Still in the fight

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Tim Williams called back to duty as Marine Corps chaplain

By Greg Summers

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – Before Tim Williams was a pastor and a parole and probation agent for the state of South Carolina, he was a Marine.

Now some 37 years after he left Erwin Farm in a pale yellow Ford Mustang for Parris Island, he is a full-time Marine again.

And for this father of three and grandfather of one who now calls Pageland home, what happened from 1972 to now has put U.S. Navy  Cmdr. Tim Williams in the unique position to answer God’s calling for his life. He was called back to active duty from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in November 2008.

Forget the title and the U.S. Navy commission; at Camp Lejeune’s Hope and Care Center, Williams is “Chaps.”

Williams serves as chaplain for the USMC Wounded Warrior Battalion-East.

The battalion’s sole mission is to help wounded Marines and sailors recover from combat injuries.

“God knows what he’s doing in that he prepares you to do what he means for you to do,” Williams said. “He puts you in the right place, according to his timing, not yours.

“I have no doubt that I’m where God wants me to be,” he said.

In his position, Williams finds himself offering encouragement to Marines now at Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland, the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va., Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio, and trauma centers in Tampa, Fla., and Minneapolis, Minn., and the U.S. Army Hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, as well as Camp Lejeune.

Whenever a fellow Marine, or sailor (Navy Corpsman) needs help, Williams immediately makes himself available. There’s always a cup of coffee brewing in his office and a piece of chocolate in the basket on his desk for anyone who wants it.

Williams’ office isn’t too hard to find, either; it’s the one with the open door. If he’s not there, he can be found walking through the barracks offering words of encouragement to wounded warriors whose lives have been literally shot to pieces. One day, he may be in a Navy uniform and the next day, he could be in a Marine Corps uniform. Depending on where he’s needed his two sets of uniforms come with the territory.

To Williams it doesn’t matter if it’s crisis counseling, legal problems, a marital conflict, a much-needed hospital visit or some other family issue. He may be a graduate of Southeastern Theological Seminary, the former minister of Beauford Baptist Church in McBee and a commissioned U.S. Naval officer, but none of that matters.

What matters to them is that “Chaps” is a Marine. That, he said, gives him an edge with his “Plate Deck Ministry” that gets down on their level.

“As soon as they find out that I was and still am a Marine, they open up,” he said. “It’s like God has given me this instant rapport and credibility with them. Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

The ability to empathize means everything when Williams finds himself trying to encourage Marines like the one who was burned over 50 percent of his body when an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) was shot through a partially-open tank turret.

“It was a million-to-one shot by the insurgent, but not so lucky for these young Marines,” Williams said. “They all escaped, but were badly burned with the ammo exploded inside.”

Williams said the crew has recovered, except the one who was badly burned.

“This particular Marine is still facing multiple plastic surgeries to repair his appearance and we often talk,” Williams said. “He just needs encouragement since he’s been through so much. He’s now at UCLA undergoing plastic surgery and is doing quite well.”

In other cases, Williams said he finds himself ministering to a battalion staff which has to hold up while providing quality care and rehabilitation for  Marines and sailors seriously injured in Afghanistan and Iraq.

That, he said, affects every facet of their personal lives, including marriages, which is something Williams understands more than most.

He’s divorced, too, fallout from a 1991 deployment during Operation Desert Storm. But he doesn’t blame anyone for that.

Williams said he and his ex-wife remain the closest of friends.

“It’s no secret that 70 percent of military marriages end in divorce,” he said. “It’s something I’m well aware of. Between deployments on a regular basis, finances and normal family problems, it adds stress. You come back thinking you have it all in balance, but you don’t and it takes its toil.” 

“It’s tough, but we’re family,” Williams said. “Our battalion motto is ‘Etiam in Pugna,’ which is Greek for ‘Still in the Fight.’

Williams said while each injured Marine and sailor has his own story, they have one fact in common.

“Each one still says the same thing, ‘I wish I could go back to my unit and get back into the fight,’” he said. “Some of them can and some of them can’t.

“Regardless, our mission here is to get them back into the fight. It might be with their unit, or it might recovering to live as normal a life as possible.

“We’re here to help these guys get better,” Williams said. “Nobody gets left behind.”