Year of the Captains & Colonels:  Colonel Ahmed Williamson, USMC

Year of the Captains & Colonels: Colonel Ahmed Williamson, USMC

Message to NNOA President & Members:

First of all, I am humbled and thrilled to be recognized with this great honor.  I acknowledge that I am the beneficiary of active and engaged leadership, mentorship, and advocacy throughout my career.  I have devoted my life to a career of service and have desired the opportunity to impact the naval services; to that end, I have always kept myself open to learning from those who have come before me.  Especially because of their personal and engaged commitment to me, I count it an obligation as well as an honor to share the lessons that I have learned along these many years.

Leadership Philosophy

The following principles describe my leadership philosophy and influence the way that I think.  These principles ultimately affect how I perceive and approach issues as a leader.  Whenever I join a new team (whether in command or a member of a branch/division on a staff), I share that my leadership approach lends towards “challenging” the team to run hard and fast by setting and maintaining a good PACE.

The acrostic PACE reflects my approach towards leading, motivating, and encouraging high-level performance (Professionalism, Accountability, Character, Excellence, Esprit de Corps):

  • ProfessionalismProfessionalism is the quality of knowing, performing and representing your craft at the highest level.  Professional athletes and entertainers, as well as business, medical, and legal professionals are at the top of their game.  Likewise, I expect our team to reflect and enforce standards of performance, appearance and conduct commensurate with the Pros .  Senior leaders, including myself, must embody this first – leadership by example!
  • AccountabilityAccountability includes being answerable for every facet of performance within our area of responsibility – it means to be responsible for everyone and everything in your sphere of influence.  We must take ownership of our personal and professional responsibilities; be accountable for our actions and the actions of our Marines and expect the same from each Marine.
  • CharacterCharacter is comprised of the moral and mental qualities of who we really are when you think no one is watching.  I expect that our Marines are people of personal and professional integrity, demonstrating our core values in all that we do.  I expect our Marines to be people of strong moral character and that we will do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, regardless of the impact.
  • ExcellenceExcellence is doing the best that we can, with what we have, all of the time – it is providing an exceptional work product, and always challenging ourselves to do better.  I expect our Marines to endeavor towards excellence; that they never accept mediocrity or pursue the path of least resistance, but require outstanding performance and quality work from their Marines.
  • Esprit de CorpsMorale that is positively affected by quality leadership, training, values, loyalty, pride, and camaraderie among members of a unit describes esprit de corps.  I expect our Marines to embody and elicit a high sense of esprit de corps, positively affecting every Marine within their sphere of influence, ultimately infecting the entire command, and creating an environment that fosters an attitude of success.

Words of Wisdom – Will’s Be-Attitudes

What follows are a few nuggets of wisdom that I have learned along my 26 year journey in the Marine Corps and overall 30 year experience within the naval service.  I freely share these maxims with other mentees, juniors, or anyone who would listen…feel free to do with them what you want.  What follows are principles that I have learned, initiated, and have worked for me during my Marine Corps experience.  More importantly, I implore you to read each of the nuggets as a prompter to your own personal introspection – evaluate who you are today, what immediate impacts you can make in your immediate environment, and who you are striving to become into the future.

  • Be a consummate Professional – Seek technical, tactical, personal, and professional thoroughness…carry yourself well, know your job and perform at a high level.
  • Be humble and maintain a teachable spirit– you should be learning and growing all of the time.
  • Be committed to development — Every experience is a learning experience…every opportunity is a teaching opportunity
  • Be a genuine, compassionate, concerned leader – Seek to positively affect the lives of and maximize the experience of your Marines…it’s fine to LOVE your Marines.
  • Be willing to empower your Marines – Give them the authority to make significant decision…TRUST them and allow them room to grow.
  • Be open and honest when sharing your perspectives on issues…Marines have tough skin
  • Be an active participant in your command – Be visible, accessible, and engaged…no wallflowers.
  • Be prepared to set priorities and give guidance…If everything is important, then nothing is important.
  • Be calm and make course corrections – Make adjustments necessary to hit the target…if you screw up, clean it up.
  • Be an active mentor and seek a mentor…Each Marine should be better off in the end
  • Be eager to exhibit a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA)…motivation is infectious – so is negativity.
  • Be a teamplayer and find ways to say “Yes”…it doesn’t take any energy, thought, or work for “No”
  • Be proud and loyal…never bring discredit upon the nation, the Marine Corps, or family.
  • Be mindful of your brand – Build and protect your personal brand…social media and poor relationships can erase a lifetime of hard work.
  • Be mindful to enjoy the ride — Maximize your Marine Corps experience and enjoy every tour…your family is also along for this ride with you or they won’t be with you in the end.
  • Be laser-focused on the mission – Marines have built our legacy on Winning Battles (Warriors) and Making Marines (Leaders)


Colonel Williamson is an Active Duty Marine, currently assigned as the Military Assistant to the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.  He recently completed an assignment as the Commanding Officer of the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School (OCS) in Quantico, Virginia.  The mission of OCS is to educate and train officer candidates in Marine Corps knowledge and skills in order to evaluate and screen individuals for the leadership, moral, mental, and physical qualities required for commissioning as a Marine Corps officer.  Colonel Williamson was responsible for leading the team that develops the next generation of Marine Corps officer leaders.

Colonel Williamson is originally from Upper Marlboro, Maryland.  Having achieved academic, athletic, and leadership success through his high school and college career, and positively influenced by his family’s military lineage, he decided to serve the nation in the armed forces.  Colonel Williamson attended the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland – USNA is the Department of the Navy’s undergraduate university which focuses its curriculum in Science and Engineering.  Upon graduation in 1994, he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science.

Colonel Williamson was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps on May 25, 1994.  That same year, he reported to Quantico, Virginia where he attended The Basic School to learn the fundamental leadership and tactical skills necessary to perform as a Marine officer.  Then he attended follow on instruction at the Basic Communication Officer Course to receive specialized training as a Communication and Information Systems Officer.

Colonel Williamson has completed over 26 years of active duty service in the Marine Corps.  During those years, he has performed duties in several different capacities and traveled throughout the world, participating in a myriad of combat operations, contingency missions, and training exercises.  He has completed assignments as a commander and leader of tactical military units and has also served with larger commands as a staff officer responsible for planning and coordinating broader military operations.  As a Communications and Information Systems Officer, Colonel Williamson was responsible for designing and supervising the installation, operation, and defense of radio, telephone, satellite, data communications, and cyber networks in support of Marine and Joint forces.  In his role as a Marine Corps Officer, Colonel Williamson is charged to train and lead Marines to accomplish essential military tasks.

Colonel Williamson is a Distinguished Graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School, having earned a Masters Degree in Management in 2000.  In 2002, Colonel Williamson attended the Expeditionary Warfare School in Quantico.  Upon graduation, Colonel Williamson was honored as a Distinguished Graduate and selected to receive the Colonel Donald C. Cook Award for excellence in the Command, Control and Communications field.  In 2009, Colonel Williamson attended the Marine Corps Command & Staff College, earning a Masters of Military Studies Degree and achieving honors as a Distinguished Graduate.  Additionally, Colonel Williamson was selected to serve as a Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellow to Microsoft Corp; he was allowed to gain a unique and valuable experience outside the traditional senior service school path by training with corporate America to learn and share organizational and operational competencies with private industry.  Colonel Williamson was awarded the Federal Forum 2015 Breaking the Status Quo Award for recognition as a Federal leader who has developed and operationalized innovative strategies with Information and Cyber technologies.

Colonel Williamson currently resides in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and youngest teenage daughter – they also have two adult children.  His personal and professional experiences have motivated him to educate, inspire, and assist others to actualize their true leadership potential.  He has coupled academic knowledge with practical experience to conduct several seminars and presentations on achieving individual and organizational success.  Additionally, as an active member of the community, Colonel Williamson regularly serves as a mentor, counselor, and youth worker with several philanthropic organizations.  His desire is to see every young person meet their fullest potential by passionately pursing a life of purpose. 

Lieutenant James Barksdale Jr. – Halsey Bravo Fellow at the US Naval War College

Lieutenant James Barksdale Jr. – Halsey Bravo Fellow at the US Naval War College

We congratulate our NNOA Member LT James Barksdale, USN on his appointment to the USNI Board of Directors. He is currently serving as the Halsey Bravo Fellow at the US Naval War College.

Lieutenant James Barksdale Jr Halsey Bravo Fellow at the US Naval War College LT James Barksdale is a native of Charlotte, North Carolina and graduated from North Carolina Central University with a degree in Political Science and Criminal Justice in 2012. He attained a Master of Arts Degree from the Naval War College in Defense and Strategic Studies in JUN 2020. LT Barksdale received his commission in 2013 following the completion of Officer Candidate School.  READ MORE…


October 2020 President’s Message

“May you live in interesting times.”
 – Frederic R. Coudert, 1939

The NNOA is needed more today than ever!

To say we are living in “interesting times” is an understatement for sure but captures what many feel about 2020.  Deaths and economic impacts from COVID-19, protests over racial inequality, wildfires across the western states, hurricanes so numerous that NOAA ran out of names, and all of this during a national election year.  “Unprecedented” and “exhausting” are two words that seem to come up when thinking about this year.  However, daunting these situations may be, this has been a year of great success for our National Naval Officers Association (NNOA).  Members of NNOA are in the middle of so much good that is happening to make our Sea Services and our Nation better.  It is impossible to list everything that we should be proud of in our organization.  Now is the time for NNOA to have even deeper and wider impact as a leadership resource for the maritime services and nation.  In this short message, I want to highlight a few of the key ideas and major concepts that I see for NNOA coming over the next year or so.

Relevance of NNOA Could Not Be Greater

Our own RADM Alvin “Bull” Holsey, USN, is leading TF ONE, and several senior members of NNOA are working in advisory capacities. U.S. Coast Guard NNOA members are currently serving as Diversity and Inclusion Change Agents and Action Officers for the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI) recruiting at Minority Servicing Institutions and serving as critical mentors throughout the ranks to provide career guidance to junior members. They are also taking a leadership role within the Commandant’s Affinity Group Council, aligning the strategic priorities of 10 affinity group organizations to improve policies that impact the entire workforce.  The Secretary of Defense Task Force on Race, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO)’s Task Force ONE (TF ONE), CCG Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, CMC’s Diversity and Inclusion Discussion Forum, CMC’s Talent Management Executive Council, and the Chief of Naval Research’s STEM Diversity Initiative are just a few of the major projects where NNOA members have been essential.

NNOA’s First Virtual Leadership and Career Development Symposium

Nearly 600 people signed up and attended our first virtual Annual Symposium.  Thanks to the incredible leadership and drive of our NNOA IT Chair – LCDR Marlon Heron, USCG – NNOA was able to seamlessly bring leadership from each of our Sea Services into a stimulating exchange with our members.  Headlined by the Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC), Commandant of the Coast Guard (CCG), Commander of Fleet Forces Command, and many other Flag and General Officers, it was a professional development event like no other.  Our National Executive Vice President – CAPT Simonia Blassingame, USN (Ret) “Queen of ZOOM” – provided leadership throughout the Symposium that made each session engaging and stimulating to the audience.  Subject to pandemic restrictions, we will initially plan to return to a live/face-to-face or hybrid Annual Symposium next year, given the success of our 2020 all virtual event.

The Way Ahead for 2021

With the wind filling our sails from our recent Symposium, the ship of NNOA is set to sail at full speed through the rest of 2020 and 2021 on our way to the 50th anniversary in 2022.  We will adjust course and speed as is prudent and ensure our charts are updated regularly in order to deal what the realities of the time.  There are many projects and programs that are vital to keeping on course and speed. Specifically:

  1. Implementation of the NNOA Diversity Strategy (NDS) – Led by RDML Frank Ponds, USN (Ret), Dr./CAPT Bernard Jackson, USN (Ret), and CAPT Syd Abernethy, USN (Ret), the NDS will help guide NNOA to the next level of effectiveness.
  2. Establishing our NNOA Veteran’s Action Group – Led by CDR Ernie Taylor, USN (Ret), we have many outstanding leaders in NNOA who have transitioned out of active service but have a passion for supporting our members and chapters.
  3. NNOA 2021 Annual Symposium – LtCol Misca Geter, USMC is our new Eastern Regional Vice-President and leading our way to our next great Symposium in Portsmouth, VA.
  4. NNOA at 50 – Dr./CAPT Rick Wright, USN (Ret) our NNOA Historian, has the wheels in motion to make our 50TH anniversary celebration grand and set the stage for the future of NNOA.
  5. Establishing the Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. Award for high school students in the NJROTC programs. This award will be presented beginning in the spring of 2021 and recognizes leadership, mentoring, inclusion, and diversity displayed by our future leaders.  Our Regional VPs will seek your participation in the upcoming months as NNOA makes in-person presentations of this award once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

 The Year of the Captain and Colonel

For NNOA to live up to its potential, we need ALL HANDS ON DECK.  Every member of NNOA has an important role to play in fulfilling our mission. This year, I want to especially call on those officers who have successfully navigated their way to the highest level of senior officer our Captains and Colonels.  NNOA wants everyone to know more about your personal story.  I want you to share your wisdom regarding leadership, intelligence, passion, and strength with our members. I ask that each of you consider sharing your thoughts in our monthly post to our membership via our website and social media.  NNOA will recognize your courage and integrity in a world showcasing so few examples of these traits.   We know our members will find inspiration and encouragement from your experiences. Please email Dr./CAPT Mary E. McAdams, USN (Ret) at, with your inputs. If you are not a Colonel or Captain but want to send your recommendation, please do.   Finally, I ask that each of our Colonels and Captains take on greater leadership positions in NNOA at the chapter or national level.  We need you now more than ever!

As Vice Admiral D.C. Curtis, USN (Ret) would often say, “KEEP CHARGING!”


RADM Sinclair M. Harris, USN (Ret)
President, NNOA