 2,000 that when Little Will graduated high school in 2002, he followed his dreams and became an American Soldier.
“Sergeant Will” was a leader and a mentor; a man who lived for the Soldiers he was charged with caring for. Described by his leaders, peers and subordinates as someone “who never looked for the easy way out,” he was the Soldier others relied on and looked up to.
It is these qualities that residents of Sparks, and surrounding communities within the Cook Country area, will remember as they drive along a stretch of Highway 76, now dedicated in memory of Staff Sgt. Briand T. Williams. The memorial highway spans from downtown Adel, Georgia, to the Brooks County, Georgia, line.
The entire community, as well as county, state and national representatives, Patriot Guard riders and Fort Benning Soldiers, attended the dedication ceremony, July 26, at Cook Middle School, where Williams’ former history teacher unveiled a new Department of Transportation highway marker sign in his honor.
Williams — Little Will to his family and friends, Sgt. Will to his Army family — was killed in action Nov. 22, 2009, as he dismounted his vehicle near a forward operating base in Numaniyah, Iraq. He was posthumously promoted to staff sergeant.
Williams was assigned to Battery B, 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
“Although tragedy brought us to this point, today is a day of celebration,” said Linda Meadows, Williams’ former U.S. History teacher at Cook High School. Meadows, along with Williams’ family, have spent the last year getting resolutions approved in order to rename a section of the highway the Staff Sgt. Briand T. Williams Memorial Highway.
“I got the idea to dedicate this highway in Briand’s honor after the [Moving Wall Memorial] came through last September,” Meadows said. “I also saw how other counties honored their fallen Soldiers.”
The approval process began in the small town, and its neighboring city of Adel, and ended at the state-level, where the final approval was granted. Meadows, along with Williams’ family, were involved in the process every step of the way.
“I feel things deeply, and this was one of those things. Once you make a commitment to do something, you don’t stop until it gets done,” Meadows said of her efforts to dedicate parts of Highway 76.
It was a duty Meadows gladly fulfilled, just as Williams’ fulfilled his.
“It’s not often that ordinary people are honored in this way and, if Briand Williams were here today, he would tell you in his own words he was just an ordinary man,” said Debora Robinson, chair of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. “But Staff Sgt. Briand Williams was, and should be remembered, as anything but an ordinary guy in the hearts of our community and our country. He was an exceptional young man and hero who willing made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”
Growing up, Williams’ was always very protective of his sisters, respectful of everyone and determined to take care of all those he loved, said his sister Kyra Durden Jordan. It was no surprise he gave his life protecting others, as he often protected others growing up, she said.
“As a nation, we honor our fallen heroes…they are normal, everyday people. They pride themselves in circumstances where they rise to the occasion. Sergeant Williams rose to that occasion and gave his life for his country and his community. As we travel this road in the future, let us not forget his sacrifice. Let us not forget his family,” said Sparks City Councilman Thomas E. Skinner, whose voice waivered as he choked back tears.
Focused intently on the stage as he sat at a corner table close to Williams’ family, David Darcy bowed his head and nodded in agreement as Meadows, Robinson and Skinner spoke of Williams’ life. For Darcy, a former 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, Soldier and friend of Williams, the ceremony provided something that, he said, has been missing for nearly five years — closure.
“I was never able to come back for the funeral, because we were still deployed [when Williams was killed],” said Darcy, who drove all night from Effort, Pennsylvania, in order to attend the ceremony. “I felt like I never really got to say goodbye but it’s an honor to be here, to meet his family and put the faces to the names. This is closure for me.”
For Williams’ family, the ceremony was a reminder that Cook County residents have not forgotten their hometown hero.
“This day has been overwhelming and awesome,” said Williams’ mother, Tonya Durden. “My daughters have kept me strong, and I could not be happier to share this moment with them and our community.
“Briand was a big-hearted person. He was a very kind person. He never had enemies. He was a strong leader,” Durden recalled.
Durden, who now lives in Valdosta, Georgia, along with Williams’ father, siblings and young daughter, hopes those qualities will be remembered by those who knew her son each and every day they pass the signs. For those who don’t, she hopes they will ask “who is that?” and be told of a young man, short in stature but big in heart, who gave his life serving this country.