MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- “One hundred and ten (degrees) in Texas is nothing like 110 on the battleline,” said Mario Williams, first pick in 2006 NFL Draft to the wounded warriors at MCB Camp Lejeune Friday morning.
Surrounded by a sea of digital brown and green, some on crutches, some leaning on canes, he addressed a group of more than 50 Marines and sailors injured in the Global War on Terrorism.
“The real heroes are right here,” said Williams, a 2003 graduate of nearby Richlands High School. “And that’s who I am here to see.”
Williams was touched personally by the war against terrorism, when his brother-in-law, Sgt. Nicolas M. Hodson, was one of the first casualties of the war, when he was killed in a vehicle accident in Iraq March 24, 2003
According to Williams, who was accompanied by his mother, Mary, the visit was a way for him to pay tribute to Hodson and the Marines who are still fighting.
“This gives me humbleness, knowing this is where I could be and recognizing the pride in this group,” said the Houston Texan defensive end, who admitted that he once considered joining the military. “This is where it’s at … what I do is nothing.”
Lt. Gen. James F. Amos, II Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general and Maj. Gen. Robert C. Dickerson, Marine Corps Installations East commanding general, presented Williams with the book Marines in the Garden of Eden, which chronicles Task Force Tarawa and the Marines performance in An Nasiriya, including Hodson’s unit - 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
Williams considered leaving North Carolina State University in 2003, when Hodson was killed, but his family convinced him to stay the course.
“You made the right decision,” said Amos. “We’re proud of you.”
During a brief question and answer session, Williams spoke candidly with Marines and sailors on the importance of being part of the team.
“Defense is watchin’ each others’ backs,” he said, getting no argument from the rapt group. “Everybody has a role and has to man up to their role to ensure that their partners … their brothers are safe.”
In an emotional moment, Mary Williams was presented with a copy of the Task Force Tarawa cruise book. Reserve 1st Sgt. Yolanda Mayo gave her personal copy of the book to Williams, and said she just “thought it was important she have it” when it was found that the family did not have a copy.
“It’s wonderful to be able to come here; this brings back so many memories,” said Mary, with tears in her eyes. “I regret that my son-in-law was taken so soon, but I never would have talked my son out of going into the military. Just to be here makes you feel a part of them. So young … they are fighting for us, for our freedom.”
Obviously proud of her son’s accomplishments, Mary had a message for all parents.
“Regardless of your child’s endeavors, stand behind them, tell them you are with them, and even after you tell them, show them. We all need to reinforce that,” said Mary, who is moving to Texas with her son. “I am telling all moms to support their children - Never give up on your kids… .”
The wounded warriors needed no further support and, true to form, they made Williams’ feel right at home. Lance Cpl. Johnny R. Burra, of Rochester, N.Y., challenged 6’7”, 295 pound Williams to an arm-wrestling match. In his NFL Combine, Williams bench pressed 225 pounds, 35 times. The NFL Combine is a three-day showcase, occurring every February in Indianapolis, Indiana's RCA Dome, where college football players perform physical and mental tests in front of NFL coaches, general managers and scouts.
“I think I can take you,” joked Burra, who suffered a leg injury Sept. 27, 2005, by an improvised explosive devise blast while with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Company G, 2nd Marine Division, in Al Karmah, Iraq.
Aware of wounded warriors and service members worldwide, serving in the war on terrorism and unable to take part in the visit, Williams stressed, “For those that aren’t here, I want them to know I am thankful that they are fighting for our country … I believe in them.”
Needless to say, Burra lost the match, but he and the rest of the wounded warriors had already won Williams’ gratitude and respect.