‘A unity of effort’
Brigadier General William Ward says military journey began with ROTC
The recruitment ceremony was held in the spring of 1984, with the officer candidates from the ROTC program gathered in the ballroom of Billingsly Student Center.
For Brigadier General William Ward, it was a moment that saw him continuing in his father’s footsteps. It would also prove to be a launching pad for a long and distinguished career with the National Guard.
The Neosho native says he wanted to pursue a career similar to his father – a civil engineer who served as an officer in the Army during the Korea and Vietnam conflicts.
“I decided to go to Missouri Southern to get my engineering basics, math and general sciences out of the way,” says Ward. “It was close and a really good school.
“In high school, I never had to study much, but I figured out that it takes a lot more effort to get through college. Having smaller classes and developing relationships with my instructors really had an impact on my ability to learn … it was really beneficial to making that transition.”
While attending Missouri Southern, he joined the ROTC – then a satellite program through Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State) in Springfield.
“The ROTC program at Missouri Southern was pretty strong,” he says. “At any one time, we had 20 to 30 personnel.”
A licensed engineer in the state of Oklahoma, Ward went on to obtain his bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of Missouri and his master of science in strategic studies from the United States Army War College.
He currently serves in three positions – one as a civilian and two for the National Guard. He’s the engineering division chief at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Okla., overseeing design and construction of the facilities there – a position that provides plenty of challenges, he says.
“But my main job is the assistant adjutant general for Missouri, working in Jefferson City,” he says. “It’s a dual-hat position, in which I also serve as the deputy chief of engineering for National Guard Affairs in Washington, D.C.”
In Jefferson City, he works to make sure the units under him are trained, equipped and ready to go if called upon. The latter position has him serving as a liaison between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard in the event of a major national disaster, in order to create a “unity of effort” and make sure neither organization is doing something that will hinder the work of the other.
“I travel a lot. I’m in Missouri at least a weekend a month, usually for two or three days,” he says. “If there’s not a major disaster going on, I try to get up to Washington, D.C., once a quarter for a few days at a time.”
During his career, Ward has served overseas nine times, including deployments to Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica, training exercises in Korea, Japan and Tanzania, and two combat tours as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The two combat tours in Iraq were significant,” he says. “Both times I was able to apply my engineering schooling on the civilian side, not only helping our forces but the Iraqis. We worked on schools, roads and bridges that directly helped their people. I get a lot of satisfaction out of using my civilian-acquired skills.
“Most of our deployments are similar in that they were U.S. forces working with local communities in need, or humanitarian efforts needed to help people better themselves.”
Ward also served as the commander for Task Force Phoenix, which oversaw debris removal and the Disaster Recovery Jobs Program following the 2011 tornado in Joplin. Looking back on his years of service, Ward says coming back to Joplin to help with recovery efforts was one of his proudest moments.
“It was overwhelming to see all the devastation,” he says. “The house my dad had lived in … that I used to spend weekends in during Guard drills … it was totally destroyed.
“I was able to come back to the community I grew up in and give back in a way that was meaningful in a time of need.”
Brigadier General William (Bill) Ward’s military honors include the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal, the Army Engineer Association’s Silver Order of the De Fleury Medal and the United States Field Artillery Association’s Honorable Order of Saint Barbara.