Coming Home

This deployment is coming to an end, in a few days we will be on a plane back to the United States to rejoin our family and friends and to try to readjust to a certain semblance of what we think life should be. The truth is everything has changed, we collectively have changed. We have changed as people, as an army, as citizens of the United States.  We face uncertainty in nearly every aspect of our lives.  Our families have been without us for a year and we have only two weeks to try to enjoy the extremely limited time we have with them before its back to the daily grind. Two weeks to try to reconnect, although this process can take weeks, months or even years. There is no promise that any of us will return unchanged.  But we collectively have been granted access to something few ever see, or choose to see for that matter. We have bared witness to the atrocities of war. We have thrust ourselves into the midst of chaos in order to do something so important, so visceral, that few will ever understand what it means. We collectively have risked it all and put everything on the line to save our fellow man, regardless of nationality, race, religion or sex.  I for one will reflect on these experiences for decades to come.  And I know my comrades will as well.  I cannot begin to describe the things we’ve seen, felt, or heard. We have lost brothers and colleagues. We have felt the sting of losing someone we tried our hardest to save.  We have cleaned up the blood and reset our equipment in order to go back out and do it again. These people I work with are some of the most dedicated men and women I have ever met. They come from all walks of life and although different in so many aspects, all come together collectively to accomplish this mission. I’m proud to say that I work with some of the most professional people there are. But now we are going home. Were out of this god forsaken country, but we take with us the weight of a thousand missions. To try to dissect them as best we know how.  

Now I am preparing to jump on a plane and return to a world that I don’t really understand anymore. When I was younger I used to think I had it figured out. The older I get and the more aware I become the more lost I feel. There is a widening gap between service member and civilian, our economy is still struggling, jobs are scarce and I can only sit back and watch as our home slips into a more prevalent ideology of entitlement.  Where we are inundated with political pressures, told how to think and feel, who to vote for because of a political party, and try to voice our intolerance by “liking” a status on Facebook. It’s sickening to me now.  Our youth are hamstringed by a failing education system, the poor are being cast out and pushed aside.  Veterans of these wars are living at an all-time high of homelessness and joblessness. You can’t throw a rock in this country without hitting dozens of heavily medicated veterans. But the general public cares less and less about them and us. For the general public, unless you have something personally invested in these wars they just want to get along with their day.  Without having to be reminded of what these men and women endure on a daily basis. Its unfathomable to them. Thus the widening gap grows. In times of random occurrence we hear “thank you for your service” in an airport, a restaurant, in passing at the realization that you served, although I’m sure most appreciate it. I know when I hear it, it almost sounds forced. Like it’s some sort of requirement to say. It’s become trite and cliché and it just feels fake. I’m sorry if this just hit a little too close to home for some of you reading this but I’m just tired of trying to appease everyone I come across. The truth is that the general American public couldn’t give a shit about us. They want their Starbucks and celebrity gossip and their “16 and pregnant” We are breeding a generation of young people who have no idea what this country is founded on or what its citizens had to go through in order to make this country great and more about what time jersey shore is on. We are losing…we are struggling. Not in some great sense of the word as though every generation has its great struggle.  We are just losing. Losing ground on what we thought was right, what we thought life was supposed to be, and we are becoming very pissed off.  It seems that the more time passes by and the longer im away from the US the angrier I become.  We cannot live in a world where we hold onto the ideals that bitching solves anything, where we believe that things will be taken care of for us. If you want something done, go out and get it done…period.                                                                                                                  

So in closing, while reading this you might think I’ve become some angry disillusioned man, someone who sees things so much different than the average citizen, well maybe your right. But I can only hope that things someday will change. As for our accomplishments here in Afghanistan, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I will forever hold these experiences close.

Words by Eric Williams
Written on the 17th of July 2012

SGT Eric Williams was struck down in a mortar attack on the 23rd of July 2012 at FOB Shank, in Pul-E-Alam, Afghanistan.

2

Goodbye, Eric.

[Top] Sgt. Eric Williams was a member of C Company, 3-82 General Support Aviation Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.

[Bottom] An U.S. Army UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter assigned to 3rd Platoon, The “All American” Dustoff, 82nd Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C., idles on the tarmac prior to take off, Forward Operating Base Shank, Logar province, Afghanistan. (Photo by Specialist Austin Berner, 19 December 2011.) 

(Story by Sergeant First Class Eric Pahon, 25 July 2012.)

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — An 82nd Airborne Division flight medic was killed Monday, 23 July, when the Forward Operating Base he was on came under enemy fire in Logar province, Afghanistan.

Sgt. Eric Williams, 27, of Murrieta, Calif., was in-transit from his duty station in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan to re-deploy to the United States when he was killed. He was assigned to Company C, 3-82 General Support Aviation Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.

“Our deepest condolences go out to the entire Williams family during this time of great sadness,” said Col. T.J. Jamison, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade commander, of Broken Arrow, Okla. “Eric was a valued member of the Task Force Pegasus family, and his memory as a great medic and soldier who always put others before himself will not be forgotten.”

Williams entered the U.S. Army in 2007, completing basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. He completed advance individual training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, earning military occupational specialty 68W, Healthcare Specialist, later that year.

This was Williams’ second deployment. He previously served a 14-month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2008-2009 as a combat medic.

“He was always on his game,” said Sgt. Cormac Chandler, a Medevac crew chief who served with Williams, and native of Murfreesboro, Tenn. “Will always kept his cool, which in turn helped me keep my cool, and he never quit. That was the caliber of his personality. That is who he was.”

His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with Valor and one bronze oak leaf cluster, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one Campaign Star, the Iraq Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal, the Combat Medical Badge, and the Combat Action Badge.

He is survived by his wife, Wendi, and parents, Bruce and Janet Williams.

My speech for Eric's memorial service.

We experience loss as a nostalgia. An ache for a life we once knew before.

The pain. The unfillable void in our lives where something or someone very dear to us has disappeared.

It’s in that emptiness where we keep falling; until it, the loss, becomes a part of who we are.

Loss is meant to be shared. Loss is a part of community.

Eric, as many Warriors do lived three lives which have perfectly collided together to become a perfect balance of support and nurturing; which is the driving force of all Warriors. 

He was a writer, a photographer, a friend, a caregiver, a nurturing soul, a lover, a son, a brother, a husband, a leader, a thinker, and so many more things. He will be remembered as these things, as well as a hero.

He traveled Europe and went to art museums. He served his nation in an effort to make not only our country, but the world a better place. His home was California, but he loved traveling; experiencing new cultures, new places, new things. He loved music of a wide variety, but couldn’t dance to any of it. He displayed a love and passion for his wife, Wendi, that shined through his soul and into his eyes: you could see it when he thought or talked about her. He lived his life by an ethos of honor, conviction, courage, and compassion: serving not only his country, but his brothers in arms. His feelings about you were never hidden, but I can honestly say that I have never met anyone who could not see the kindness in his heart. He carried a guilty conscious about leaving his family, and friends behind while on deployments, but he felt a sense of duty and was passionate about his profession.

The greatest honor of my life was being able to mentor him as my Soldier. I don’t think that I made him the man, the Medic, or the Soldier that he was; those things were integrated into his personality and a reflection on his upbringing. Before deploying to Sadr City, I was told that I had to send one of my Medics to our 1st Platoon, who would be detached from the rest of our Company, and away from my care and supervision. After little thought, I chose Eric; as his competence spoke for itself; saving one man’s life in particular who is here with us today.

Eric grew a reputation while in Sadr City, between his Brothers in Arms as being a professional care giver, a shoulder to cry on, or even just a good friend to smoke a cigarette with.  He was never very good at being pessimistic, or letting things get the best of him; he was a mascot of sorts to his brothers in arms.  

Remember Eric as the man who was capable of making light of any situation.  That is what he would really want.  He loved life, and took every opportunity that he was afforded to celebrate it.  It is only right that we do the same, to honor Eric’s sacrifice.

What a cruel thing is war:  to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.  ~Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife, 1864

Watch on andrewwadenunn.tumblr.com

Eric’s story on ABC 7 News, Los Angeles.

Keep his mother, Janet, and his wife, Wendi in your thoughts. 

Me, Shane Paul Rivard, Nick Delisi, and Eric Williams.
Me and Nick are the last men standing in this image. This photograph was taken shortly after a 15 month deployment to Sadr City, Iraq. We had survived combat, and we’re now celebrating life.
I am a recent college graduate and an emerging photojournalist.
Nick is near completion of his Bachelors degree. I’m not sure what else he’s up to, but occasionally he sends me great poetry.
Eric was killed in Afghanistan on the 23rd of July 2012, returning from his 2nd deployment by indirect fire. You can find many more posts about Eric through the #sgtericwilliams tag.
And yesterday, my dear friend Shane took his own life.
#stopveteransuicide #iraq #war #waristrauma #spcshanerivard #suicide

Watch on andrewwadenunn.tumblr.com

"What a cruel thing is war:  to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world." 
—Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife, 1864

Some of my photographs are up in the lobby at AI Austin. Swing by and have a look.
It’s been 7 months. I still can’t get over it.
#sgtericwilliams (at The Art Institute of Austin)

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