A Jackson State University alum who rose to the ranks to become a brigadier general is being inducted into the U.S. Army ROTC Hall of Fame decades after signing up for an elective course and joining the Tiger Battalion’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
Donna R. Williams is a computer scientist at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The selection committee said she’s being recognized for “distinguished service during her military and civilian pursuits by making significant and lasting contributions to the nation, the Army and the history and traditions of the ROTC program.”
Williams will join 23 other inductees into the 2021 ROTC Hall of Fame.
As a high school student in the early 1980s, Williams had no real interest in a military career, but she decided to follow in her cousin’s footsteps and join the Junior ROTC at Vicksburg High School.
“I thought JROTC looked fun, and it was the drill team that really caught my interest,” said Williams. “My cousin and I were like brother and sister, and he really enjoyed it. I figured that I would like it, too.”
Describing her time as a student at JSU, Williams said, “ROTC really brought out a different flavor of being in college. You start learning leadership, team-building, customs and courtesies. You are put in different positions, and you learn how to be proactive and execute skills inside and outside of the classroom.”
On May 10, 1986, Williams officially entered the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. She returned to her hometown of Vicksburg and joined the Army Reserve 412th Engineer Command as an engineer officer, where she stayed until 1990.
From 1990 until 2014, Williams served in the Active Guard Reserve, a job that took her from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Maui, Hawaii, Germany, Korea and many places in between. In May 2006, she deployed to Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, serving as the Army Sustainment Command’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program support officer.
In 2015, she was promoted to brigadier general.
“As luck and faith would have it, they brought me back to Vicksburg as the deputy commanding general of the 412th Theater Engineer Command,” Williams said. “I couldn’t believe I was coming back home — not just home to Vicksburg but home to the 412th where it all began. I started off there as a junior leader and finished as a senior leader.”
Decades after being hesitant to sign her contract with the Army, Williams retired in 2018 after more than 31 years of military service.
“I enjoyed every day of my military career despite the many challenges,” Williams said. “The professional and personal growth that I experienced while I was in the military was priceless. It postured me to do my best and use the resources I had and to be innovative in a dynamic and fast-paced environment.”
Today, Williams works at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reachback Operations Center, also called UROC, which is part of the ERDC. She says her job is “enjoyable and professionally rewarding.”
Williams explained her role as team leader for the UROC’s request for information team. “Our team supports organizations throughout the Department of Defense and the federal sector. We receive requests from the field and contact subject-matter experts who provide innovative ways to address their engineering challenges so they can accomplish their mission.”
As an endnote, the U.S. Army declared that Williams is “truly worthy of this honor of being a member of the ROTC Hall of Fame.” It cited her “standard of excellence” and her “consistent commitment to service and dedication to helping others over several decades.”