Valley soldier killed in Iraq

By William Ferchland

Tahoe Daily Tribune

Phillip Brandon Williams, a former resident of Gardnerville and South Lake Tahoe, was killed by sniper fire in Iraq this week as the military police officer was protecting soldiers searching for improvised explosive devices.

Brandon, as he was called, turned 21 on May 29. He was on his first tour of Iraq after graduating this year from the 787th Military Police Battalion in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

As the oldest son of Lisa Hall and South Lake Tahoe police officer Brad Williams, Brandon wanted to follow the family's footsteps into law enforcement, according to his uncle, Brian Williams, also a police officer with the department.

Brandon is also survived by his two brothers, 20-year-old Justin and 17-year-old Aaron. His sister, Amy, is 17.

Brandon was a whiz with computers, and Brad Williams said he had tried to talk his oldest out of military service.

"I've grown up watching you go out protect the people of South Lake Tahoe who you don't even know, and that's what I want to do for those people over there," said Williams, in recalling his son's answer as to why he wanted to enlist.

"His absolutely biggest fault was he wanted to help people even when he couldn't," his father said. "He was burdened by other peoples' problems. I think that's what drove him to go to Baghdad."

Details of Brandon's death are limited, although Brian Williams said his nephew was killed instantly. He was on top of an armored vehicle manning a gun in Baghdad while guarding Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel who are trained to eliminate roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices, according to Brian Williams.

"I know that he would want it known he was a Christian man," his father said.

Dispatched to Iraq in March, Brandon was expected to return stateside next month and possibly be home for Thanksgiving during a lengthy leave, his uncle said.

Brandon's brother, Justin, left to join the Marines two days after they graduated together from Douglas High School on June 17, 2005.

Williams received an adult diploma through the independent study program at Douglas High School. Counselor Michael Caughlan recalled him as a determined student who always called him sir.

"He was really excited about going into the military and wanted to do whatever he could do to expedite that," Caughlan said.

Justin and his brother shared a sense of patriotic duty after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. As children, the brothers would pretend they were soldiers, Justin said.

"We shared a room together our entire lives," he said.

The two missed seeing each other by 12 hours when Justin returned home from leave and Brandon ended his.

"He was a good man that could have been great," Justin said. "Obviously his life was cut short, but God has a plan for everybody."

Stationed back east, Justin is assigned as a ceremony marcher in the Marine barracks for Arlington National Cemetery. He estimated he's participated in at least 1,000 funerals for fallen comrades, but gave little thought a flag-draped coffin could ever hold his brother.

"I do know it was a possibility," Justin said. "Both for myself and for him, we knew what we got into and we knew what the risks were. It's definitely a surprise to hear that it happened, but the possibility was there."

Justin believes he'll be dispatched to Iraq in a year's time.

"I know I'm not going to re-enlist," Justin said. "I never had that plan, but I don't regret what I'm doing now. It's more fuel for the fire if anything."

Brandon's body is scheduled to arrive in Dover, Del., today. Justin will then escort his brother's body to Reno where Brandon's life might be celebrated with a motorcade. Funeral details are pending, as are bank accounts for donations in his name.

Jake Cervantes remembered when his best friend visited Gardnerville during a week-long leave in August. Brandon was in town for the birthday of his sister, Amy.

Using money from his enlistment, Brandon took care of the tab for friends at Outback Steakhouse as he downed a mug of Fosters beer and many at the table ordered 20-ounce steaks.

"The first thing he wanted to do was pay for our meal," Cervantes, 20, said.

The friends met in eighth-grade science class at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School by creating and exchanging sci-fi stories. They stayed friends, shooting guns in the Nevada desert.

During his leave, the soldier held a baby of one his friends who named the child after Brandon.

"She named her son after him to honor what he did, but she was really hoping not to name the son after him to remember him," Cervantes said.

When thinking of his friend, Cervantes recalled Brandon as a guitar player who would record his own songs. While in Iraq, Brandon would use a laptop to match anime with songs, making his own videos.

Cervantes is glad the songs were recorded. He also hopes someone will bring Brandon's laptop home.

When he learned of Brandon's death, Cervantes said he was restless, and had trouble sleeping.

"It was probably some of the worst news I ever heard in my life ... I may not be a brother biologically but I still am," he said.

Descriptions of Brandon paint a conflicted man. It is likely the typical yin-yang dichotomy was embedded in the soldier who wanted to make a difference in a war against those who wanted to do him harm.

"About a week ago he called to say he was scared and it was tearing him apart and he wanted to come home," Cervantes said. "He was just scared of having to go out there and kill people he didn't know and having fear of getting killed.

"He never regretted it," Cervantes continued. "He wanted to do something with his life."

Yet in phone calls to his father, Brandon would tell of Iraqi men wanting to shake his hand and children waving at the camouflaged warriors. One of his last calls was to wish his father a happy birthday earlier this month.

Like his entry into law enforcement, his first name, Phillip, was a family tradition. The name was given to the first born son of the Williams' clan starting with Brandon's great-grandfather, Phillip Albert.

Already a decorated soldier, there were tales of Brandon's heroics, including being the only one to return fire in a skirmish where a comrade laid injured.

"I don't know," his father said. "It was kind of amazing how such a gentle man could be such a good fighter.

"He was extremely strong in his loyalty. He was loyal to his friends, his family, his country. He was the kind of kid every parent wishes they had."

And, as Cervantes tells it, the kind of friend every person wishes they had.

"If I could I would have taken his place for anything because he deserves life more than a lot of people do sometimes," Cervantes said. "More than I did. He deserves a lot of things. If I could have taken his place, I would have."

Williams was assigned to the 4th Brigade Troop Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Ky., according to a release by the Department of Defense.

His awards include the Army Service Ribbon, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal. His pending posthumous awards are the Army Good Conduct Medal and the Overseas Service Ribbon.

According to the Associated Press, he was among 26 U.S. military personnel from Nevada and at least 43 with ties to the state who have died in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.


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