Black History Month – 77 Years and Going Forward
Am I Good Enough To Lead These Marines?
Col. Ahmed T. Williamson, Commanding Officer of Officer Candidates School (OCS), is a 0602 communication officer by trade and hails from a little town in Upper Marlborough, Maryland.
He was born into a family with a proud Naval history, leading him to aspire to attend the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) from his earliest memories. Living in Maryland with a Navy family and attending academy events, made it easy to see himself at that school and serving in the Navy.
Williamson’s grandfather, also his absolute living hero, joined the Navy in 1951 at a time when opportunities for the African American community were uncommon. The Navy provided his grandfather with career opportunities as well as a chance to see the world. He served for 27 years, retiring as a master chief petty officer.
There was another influencer for military service in Williamson’s family. His uncle served in the Navy for 32 years, retiring as an admiral.
“From seaman to admiral, I gained lots of exposure to the Navy,” said Williamson.
Williamson entered the Naval Academy in 1990. He admits that he did not know the Marine Corps was part of the Navy or that serving in the Corps would be an option for him until he was attending USNA.
It was during his third year, while training with outstanding young Marine Corps non-commissioned officers at Camp Lejeune, when he asked himself, “Am I good enough to lead these Marines? Do I have the abilities to lead that kind of Marine in a challenging and austere environment?”
Williamson decided to compete for an appointment to become a Marine and was accepted. After graduating USNA, he attended The Basic School at Quantico, Virginia, and was selected to be a communication and information systems officer, a good fit as he had a computer science degree.
He is very proud to be part of the Navy-Marine Corps Team – continuing the proud tradition of his grandfather and uncle, while establishing a new tradition in the Marine Corps, which is being followed by his 19 year-old son, a Marine lance corporal.
Williamson enjoys watching his son learn and grow into a responsible young man and a great young Marine. He believes that his son was drawn to the Marine Corps after watching decades of military service by family members and being exposed to the professionalism of the Marines – an institution that pushes and challenges people.
Now, as the commander at OCS, Williamson’s in the role of identifying men and women of character and critical thinkers – folks that will lead our Marines for future generations.
* Pictured in the background – Frederick C. Branch became the first Black Marine Corps Officer in 1945. He was attending Temple University when he received a draft notice from the Army. After reporting in May 1943, he was chosen to be a Marine. He completed training in Montford Point, North Carolina.
After applying for OCS in 1944 and being turned down due to his color, Branch continued to pursue his dream of leading Marines. It wasn’t easy. In a 1995 interview with Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, Branch said he’d repeatedly heard, “You ain’t going to be no officer.” He refused to listen.
While serving in the Pacific, his conduct earned him the recommendation of his commanding officer to attend Officer Candidates School.
He was then sent to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, to receive his officer’s training in the Navy’s V-12 program, the only African-American candidate in a class of 250.
At Purdue, Branch made the dean’s list and was commissioned a second lieutenant on the Corps’ 170th birthday, Nov. 10, 1945. As World War II had already concluded, 2nd Lt. Branch went into the Marine Corps Reserve.
During the Korean War, Branch was re-activated, promoted to captain, commanding an antiaircraft training platoon at Camp Pendleton, California. Upon finding his career opportunities limited, he resigned from the Marine Corps in 1955.
Branch established the science department at Murrell Dobbins High School in Philadelphia utilizing the Physics degree he earned from Temple University in 1947 during his reserve service. He taught for over three decades until he retired in 1988.
In 1997, Marine Corps Officer Candidates School, Quantico, Virginia, dedicated Branch Hall in recognition of Frederick Branch’s groundbreaking role in integrating the Corps.
In 2006, the Marine Corps Recruiting Command created the Frederick C. Branch Leadership Scholarship. It is a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship for students who are currently attending or have received letters of acceptance to one of 17 historically black colleges and universities that have NROTC programs. Graduates are commissioned as second lieutenants in the Marine Corps.
Graphic Illustration by Marine Sgt. Meghan Millott @meghanitcrazy
Story by Frances Seybold
Historical information provided by the Unites States Marine Corps and Ned Forney, author.