At ease, Marine

Charles Williams of Columbia Falls, who survived a bomb blast in Iraq, is welcomed home

The Daily Inter Lake

Lance Cpl. Charles Williams of Columbia Falls recalls the blast about a foot away from his door as he piloted the lead Humvee at the front of a platoon of Marines in Ramadi, Iraq.

An improvised explosive device ripped through the street, encasing Williams in a dense cloud of dust and smoke.

“I made sure my leg was all right and hit the gas,” he said.

It wasn’t the only close call during his seventh-month tour in Iraq. Some of his close friends weren’t so lucky.

“I’ve lost several buddies,” the 21-year-old Marine said.

He deals with those losses by disciplining his mind not to think about them. Otherwise, he loses sleep — and rest comes in short bursts for a soldier on call 24 hours a day in a war zone.

For Williams, it wasn’t a particular food or brand of beer that he craved as he anticipated his tour of duty ending a few weeks ago.

“It was just being able to relax,” he said with a smile.

His homecoming proved more exciting then relaxing as a crowd of family, friends, Boy Scouts and members of the media greeted him at the airport a week ago Saturday.

“I was very surprised at the number of people,” he said. “There were probably about 50 people there.”

The group included his parents, Mack and Rochelle Williams of Columbia Falls, and his 90-year-old grandfather Charles Williams Sr., who traveled from Anaconda for the homecoming and to wish him a happy 21st birthday.

Williams kicked off his leave with a weekend visit with his girlfriend, a student at Carroll College. He hopes to attend her graduation just days before he must report back to his home base in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

But a call to his cell phone could come at any time to change those plans.

“That’s why the Marine Corps is called a fast-response unit,” he said with a note of pride in his voice.

His job in Iraq was lead driver of the gun truck patrolling the mean streets of Ramadi, a large city just west of Baghdad.

He has no regrets about leaving the safe classrooms of the University of Montana where he enrolled after graduating from Columbia Falls High School in 2003.

“I couldn’t stand sitting around in classes,” he said.

Williams, an Eagle Scout and high school football player, decided to enlist, along with two of his best friends, for a four-year hitch in the Marine Corps.

He ended up in the infantry by choice. According to Williams, his rural upbringing put him behind the wheel of the Humvee.

“Most of the kids in the Marine Corps are from the city,” he said. “They’re not used to bigger vehicles.”

The young Marine said he has no desire for the sissified, civilian Hummer H2 which he described as “a GM Yukon on a different body.” Real Marines drive military-style Humvees fortified with armor.

In Iraq, Williams provided transportation and security for other Marines plus the Iraqi military and police the Americans were training to take over when the U.S. and its allies withdraw.

Since finishing his tour of duty, he said the first question people ask him is, “Are we doing any good over there?”

Williams has no hesitation in answering in the affirmative.

He said the Iraqis were making excellent progress and the majority of the people want coalition forces there until they have security trained to take over.

Williams expects to deploy again to Iraq before his enlistment ends in October 2008.

“That’s all up to guys with more rank on their sleeves than I have,” he said with a slight smile.

Williams doesn’t question his superiors’ decisions. He also doesn’t condemn those who don’t support the action in Iraq, pointing out that the United States maintains armed forces to protect freedoms such as speech.

With a year and a half in uniform, he doesn’t plan to spend his career in the service. Williams said he’s looking at steel fabrication schools and joining his brother-in-law’s Anything Custom business.

But he credits his military service with giving him a lot more confidence and great leadership skills. That’s why he doesn’t shirk from duties such as driving the lead Humvee through Ramadi’s trash and IED-strewn streets.

“I’ve learned to rely on myself and my fellow Marines,” Williams said.

Reporter Candace Chase may be reached at 758-4436 or by e-mail at