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My dad is my reason ‘why’

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mariah Williams
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

As my time in the Air Force draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on my journey and the reasons why I signed my name and committed to serve in the U.S. Air Force five years ago.

The truth is, I wasn’t always aware of my “why.” Most mornings, putting on the uniform was effortless, and I did it with pride, but some days, it felt heavy.

I remember being a little girl and sitting on my father’s knee at our house in Oregon. He told me then that I could be anything I wanted to be. My parents raised me to be strong and independent, but to be anything I wanted to be? That’s a lot of options; that’s a lot of pressure.

As the years passed, people never stopped asking that one impossible question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer seemed to change by the day until finally, at the ripe old age of 18, I decided I wanted to be an Airman.

You see, my father was an Airman—a firefighter, and my hero. I enjoyed the stories he and my mother shared: From the tropics of Guam when they were stationed at Anderson Air Force Base, to the herds of bison in Montana, when they were stationed at Malmstrom AFB, and finally to Germany, where I joined them on their journey. He had travelled across the globe answering the call of his nation. He told me of the friends he made and the adventures they had. 

However, I never really knew my father as an Airman, because soon after I was born, he left the service. My parents, brother and I moved back to the States and settled into a more traditional life.  His uniform hung in my closet, and I remember putting it on as a little girl, just to see what it was like. That uniform was a part of him; a part I didn’t get to know, but still treasured nonetheless.

Those green BDUs continued to hang in my closet back home as I went through Basic Military Training and received my own set of uniforms. Eventually they were packed into a box and shipped to me at my first assignment: Scott AFB.

To be sure I joined the Air Force for the education benefits. I still haven’t quite figured out exactly what I want to be when I grow up, but the Air Force has given me the ability to pursue my education, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

But there was another reason I joined, my real reason “why.” That old set of BDUs had planted a seed. I wanted to know the Air Force my dad knew. I wanted to make those memories and have those same adventures. Most of all, I wanted to make my dad proud.

My brother and I both chose to follow in my dad’s footsteps, each in our own way. My brother became a firefighter, and I became an Airman.

My Air Force journey has not been the same as my father’s, but I got what I came for. I have stories, memories and friends that I will hold close to my heart for a lifetime. More than that, I’ve grown. The Air Force has built me into a woman I wouldn’t have become, otherwise. I have integrity, I’m proud of my service, and I strive to excel in everything I do.  

Those stories I grew up hearing inspired me to serve as a broadcast journalist—a job that entails telling the Air Force story. I’ve learned that storytelling is a powerful tool. You never know who you are inspiring, or what seed you’re planting when you tell your story.

For that, I want to thank my dad, Ronald Williams, for sharing his stories and inspiring a second generation of Williams Airmen.  His dusty old set of BDUs now hangs with honor next to my ABUs. I don’t have children, but if I do have them one day, maybe I’ll hang my ABUs in their closet and let them dream of what it might be like to wear a uniform like that someday.