MCRD PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
Sgt. Maj. Alexander Williams, the sergeant major for MCRD Parris Island/Eastern Recruiting Region, is transferring to his next duty station, June 16. However, Williams is leaving behind more than memories. He is leaving behind an impression that will affect Marines for years to come.
Williams, after serving as the Depot sergeant major for 18 months, is moving on to his next duty station at 4th Marine Logistics Group at New Orleans, La., and leaving the senior enlisted reins in the hands of Sgt. Maj. Andrew Yagle, the former sergeant major for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The changes Williams and the former commanding general made during his tenure here can be seen everywhere from recruit training to permanent personnel.
In addition to being the Depot sergeant major, Williams also served with Parris Island’s Recruit Training Regiment for more than a decade. This gave him a unique view of recruit training, provided him with valuable knowledge on what changes needed to be made to the recruit training process and how to make it all happen.
One of Williams’ and the previous commanding general’s goals was to make recruit training better. They wanted to bring certain elements, such as the Crucible, back into their proper places. However, he couldn’t do it alone.
“It wasn’t about me changing recruit training as much as it was about the drill instructors and their leaders urging for change,” Williams said. “I like to think a lot of good changes have taken place.”
Some of the changes the three-tour drill instructor contributed to were a greater emphasis on the Crucible, the Eagle, Globe and Anchor Ceremony, family day events and the time drill instructors were able to spend with their families.
The Little Rock, Ark., Marine knew changes needed to be made, but wanted input from his Marines currently serving as drill instructors.
If there is ever a question of what needs to be changed, ask the Marines, Williams said. They’ll say what changes are important.
“One of the greatest leadership abilities of anyone is being able to listen,” Williams added. “You can see it everyday in the eyes of those who work aboard the Depot. Having someone who wants to be a part of the team is greater than having the team concept forced upon them.”
Williams and the commanding general met with the drill instructors on several occasions to discuss issues that they wanted changed.
Bringing the Crucible back into focus was one of the challenges Williams faced. To some, it had merely become another training requirement instead of the ultimate test of a recruit’s Core Values. Williams and the other drill instructors sought to change this.
“The Crucible was one of the greatest things ever instilled on Parris Island,” Williams said. “We now have a better Crucible because of the hard work the drill instructors put into it.”
Another noticeable change to recruit training was the rescheduling of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor Ceremony. The ceremony marks the transformation of recruit to Marine and is a time of importance for both the drill instructors and recruits.
The ceremony is about the new Marine and his drill instructor, Williams explained. When recruits receive the emblem, it should to mean something. When recruits received the emblem in front of their families, they were distracted more than anything. They just thought about being with their families, not the importance of receiving their emblem.
Now, recruits receive their emblems in a private ceremony with their drill instructors. No families are involved, no press, only the ceremony and the emblem signifying their transformation to Marine.
However, recruits aren’t the only ones to enjoy this ceremony, Williams said.
“The ceremony has as much effect on the drill instructors as it does on the recruits,” Williams said. “They get to see the end result of all the hard work they have done from beginning to end.”
Looking back, the sergeant major said they have never had anything like this during the time he served as a drill instructor.
“We would put new Marines on a bus and ship them off the island,” Williams said. “The ceremony put the final stamp on the platoon. I think it’s great.”
Meeting the Demands of the Corps
The changes to recruit training were not the only challenges Williams faced. The call to increase the Corps numbers to 202,000 by 2011 had to be met. However, meeting that goal wasn’t enough for the Marines. They had to exceed it.
“Our recruiters are working in overdrive to ensure we meet the expectations of our Commandant,” the 47-year-old sergeant major said. “I have a profound amount of respect for what they do. Their job is not easy, but they understand the mission, and that mission is being met everyday.”
To meet this challenge, the Corps uses one of its greatest tools – the finest and most engaged Marines the Corps has to offer, Williams said.
“We have our best and brightest Marines out there on the streets of America who are in the eyes of the public everyday,” Williams explained. “They represent every Marine that is wearing this uniform. Bottom line, our recruiters are doing the right thing, and we owe them a great deal of gratitude for the fine work they are doing.”
The sergeant major said he was excited about coming to Parris Island, especially since he spent so much of his career here.
“Anyone knowing their next duty station is Parris Island will burst with a great sense of pride,” Williams said. “They have a great sense of pride knowing they are given the opportunity to serve at the gateway of the Corps.”
However, Williams’ time at the Depot has come to an end. With so much time spent here, saying goodbye isn’t easy.
From a private first class to the sergeant major he is today, Williams has served in three different decades aboard the Depot. All that time aboard Parris Island will make it difficult to say goodbye, Williams said.
“It’s kind of hard because I know that this is my last time being assigned here,” Williams said. “I am going to miss the level of professionalism these Marines present everyday. They are my brothers and sisters, and I respect them as such.
“Parris Island has been a part of my career for three decades,” Williams added. “I have been assigned here on four different occasions and have enjoyed every minute of it.”
However, his family is looking forward to him coming home for a while. While he was helping the Marines aboard the Depot, they were in North Carolina.
“My family lived in Charlotte while I was assigned here, and I think they are looking forward to me getting home for a while,” Williams said, with a grin. “They know this movement puts me one step closer to being home with them for good.”
Williams may be leaving June 16, but not for good, the sergeant major said. He said he still loves Parris Island and looks forward to returning one day as a retired Marine.