Marine reservist's book shares his war stories

School administrator details gulf war service

February 29, 2004|By Amanda Ponko | Amanda Ponko,SUN STAFF

Dwayne "Buzz" Williams, assistant principal of Bel Air High School, will release his book Spare Parts, which details his experiences in the Persian Gulf war as a Marine reservist, March 8.

Spare Parts begins with a journal entry Williams wrote 14 years ago in his first days of boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., followed by a chronological account of the training he underwent, his experiences while in combat overseas and the years after his return to the United States.

Williams documents his difficulties with what he calls "reintegration" - the mental, physical and emotional transition from being in combat-ready Marine mode to society-ready civilian mode - as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder and the post-traumatic stress disorder that resulted from the war.

After losing his father to cancer and struggling in school, Williams enlisted in the Marine Reserves to honor his older brother, a soldier who died in a car accident when Williams was 17, he said. At the time, it seemed as if the armed forces could offer him the respect he craved with minor effort - a dangerous assumption, he later discovered.

He received his training as a Marine - or, as he says, an assassin - on weekends while working as an elementary school physical education teacher.

"It was tough to be in combat-mode for 48 hours and then have to turn around and be nice," he said. "[The children] knew. They would say, `Mr. Williams is always mean at the beginning of the week, but then he's nice again later.' It's hard to turn it on and off."

In November 1991, Williams was deployed, forced to leave behind his newly discovered love for teaching and his girlfriend, now his wife, Gina.

"Nobody wants to admit they don't want to go," he said. "I was looking for every way possible to get out."

He asked to be discharged because of a knee injury and because he was a sole-surviving son, but Williams' requests were denied and he was sent to the Persian Gulf with his comrades, unprepared for the harsh reality they were about to face.

In Spare Parts (the title is a term used by some members of the military to refer to reservists), Williams describes the horrors he witnessed after four weeks of training, including suicides, funerals and gruesome battle wounds of fellow soldiers.

He tells the tale of Palestinian children run over by a foreign military vehicle as they begged for food. He offers a look at the politics of the armed forces and describes the day he lived through a vehicle rollover.

After his return to the United States, Williams married in 1993 and returned to teaching, but he was haunted by his days in battle. He relived his wartime experiences daily in nightmares and flashbacks, and constantly feared that he would have to return to war.

"It took me seven years to be able to cope with combat," he said. "The process of writing this book has actually helped me more than anything."

In the years that followed, Williams established a breakthrough program for students with behavioral problems at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. He used his military training - including marching, uniforms and medals - to create a reward-based program, similar to Junior ROTC, which is in place today.

He was named a National Teacher of the Year for his efforts in 1997.

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