A Veteran’s Tribute: Southeast Grad Sets Sail on Distinguished Naval Career

Williams Rear Admiral Charles

Retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Charles Williams

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Nov. 10, 2015 – When retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Charles Williams graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in 1972, little did he know his career would take him around the world, working with joint U.S. forces and foreign militaries onboard submarines, aircraft, surface ships and with Seabee and SEAL team units.

While deployed, his ship was cited for humanitarian efforts for its successful evacuation of Americans out of war-torn Lebanon following an attack on the U.S. Embassy.

“After graduating, job opportunities didn’t offer what I was looking for,” said Williams, a business management major and alumni member of Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity at Southeast.  “In 1972, the Vietnam War was ongoing. My father and his friends served in the Navy in World War II and encouraged me. They were proud of their service, and I felt it was my turn to serve. I read a lot of history and the military seemed right for me.”

And it was.

After earning his commission through Aviation Officer Candidate School and assignments to VT-1, VT-23 and VT-21, Williams attended the Navy Supply Corps School and Joint Aviation Supply/Maintenance Program. His initial assignment after graduation was Anti-Submarine Squadron 28 (VS-28). While deployed aboard USS America, the Air Group Commander Six appointed him to his staff as the Airwing Supply Officer.  In 1977, he was selected to the Naval Acquisition Contracting Officer Intern Program and assigned to the Aviation Supply Office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, contracting for aircraft parts and repair services. He subsequently attended Army, Navy and Air Force Defense Contracting Courses and Executive Programs at the University of Virginia and Naval Post Graduate School.

“The Navy emphasized training and coursework which included an MBA and executive programs at Harvard, Virginia, University of North Carolina, Army and Navy War colleges and the NATO school in Germany” with foreign military and political leaders, he said.

His coursework focused on international relations and logistics. He often served on selection boards for promotions, billet assignments and Navy policy.

The Navy sought diversity of thought and preferred a variety of backgrounds, according to Williams.

“Although often competing against graduates of Ivy League schools, I felt prepared.  It was about  performance,” he said.

After release from active duty, Williams continued his naval career with diverse duties in the continental United States and with overseas units, including Joint Service commands and the Secretary of the Navy’s Office of Program Appraisal at the Pentagon. Assignments included five reserve Commanding Officer tours in Pensacola, Florida; Guam; Chicago; Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania; and Columbus, Ohio. He last served as Deputy Commander of the Naval Inventory Control Point, a 2,800-person organization with $5 billion in sales responsible for aviation, ship and submarine parts.

As Veterans’ Day approaches, he reflected on his distinguished career.

“Through military service you grow as a person,” Williams said. “Core values, patriotism and confidence are instilled.”

The Vietnam War “was a defining period for many of my generation and Veterans’ Day honors their service,” he said.

Unfortunately, Williams said, military life today is distant to some because many do not have close family members in the armed services.

“It opens the question, would we still be at war if there was a draft?” Williams asked. “My civilian friends talk about the economy, sports, business and politics.  My military friends talk about deployment, the last one, the next one, the family separation. They talk about the loss of friends and family. What motivates them? They serve because of a sense of honor, commitment, patriotism and because of their loyalty to each other.  Others have gone before them, fathers and grandfathers, and they see it as their turn.”

He urges Southeast students serving in the military to maintain that commitment.

“The military emphasizes discipline and structure.  Embrace it and enjoy it,” he said. “The experience will result in a ‘better you — but it’s about more than you and more than you ever expected.’”

He continued, “Everybody is the same, whether urban or rural, Ivy League or state school, any ethnicity, your background doesn’t matter. There is one standard; you push yourself and are required to perform. You will be challenged and do things you never thought you could possibly do. More than you – everyone is relevant to the mission, everyone has a responsibility and everyone depends on the other guy to do their job,” he said. “You’re a team.  You’re in it together. Driving you is the mission and not letting your shipmates down. More than you ever expected – you develop lifelong relationships, you travel, you become better educated, you meet interesting people, you do things and see things you never thought you would experience. You help define history.”

Southeast, he says, can set the stage for a career in service to the country. Williams said he chose Southeast because he liked the area and the size of the institution. It was also affordable.

“People I knew recommended it,” he said. “It offered value for the investment.

“Cape Girardeau and the University offered a conservative environment with little of the antiwar activity found on other campuses. In living away from home, Southeast prepared me to be independent, to prioritize, to be persistent and to maintain a balance between academic and social activities,” he said.

While on campus, he participated in intramural sports and the Flying Indians aviation club. He went on to earn an MBA at Saint Louis University.

Since retiring in 2005, he has served as president of the St. Louis Navy League, maintaining a relationship with maritime services, Navy-supported youth programs and with foreign naval officers who visit St. Louis. As part of “Mission Readiness,” he briefs Senate and Congressional representatives on military readiness issues. He continues to consult on defense related activities including military aviation and security.

Williams has been active in the St. Louis community, serving on committees with the Regional Commerce and Growth Association and St. Louis Realtor Association for economic development, Special School District educational committees, and as the Missouri state representative for Tuberous Sclerosis. He also has participated in various fund raising activities and has been a speaker to local organizations on naval sea power. In 2008 he was inducted in the Ritenour Hall of Fame.

He is the principal of Commercial Realty, LLC, a brokerage and investment business for retail/office/industrial properties. He taught two years as an adjunct professor in the business school at Saint Louis University. Williams also has chaired the audit committee for a national not-for-profit and served as president of the Ritenour Pride and Promise Foundation.

Previously, he was a logistics engineer working on F-18 supportability and a contract negotiator for the AV-8B and F-18 program at McDonnell Douglas.

After retiring, Williams also has been an airline pilot, flight instructor and maintained a Coast Guard ship captain’s license and diving certificate with experience in the Pacific, Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. As a pilot, he holds an Airline Transport Pilot with CL-65 and EMB-145 type ratings. He flew Jetstream J-32s for American Connection and regional jets for Northwest AirLink, and has more than 4,000 hours of flight time.

He has been awarded the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, two Navy Meritorious Service Medals and two Navy Commendation Medals. He holds a Naval Warfare Designation and is Defense Acquisition Level II certified.

A Town and Country, Missouri, resident, he and his wife, Laurie, of 40 years, are the parents of two sons.