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Col. T.W. Williams: A Soldier for All Seasons

As Fort Belvoir and southeast Fairfax intertwine, a central architect moves on.

For Col. Thomas W. Williams, the number 11 seems to have fateful significance. On July 11, 2002 he became garrison commander of Fort Belvoir. On July 11, 2005 he relinquished that command to Col. Brian W. Lauritzen.

But, another calendar 11 played an even more formative role. That was Sept. 11, 2001.

On that day his office was on the ground floor of The Pentagon immediately next to where American Flight 77 tore into the nation's military command headquarters. He had walked out of that office only minutes before to an awaiting automobile that was to take him to a meeting.

However, he realized he had forgotten something and was heading back to his office when he heard the explosion and suddenly the corridor filled with debris. "If I had not walked out to that car that morning I would not be sitting here now," Williams recalled on taking command of Fort Belvoir just prior to the first anniversary of 9/11.

Two others in his office died that morning. And, even as a West Point trained, disciplined, hardened combat paratrooper, it altered this 26-year military veteran's approach and perspective. That day proved to be what defined Williams in his new role.

WILLIAMS ASSUMED his new command in the wake of 9/11 and it enveloped practically every aspect of that assignment -- both on post and with the surrounding communities. That included both political and civic leaders.

"When I came here right after 9/11 my emphasis was on two primary goals, security and increasing the quality of life for our soldiers. I feel very good about what has happened over the past three years," Williams said.

"We planted the seeds that will continue to grow for the future in all areas. That includes on the base and in the surrounding communities," he said.

In addition to increasing the quality of life for his soldiers, Williams counts among his major accomplishments as Garrison Commander "mending community/installation relations."

Among the issues he has faced are the closing of Woodlawn Road, the potential closing of the Woodlawn ball fields, tightening of security for base access, extension of the Fairfax County Parkway through the Engineering Proving Grounds, plans to build the first centralized U.S. Army Museum, and the initiation of the Residential Community Initiative (RCI) to transform traditional military housing into community/village settings of individualized homes, not just "quarters."

"Colonel Williams came to Fort Belvoir at a challenging time because of all the changes that have taken place during his tenure. And, he became a very willing partner with Fairfax County in working with all the issues," said Gerald "Gerry" Hyland, Mount Vernon district supervisor.

"He's been a friend. I consider him a personal friend and more importantly he's been a real friend to the Mount Vernon District," Hyland said.

THAT ASSESSMENT was buttressed by Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman. "While he's a paratrooper to the bone, Colonel Williams has been one of the few commanders who has learned to grasp both the vicissitudes of local government and the concerns of local political leaders," Kauffman said.

"If he doesn't find his way to a star or two in the future it will be the Army's loss. He's a wonderful blending of warrior and diplomat," Kauffman said.

A primary accomplishment during Williams' tour of duty was taking the RCI program from inception to fruition of the first village for enlisted personnel. "This program assures a better quality of life for military families," Williams said.

"When soldiers leave to get into a foxhole they want to know their families are in good homes. The Army enlists soldiers. It re-enlists families," he said.

"What has normally taken nine to 11 years to transform housing and community planning we did in 15 months. The shovel went into the ground on the first development on March 10, 2004. That development is now filled with residents," Williams said.

"We were able to accomplish this because of our public/private partnership with the developers Clarke-Pinnacle and the surrounding community. The community has done a good job of helping to preserve Fort Belvoir. The dynamics here are greater than I've ever seen anywhere in my life," he said.

Those dynamics propelled Williams into his next assignment as director of operations for the Army's Installation Management Agency. Presently located in Crystal City, it could be relocated to San Antonio, Texas, under the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plans, Williams said.

This is the newest organization to manage the Army's 180 agencies worldwide, according to Donald Carr, director, Fort Belvoir Public Affairs. It operates directly under the Army's Chief of Staff.

Although he admits he will miss Williams, Carr stated that Williams is perfect for the new assignment. "He is without a doubt one of the best military officers I have ever known and worked with," Carr said.

"There are now 23 installations with over 53,000 homes that have been developed in the RCI concept. Our overall goal is to create an inventory of 82,400 homes converted to privatization. Seventeen projects have either been approved or are completed and another nine are on the drawing board," Williams said.

His new role can be summed up in his own words uttered shortly after becoming Fort Belvoir's garrison commander, with the still fresh thoughts of 9/11. "You have to make life better everyday, in whatever way you can," he said.

WILLIAMS CONSIDERS getting the Army Materiel Command to move from Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria to the base "a major accomplishment. They came here to increase their security," he said.

However, under BRAC, Army Materiel Command is scheduled to be relocated to Alabama. But, Belvoir is also scheduled to receive an additional 18,000 plus personnel based on BRAC recommendations. If that happens the base's total contingent would approach 50,000.

"We've got a master plan that's just waiting for us to implement it. We have been working with county planning and local planning and we've done a lot of both environmental and transportation planning," Williams said.

"We want to make sure we have the right plan so that it works for everyone. We intend to work hard with the county and VDOT for the right road configurations," he said.

"Belvoir's growth for the foreseeable future will be based on this BRAC plan. They [the Pentagon] did this looking at all the

services. These recommendations are based on long-term transformations," Williams said.

"There are a whole lot of things I feel good about as I complete this assignment," Williams said. Among those he listed in the bricks and mortar category included: the new chapel, the first on any military base in the last decade; conversion of Markham school to a new youth service center and another school to an education center, that is used by people from throughout the metropolitan area, and construction of a new elementary school that is the largest in Virginia with a capacity of 1,300.