I carry a simple photograph in my wallet. The picture was taken in early 2004 and at first glance it is not a remarkable image. But the story behind it is profound. The image is of a group of men sitting around a conference table deliberating the mundane items of local governance. Those men were the first freely elected city council in central Baghdad in an entire generation and it was my honor to call several of them friends. Of that group one was assassinated, one suffered greatly from an attempt on his life, and one resigned due to threats to his family.
They chose to serve in an elected capacity knowing well the risks that it brought, and several of them paid the greatest sacrifice in doing so. It is an image that I will carry with me the rest of my life, and one that has become a catalyst for actions that I take today.
After serving back-to-back tours in the Global War on Terror I came home grateful. Grateful for life, grateful for family and community, and grateful for the basics of modern life that elude so much of the world. I often tell a story about an amazing experience during the early days of the Global War. In Afghanistan in mid-2002 I had a great conversation with an Afghan man on the outskirts of the Coalition area of operations. He was amazed by the technology, values and freedom that I described to him in the land that I came from. I will never forget the look of wonder on his face as he said through my interpreter, “In America, you have all the possibilities”. He was right, and I do not take it for granted.
I am a veteran, and I am honored to be the son, grandson, and father of veterans. All four of those generations of my family have served as U.S. Army Officers and each of us entered the service from Alabama. I have had opportunities in my lifetime to live and work abroad, and to see the inner workings of other states in this nation. I have no trouble extolling the virtues of these United States. We live in the greatest nation on the face of the earth, and arguably the greatest nation in the history of the world. Foremost in my love of country is a great appreciation for my home, my State of Alabama. We are an exceptional state, comprised of exceptional people, with exceptional natural beauty and resources. I believe that Alabama is a leader of states in the leader of nations.
I’m often asked why I chose to run for office. And when I’m asked I take that well-worn picture out of my wallet. That photograph has been passed around many times for others to see. And while it is being passed from hand to hand I tell those who will listen that I’ve seen beyond our borders and what we have is worth protecting.
Protection of what we hold dear is not just a sentiment, it is a reality, and a daily challenge, and a desperate responsibility. And I tell them that I cannot know what I know, and have seen what I’ve seen, and remain on the sidelines. Whether in military service or political service, I have been given a charge to do what I can to promote, protect, and preserve this home that I love. And I knew men once, who sat around a table deliberating the mundane items of local governance, and it cost them everything. They were a catalyst for me and remind me again and again that what we have is not free…and I will not take this nation or this state for granted.
Phil Williams represents Etowah, Cherokee, Dekalb and St. Clair Counties in the Alabama Senate. You may reach Senator Williams by phone at (334) 242-7857 or by e-mail at [email protected]