And it’s not Paris during WWII.
A bilingual member of the 205th Infantry Brigade and his daughter used their French speaking abilities to help train 1st Platoon, A Battery, 1-161st Field Artillery Regiment deploying to Africa.
Sgt. 1st Class Bill Williamson, a member of the Arizona National Guard, is an Observer Controller Trainer assigned to the Counter Insurgency Lab, 1-335th Operations Battalion, 205th Infantry Brigade as a COIN and Linguist instructor.
His passion for the French language started back in the 1980’s, “I didn’t have a choice but to speak French because I fell in love with a beautiful Swiss girl and we started a family,” said Williamson.
When Williamson’s daughter turned one-year old, he decided to move his family to Switzerland.
Williamson learned the French language during this time in order to make life easier, work, mingle with the locals, and communicate with his daughter Stephanie so she could grow up bilingual knowing French and English.
Williamson moved back to the United States after eight years of living in Switzerland to start a career with the Army.
Upon his return from a Kosovo deployment in 2010, Williamson signed on to work with the 205th Infantry Brigade as a COIN and language instructor.
When the Horn of Africa mission came up on the 1-335th battalion’s radar, Williamson and his teaching partner SGT Cheikh Ndiaye attended a class given by the Socio-Cultural Resource and Advisory Team who worked indirectly with the military on cultural adversity in Africa.
“Because our brigade has never trained a unit going to Africa, my teaching partner, Ndiaye and I did some research and learned a little about the area where the 1-161st are going”, said Williamson.
Williamson and Ndiaye realized after attending the class, the area in Djibouti consists of primarily French speaking people.
Based on this new knowledge, Williamson approached his chain of command with an idea to teach basic French to members of the 1-161st Field Artillery Regiment in order to give them an advantage with the townspeople during their deployment.
“I put together a PowerPoint presentation of the French language to teach the soldiers of 1st Platoon, Alpha Battery, 1-161st Field Artillery, and asked my daughter to take a look at it since she grew up in Switzerland and is more proficient with the French language than I am”, said Williamson.
When Stephanie spoke with her father over the phone concerning the presentation, he explained why he was giving the class and that it was the first time the COIN lab has ever given a language classes before.
Stephanie was so excited about this opportunity her dad was given to teach a French speaking class that she jumped at the chance to travel to Camp Atterbury and help her father.
This is when the Williamson training support became a family effort as his daughter Stephanie volunteered her mastery of French to assist in training forces going to HOA.
She is a double major in French and Spanish at the Brockport State University of New York, and hopes to obtain a career as a United Nations translator.
The family team effort gave the 1-161st Field Artillery Regiment the foundation and confidence to be able to better communicate with the townspeople of Djibouti.
The 1-335th Operations Battalion, a subordinate of the 205th Infantry Brigade, executes pre-mobilization assistance, post-mobilization training, validation, and de-mobilization assistance of reserve component, and other service forces in accordance with proper training guidance in order to provide trained and ready forces to regional combatant commanders mobilizing overseas.
Story by Capt. Elizabeth Brown and Sgt. Brian Gisbrecht