GREENFIELD — Grant Williams already knows he better not pay too much attention to Facebook and what his friends are experiencing their freshman year of college.
The 2015 Mt. Vernon graduate is heading to the U.S. Military Academy, commonly known as West Point. The prestigious academy that graduates cadets into officer positions with the U.S. Army will be rigorous to say the least.
But at least he has an advocate. His sister, Claire Williams, graduated in 2014 from West Point. The rural Hancock County family was her sounding board for the good, bad and ugly of the training, and her brother said he’s looking forward to the challenges she endured during her time at school.
“There’s a little bit of nervousness, but I’m also excited to start,” said Grant Williams, 18. “Ever since I was little, I’ve dreamed of being in the military, and now, it’s about to happen.”
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His interest in serving his country sharpened when he visited his sister’s academy. While in the seventh grade, he remembers being fascinated with the cadets lined up in uniform and the architecture of the 200-year-old campus.
Always near the top of his class — he graduated in third this year — Grant Williams applied to all three military academies and was accepted into West Point and the Air Force Academy.
“I took visits to all three of them, and I was most impressed by the attitude at West Point,” he said. “The cadets (said), ‘At times, it’s going to be really hard, but there isn’t another place I’d rather be.’”
It was also solid advice from a cadet that taught him to brush off any jealousy about the good times his high school buddies will be having their freshmen years at traditional four-year colleges.
“When I visited a cadet told me, ‘Just try not to compare it to what your friends are doing their freshmen year. It’s really not that bad ’til you make comparisons and see on Facebook what they’re doing,’” he said.
And he paid attention to his sister’s journey, from traveling to nine countries to meeting with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to meeting with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey at the Pentagon. A tipping point was watching her graduate in 2014, with President Barack Obama as the keynote speaker.
Claire Williams said she wasn’t too surprised when she heard her little brother was interested in West Point.
“Even after all my gripes and stress-fueled rants over my four years, I knew that Grant paid attention to the incredible opportunities I was given as well,” she said in an email. “He knew how much West Point demanded of cadets, but he also got to see the bigger picture — a picture that included both the sleepless nights and miles rucked but also throwing one’s hat up in the air and taking an oath to defend the Constitution.”
Claire Williams, a second lieutenant, is currently stationed in Kuwait as a military intelligence officer.
It’s all overwhelming at times for parents Craig and Heather Williams, who support their children but can’t empathize; neither has a military background.
“They all have their own drummer, and they all let each other march to it,” said Heather Williams, referring to all three of her children. “I feel like they’re good friends, all three of them. For a parent, that’s a big blessing.”
Hope Williams, their middle child, is a junior at St. Louis University studying international business and marketing. All three Williams children studied hard in high school — it wasn’t unusual to hear the books finally hit the floor at 2 a.m., Heather Williams said.
Heather Williams, a nurse, said her husband tried to let their children choose their own paths, but they were surprised years ago when their eldest came home one day her freshman year of high school and announced she wanted to get into a military academy.
“I wasn’t in the military; my wife wasn’t in the military,” said Craig Williams, who works in sales. “It was just kind of odd. We were like, ‘Do you really know what that is? Do you understand what all is involved?’”
Still, they helped their daughter through the complicated application process, which includes securing nominations from members of Congress, a physical screening and interviews.
When her little brother set out to apply, the process was a bit less overwhelming; the family knew what to expect.
Yet in some ways, knowing what comes next is also hard for the Williams parents. They’ll be empty-nesters; Grant will rarely get an extended break, and there are even rules against leaving the post if Mom and Dad visit the New York campus. Grant starts six weeks of basic training June 29; after he’s formally accepted into the corps of cadets, the academic year begins Aug. 17.
“It just seems so quick. It’s pretty final,” Craig Williams said.
“After Claire (left), I came home to Hope and Grant,” Heather Williams said. “This time, I’ll come home to puppy and kitty.”
Yet the family plans to spend the rest of this month enjoying time together. Hope and Grant Williams will hang out, and they all talk with their big sister and send her messages regularly online.
“We’ve just kind of weathered the storm,” Heather Williams said. “There’s other parents going through it, and you kind of have the connectivity. Seeing it through their eyes, it’s exciting they’ve been all over the country, all over the world.”
Getting that acceptance letter into West Point was emotional for the family.
Both of his sisters were inspirational, Grant Williams said, but all along, he felt like the decision to go was his own. Still, it was exciting telling his big sister he’d been accepted.
“When I made it, Claire told me, ‘Congratulations; you’re on a roller coaster that ends way higher than what you started,’” Grant Williams said.
Yet he’s not exactly following in his big sister’s footsteps. He’ll major in defense and strategic studies; she majored in international history. Claire Williams said her biggest fear was that her brother would think his experience would be seen as a repeat of hers.
“That is absolutely not the case,” she said via email. “Every cadet’s journey through West Point is absolutely personal, and each cadet must hurdle his or her own obstacles. I let him know that his path will be of his own choosing and that his struggles and victories will be his own.”