Amazing Veterans – Montel Edition
Before he was a talk show host, an actor or a prescription drug plan representative, Montel Williams was a Marine Lieutenant with a degree from the U.S. Naval Academy and an important message to the kids of America: When you have an education, nothing can stand in your way – not even a mountain.
Williams’s life is testament to that message. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, he attended Andover High School in Linthicum, Maryland. He was a good student, athlete and musician, and was elected president of both his junior and senior classes.
After he graduated high school in 1974, Williams enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. After basic training at Parris Island, SC, he was promoted to platoon guide and sent to the Desert Warfare Training Center at Twenty-nine Palms. His leadership skills caught the attention of superior officers, who recommended him for the Naval Academy Preparatory school at Newport, Rhode Island. He was accepted, completed the one-year course, and went on to be accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.
When he arrived at Annapolis, he was honorably discharged from the Marines, and enlisted into the Navy as a midshipman. When he graduated from Annapolis in 1980 with a degree in general engineering and a minor in International Security Affairs, he became the first African American enlisted marine to complete and graduate both the Academy Prep School and Annapolis.
Although he had planned to return to the Marines as an officer after graduating from Annapolis, he and 99 other seniors were given the wrong dose of an immunization. He had a severe reaction to the immunization, was hospitalized for 2 ½ weeks and lost the vision in his left eye. After a partial recovery, he was able to serve as a naval intelligence officer, specializing in languages.
He served as a naval intelligence officer for the next year and a half in Guam, studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, and served for three years aboard submarines. Lieutenant Williams was made supervising cryptologic officer with the Naval Security Fleet Support Division at Ft. Meade, discovered a gift for public speaking, and in 1988 began conducting informal counseling for families of servicemen in his command. He was invited to speak to a group of kids in Kansas City, Mo about leadership and overcoming obstacles. He left the navy with the rank of lieutenant, and received the Navy Achievement Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Navy Commendation Medal and began a three-year career as a motivational speaker. The video clip below is from the beginning of one of his engagements at a prominent college.
As a speaker, Williams traveled the country and reached hundreds of thousands of students, parents, educators and business leaders, inspiring them to work together to help kids reach their highest potential. First order of business to reach your potential: stay in school.
These efforts to reach out to the community with a motivating and inspiring message eventually led to his talk show, the “Montel Williams Show,” which won an Emmy in 1996 and has been on-air for 17 years.
In addition to his success in the Navy, public speaking and television industries, he is a best-selling author. One of his stated beliefs is that “success is determined by what you give back to others,” which may be why he is an active volunteer and philanthropist. In 1999, Montel announced his diagnosis with MS, a potentially debilitating autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. To raise both awareness and funds for MS research, he created the Montel Williams MS Foundation. He’s also been the National Spokesperson for the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a major industry campaign to extend prescription drug help to all Americans, since 2006.
Mr. Williams’ work to motivate people to live to their fullest potential, combined with his willingness to serve, makes him an inspiration and has left an indelible impact on our country. During a time when the economic and social disparities seem to be more and more divisive, he delivers a timeless message about the importance of education, hard work, service and perseverance.
Ready to move mountains? If you’re ready to use your military education benefits, find out how to get started.
Know an inspiring veteran? Tell us about them in the comments.