People join the Army for a lot of reasons. Some want to serve their country, some want to push themselves, and a lot of people need money for college.
But for a tank gunner named Cpl. Keaton Williamson, a lot of it boils down to one reason: you get to blow stuff up.
“I chose 19K-M1 Armor Crewman because I wanted to be on the most destructive platform in the U.S. military,” Williamson said in a recent press release by Army Sgt. Alexandra Shea. “I wanted to feel that power and be in control of it.”
It’s that kind of attitude which makes him a perfect fit for the tank corps, where his command noticed his enthusiasm.
“I’ve never met someone so excited to be a tanker,” said Maj. Patrick Lynch, the executive officer for the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, where Williamson serves in Bravo “Eager Arms” Company.
Of course, blowing stuff up isn’t the only reason Williamson is a tanker. Part of the reason is his remarkable family history: the soldier’s grandfather served on a tank in the Vietnam War, his great-great-uncle served on one in World War II in Africa, his great-grandfather drove one in the Korean War, and he found out recently that his cousin served on one in the 1980s.
“It’s very possible it runs in the blood because there sure is a whole lot of them,” said Williamson’s father, Timothy Windham.
That rich family history first sparked the six-year-old Williamson’s interest in the Army.
“My brother and I went through my granddaddy’s photo album from Vietnam once at Thanksgiving,” Williamson said. “We had always heard his stories. Then I saw a picture of him sitting on a tank with an M16 in one hand and an M60 in the other. Then I knew, that’s what I want to do.”
Williamson said he “grew up in a swamp,” in the town of Hartsville, South Carolina, population less than 8,000. As a teenager, he played soccer, dressed up as the Hartsville High School’s Red Fox mascot, and served as a Cadet Sergeant Major in the school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
“I’m very proud of where I graduated and of my community,” he said. “It was a small, All-American town.”
Between JROTC and driving tanks in video games, Williamson knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up. Thing is, his parents didn’t feel quite as enthusiastic about it.
“I kind of went behind my parents’ back,” he said. “I had the recruiter out at the house, I had already signed the papers when I told my mom and dad I had enlisted. They were shocked. When I broke the news to the rest of my family, my aunt Wanda grabbed me by my arm so hard and said, ‘Do you know what you just did? You’re going to go off and lose limbs and fingers and I’m not even going to feel bad for you.’’’
Windham said he was “proud and scared” of his son when he found out. “It was mixed emotions, you know. Now, there are no words. I’m very proud of him.”
Williamson’s first duty station was Fort Hood, Texas, where he met his future wife Elizabeth. “She was the best part of Fort Hood,” he said. “She makes me want to be a better person.”
Now, the gunner is on his first deployment in Lithuania, where he and his crew help train Lithuanian soldiers in the art of armor. In exchange, Williamson gets to feel like he’s in a winter wonderland. “I’ve never seen this much snow in my life,” he said.
There’s the old saying “do what you’ll love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” and Williamson is one of the lucky few who live up to it.
“Not a lot of people can say they are living their dream, but I can,” he said. “I love the Army. It’s not perfect. I have my on and off days but like I said, I love the Army.”