During his deployment to Afghanistan as a flight medic with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, Sgt. Eric Williams kept a blog about the dangers and frustrations of a war zone.
In his “Coming Home” entry of July 17, the 27-year-old Williams wrote that his yearlong deployment was nearing an end. He said he would need time to reflect on what he had seen in Afghanistan and to adjust to a homeland where few civilians truly know, or perhaps even care, about the war or the soldiers fighting in it.
“We have (been) witness to the atrocities of war,” Williams wrote. “We have thrust ourselves into the midst of chaos in order to do something so important, so visceral, that few will ever understand what it means…. I for one will reflect on these experiences for years to come.”
Six days later Williams was killed in a Taliban mortar attack on a small forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan. He was staying overnight at the base as he and others made their way to the air base near Kabul for a flight home.
In Menifee in southern Riverside County, Williams’ wife, Wendi, was excited when she heard a knock on the door of her apartment that morning. She had talked to her husband just a day earlier.
“I thought for a minute he was surprising me by coming home earlier,” she said. Instead it was an officer and chaplain notifying her of her husband’s death.
“Everything just slowed down, I started shaking, and I just went black with disbelief,” she said. “You just don’t want to hear it. It’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”
The couple, married but a year, had plans: a vacation near the beach in San Diego and then relocation to Ft. Bragg, N.C. Williams had recently reenlisted in hopes of joining the Special Forces as a medic.
After graduating from Murrieta Valley High School in 2002, Williams worked as an emergency medical technician before enlisting in the Army in 2007. He served a tour in 2008-09 as a combat medic in Iraq.
After retraining as a flight medic, he deployed to Afghanistan, assigned to a Black Hawk crew that rescues injured or wounded military personnel from the battlefield and renders aid to Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire of war.
“He was always on his game,” said Sgt. Cormac Chandler, a crew chief who served with Williams. “Will always kept his cool, which in turn helped me keep my cool, and he never quit.”
Like many parents, Williams’ mother, Janet, who lives in Murrieta and is a Riverside County probation officer, had not been enthusiastic about her son enlisting in the Army during a time of war. But she respected his sense of fulfillment in being a medic.
“He was there to save lives,” she said. “He was there for a purpose and he loved what he did.”
In the weeks before Christmas, Williams wrote about the “blood and pain (that) lingers in your aircraft” after a rescue mission:
“The 12-year-old boy shot in the face, the soldiers riddled with shrapnel, another in uncontrollable convulsions. It takes a toll on us all even if you don’t want to admit it.”
In March, when U.S. troops burned a Koran and a sergeant was accused of murdering civilians near Kandahar, Williams wrote about how such outrages were undermining the hard work of other Americans in Afghanistan:
“Things are rapidly spinning out of control here. There’s so much unrest felt by both sides. We’ve been here so long, but the choice of whether to stay or leave most certainly is out of my control. We’re here to support, to help, to try our hardest, amidst most obstacles, to make a difference. I’m pretty damn sure that we are accomplishing that.”
Williams’ wife and mother hope his blog can be published to help the public understand the war from the perspective of a soldier on the front lines.
Wendi Williams, 26, said her grief still overwhelms her on occasion, striking at inopportune times, like when she broke down while shopping. She never tried to talk her husband out of reenlisting even though she knew it would have meant additional war zone deployments.
“I met him as a soldier,” she said. “I knew what I was getting into....”
To honor his memory, she got a tattoo on her arm with the medics’ motto, “Not Without Your Wounded.” A freelance photographer, she plans to continue her education in art school.
“I’m doing that for him — to make him proud,” she said.
Williams was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. For his service in Afghanistan, he was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star.
In his final blog post, Williams wrote that he was concerned about a growing disconnect between the military and civilian populations. And he expressed anger at the thought of veterans being homeless or jobless.
“But I can only hope that things someday will change. As for our accomplishments here in Afghanistan, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I will forever hold these experiences close.”
Along with his mother and wife, Williams is survived by his father, Bruce, a Navy veteran who lives in Hemet. His ashes were spread at sea off Coronado.