Princeton native Fred Williams was named the 2019 Civilian of the Year by the U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command, receiving his award Jan. 6 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Williams was named the Civilian of the Year for employees in the GS-12 paygrade level or lower. Laura Gates, deputy director of the USASOAC comptroller office, was named the Civilian of the Year for those in the GS-13 paygrade level or higher.
Williams is assigned to the command's headquarters at Fort Bragg, but works at Fort Campbell. He is the deputy director for the USASOAC engineer office. He joined the civil service after retiring from a 20-year career as a U.S. Air Force major and engineer officer. Since then, he has spent 18 years in the federal civil service, with his last two years at USASOAC.
"I'm responsible for all the major construction, repair and maintenance for all of the facilities and training ranges that the command uses and operates across the United States," he said. "I've been doing this for nearly 38 years - first in active duty as an Air Force officer, then after I retired, with the Army doing the same thing as a civilian for about 18 years."
Williams was nominated in part for his management of the military construction program that included 53 future and 12 active construction projects valued at over $832 million. The projects are spread across six military bases and directly contribute to the training and readiness of the Special Operations Aviation Training Battalion (SOAT-B) and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).
For Williams, the most challenging projects involve special emphasis on minimizing environmental impacts. This includes the helicopter Clean Water Rinse System for units at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, where he worked closely with environmental and state offices.
Williams credits his previous experience as a Department of Public Works master planner for enabling his strong partnership with installations. This partnership bolstered improvements to roads, barracks and training locations.
Williams' current focus is the construction of a multi-use helicopter training complex that will allow Special Operations aviators to train realistically on basic and advanced helicopter skills. He said the training site is expected to be "one-of-a-kind in the world."
Williams, a 1978 graduate of Caldwell County High School and a Murray State University graduate, said he was pleased to be able to return to his birthplace and work at Fort Campbell.
"I was born and raised in Princeton," he said. "Upon retirement, I returned home where my parents lived, and my sisters all lived here, so all my family lives in Princeton."
Williams is the son of the late Robert and Betty Williams, and his sisters are Shelley Boyd and Libby Billingham. He and his wife, Julie, have a daughter, Jenna Meeks, and a son, Tyler Williams, who himself is an engineering officer in the Navy and was named Military Engineer of the Year for the Navy last October.
"Military engineers kind of run in the family," Williams said. "My father's side of the family had served in the military. My father was both in the Navy and the Army, and he was an engineer here at Fort Campbell when he separated, so I pretty much followed the family profession initially.
"After serving for a while, I definitely felt that it was a calling. This is what I was meant to do."
Williams said that winning his award so soon after his son earned his Engineer of the Year award was really special.
After Williams retired from the Air Force, he was approached about using his skills and experience.
"To be honest, at the time, I had no intention of continuing to serve in (the Department of Defense)," he said. "But again, it's a calling. It's been an amazing career, and it's been an absolute privilege and honor to serve this country.
"It's coming to an end. I'm about ready to hang it up this summer and bring it to a close, so (the award) has special meaning to me."
Williams said he made a commitment to stay at Fort Campbell through the end of August and stay in Princeton.
"There are some other activities that I intend to get involved in and, of course, I want to stay a part of the community," he said.