WASHINGTON — At a young age, Master Sgt. Matthew Williams learned the values of humility, honesty, hard work, and trust quickly. Instilled in him by his parents, Williams carried these values with him as a husband and father, and throughout his Army career, he said.
However — on April 6, 2008 — the trust and brotherhood of Williams and his fellow Soldiers from Operational Detachment Alpha 3336 and their Afghan counterparts, were put to the test during an operation in Shok Valley, Afghanistan.
“Dad was right — being a person to trust builds strong bonds,” said Williams, as he addressed a crowded Pentagon auditorium during his Hall of Heroes induction ceremony, Thursday.
Williams received the Medal of Honor on Wednesday for his actions in 2008, which helped save the lives of four critically-wounded Soldiers and stopped the enemy from overrunning the team’s position.
“We trusted one another to get the job done, all while facing overwhelming odds in the worst of situations. No one in ODA 3336 wavered,” Williams said.
While Williams is thankful for the trust he had in the whole team, he was also grateful for the confidence the detachment had for then-Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II, the team’s medic. During that day, Shurer provided care to the four wounded Soldiers, all while under duress, he said.
For his actions, Shurer was awarded the Medal of Honor and inducted into the Hall of Heroes last year.
Williams was also thankful for the teams trust in the Joint Tactical Air Combat Controller, now-retired Air Force Master Sgt. Zachary Rhyner, he said. He played a vital role in delivering precision airstrikes to suppress and destroy the enemy, often in danger-close proximit of the team.
Further, Williams and the detachment put their trust in then-Staff Sgt. Seth Howard, the team’s sniper, he said. Howard played a critical role in eliminating threats at range, allowing them to move down the mountain safely.
“We never quit — even when faced by our own mortality. We fought and lived another day,” Williams said.
HALL OF HEROES
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston were honored to induct Williams into the Department of Defense’s Hall of Heroes.
Williams’s wife Kate, his family, and his former teammates from ODA 3336 were also in attendance for the day’s event
“Master Sgt. Williams will be the first to tell you that his actions that day in Afghanistan weren’t about him. They were about the Soldiers he was fighting with, and about the Soldiers he was fighting for,” McConville said.
ODA 3336 is the only detachment to have two Medal of Honor recipients on the same team. The ODA could also be the most highly-decorated detachment in Army history, however the force will need to verify that fact, McCarthy said.
“The fact that we now have two Medal of Honor recipients from the same unit should tell you how strongly our troops have embraced the attitude of, ‘Team over self,’” Esper said.” It is this attitude that ensured every American [during] the April 6th battle, returned home alive. And it’s the reason we continue to be the strongest fighting force on the face of the planet.”
LOVE FOR FAMILY
Raised in Boerne, Texas, Williams met his wife, Kate, during physical education class in elementary school. The two started as line dancing partners, both naive to the idea that they one day be married, Esper and McCarthy shared.
Williams and his family later moved to Houston, where he graduated high school. He eventually attended Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, and obtained his bachelor’s in criminal justice and a minor in business administration.
“The Army wasn’t my first choice. I actually planned to work in federal law enforcement, but when 9/11 happened, my plans changed,” he said. “While my decision to join the Army was driven by purpose, it was not a hasty one.
Wanting to be the “best of the best,” Williams remained steadfast towards his goal — to earn the highly coveted Green Beret, he said. Once he was selected for the program, Williams immersed himself in the Special Forces community and grew as 18B Special Forces weapons sergeant.
“One of his former teammates remarked that Matt is known for remaining calm, cool, and collected, and these qualities allowed him to do the extraordinary,” McCarthy said. “He will be the first person to drop what he’s doing and help everyone around him. He’s a consummate professional and the vanguard of Green Berets.”
Williams eventually joined ODA 3336 and the team later deployed to Afghanistan. This was his first deployment and he was grateful for the degree of preparation he and the team received, starting with his time during the Special Forces Qualification Course.
“’Since September 11, an entire generation of young Americans has gained a new understanding of the value of freedom and its cost in duty and in sacrifice,’” said Esper, quoting former-President George W. Bush as the U.S. entered into Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.
Williams understood “that our freedom is worth every cost and every sacrifice,” Esper added. “And on that day in Shok Valley, the day that earned him the Medal of Honor, he was prepared to sacrifice it all.”
Upon his return from his deployment, Williams reconnected with Kate during a friend’s wedding. At that moment, the “past and present converged,” and the couple later married. They now have a 3-year-old son named Nolan, McCarthy said.
“Your dad loves hanging out with you and your mom the most,” said McCarthy, directing his message to Nolan, who could not attend the event. “Nolan, your dad, is just like every other dad, but [he is] more so to us. Your dad is a hero.”
“Matt didn’t come about these superhuman qualities after being bit by a radioactive spider. Master Sgt. Williams’s superhuman feats come from his grit and determination. He is the quintessential humble warrior,” McCarthy said.
DETERMINED TO SERVE
When asked to consider a new position in Washington D.C, Williams politely declined, McCarty said.
“He desires to return to his detachment and continue to do what he does best,” McCarthy added. “The nation needs Master Sgt. Williams leading its operators. Williams inspires us to be the best version of ourselves.”
As a team sergeant in the 3rd Special Forces Group, Williams now has an opportunity to shape and lead a cohesive team. He plans to use the invaluable lessons he has learned throughout his career to help his teammates, he said.
“To all the Green Berets around the world quietly doing the work of our nation — thank you,” Williams emphasized. “I wear this medal for the great men of ODA 3336, the 3rd Special Forces Group, the Green Berets, the U.S. Special Operations forces [community,] and for all those who went before us.”