Story by Sgt. Benjamin Whitten, Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment
Quantico is barely buzzing with morning activity when Mr. Paul Williamson is well into his morning routine. Donning a full suit, Williamson commutes to work in his rusted, Toyota pickup truck, fills the small bird feeder outside the Wounded Warrior Regiment’s headquarters building, and reports to his office to serve a population of wounded, ill and injured Marines and veterans. This January Williamson celebrated 51 years of servant leadership, either as an enlisted seaman or as a civilian government employee caring for his fellow service members.
Williamson enlisted in the U.S. Navy on June 4, 1969.
“I was a recent high school grad and pretty much undecided as to what I wanted to do. I realized that I was not ready for college, academically and financially, but knew I didn’t want to remain in my small South Dakota town,” Williamson said.
Following his graduation from boot camp in October 1969, Williamson began his military occupational specialty training in Denver. He excelled and was the academic leader in his class. However, despite his superb performance, he would never graduate and earn the MOS.
“They learned that I didn’t have stereoscopic vision, which was a prerequisite,” Williamson explained. “I was removed from that training and sent to administration training in San Diego, California.”
Stereoscopic vision refers to the ability to judge distance and develop true depth perception by using both eyes.
Despite the setback, Williamson excelled in this first duty station at Naval Air Station Agana, Guam. His unit selected him as the Sailor of the Quarter and he received a nomination for appointment to the United States Naval Academy. Williamson required a medical examination prior to attending, where he once again faced bad news.
“My physical revealed that I still didn’t have normal depth perception, which was a requirement to enter the academy. It was a major disappointment for me at the time,” Williamson admitted.
Determined to excel wherever possible, Williamson continued a career of excellence. He was consistently selected as the Sailor of the Quarter or Sailor of the Year. He was the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet Shore Sailor of the Year in 1978. The following year, Williamson was commissioned as an Ensign Limited Duty Officer. He retired from active duty Jan. 1, 2001—nearly 32 years after enlisting.
Since retiring, Williamson remains dedicated to serving his nation by caring for wounded, ill and injured service members. As the President of the Department of the Navy Physical Evaluation Board from 2001 to 2007, Williamson played a major role in streamlining the process for wounded service members and veterans to apply for and receive their disability benefits. This resulted in the implementation of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System across both active-duty and veteran communities. This experience in serving the community of disabled veterans led to his current role as the Command Advisor for the Wounded Warrior Regiment, established in 2007.
“When I became President of the Department of the Navy Physical Evaluation Board, the organization had the worst reputation, amongst all of the services, for timeliness and accuracy of our disability determinations. The average case processing time was 54 days. In two years, our team brought that timeline down to seven days,” recalled Williamson.
Reminiscing on his time in service, Williamson’s fondest memory is being a plank owner at WWR. A plank owner is a naval expression meaning someone was a part of a ship’s crew when it was first commissioned—a fitting adage from a career Sailor.
“Collectively, the men and women in uniform, government civilians, and contractors have built a world class organization that is admired not only by those whom we serve but also by those who observe our commitment to the mission and keeping faith with Marines.”
Williamson is proud of his civilian service because it has been within an organization wholly focused on the recovery of wounded, ill and injured service members.
“I once had the father of a recovering Marine, who himself had been a Vietnam-era combat wounded Marine, come to me and thank me for being a part of such a wonderful organization that did not exist during his time in service and that was now providing world class care to his son.”
Williamson acknowledges how his own stereoblindness affected his approach to serving and caring for Marines.
“[I have] A greater degree of empathy for conditions that don’t appear to be obvious,” he said. “If you’re missing a leg, missing an arm, missing an eye, people will immediately go ‘oh ok that guy served. Obviously, he’s a wounded Marine.’ But someone who has endured psychological events or who has perhaps suffered an illness or injury not visible, they’re not necessarily treated the same. You all deserve the recovery care support that the Marine Corps can provide; whether it’s to return you to full active duty or assist in your healing and transition as a civilian.”
In February 2022, Williamson will surpass 20 creditable years as a civilian federal employee, 14 of which he worked in WWR.
“I don’t think I’m ready for a recliner with a built in cooler yet. As Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.’ The mission of the regiment is definitely that prize for me!”