Seaman Jaida Williams was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for her “excellent meritous duty” in teaching 19th-century sailing techniques aboard the U.S.S Constitution, the world’s oldest afloat commissioned warship, according to ship officials.
Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite awarded Williams the medal on Jan. 8 aboard the Constitution. Williams, a Macon, Georgia native, has served in the Navy for two years, a statement written by Seaman Katrina Mastrolia said.
Williams said in an interview Thursday she was astonished when she learned she would be receiving the honor.
“Very taken by surprise I would say, I mean I knew he was coming, we had all heard that he was going to be there,” she said. “But I was not expecting at all... to receive it. So I was actually very taken by surprise.”
Joining the military was not something Williams thought she would do, but decided to after realizing how much a college education was costing her.
“I was in college and one day just decided to look at how much debt I owed, and I was like ‘I cannot do this’,” she said. “I kind of just followed my dad’s footsteps [because] my dad was in the military as well. I kind of followed his footsteps to join the Navy.”
Williams said her father didn’t believe her when she first told him she intended to join the Navy.
“He was definitely taken by surprise because it’s honestly a thing I had put together within a matter of 48 hours,” she said. “I came home from school for that summer and I was like ‘hey I think I’m going to the military’ and he was like ‘no you’re not’ and I was like ‘yes I am’ and he was like ‘I don’t believe you’ and then next thing you know he’s driving me to the recruitment office.”
The Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal is awarded to those who show “professional achievement that exceeds that which is normally required or expected, considering the individual’s grade or rate, training, and experience,” according to the press release.
Williams said she was honored to receive the award after just two years in the Navy.
“To only be in the Navy for two years and to receive an award and to have [Secretary of the Navy] himself present to you, it was amazing,” she said. “It was such an honor to be able to receive that award.”
Williams trained 185 newly selected chief petty officers and 65 chief mentors in 19th-century maritime sailing techniques.
“We’re a 223-year-old warship and the Navy was a lot different back then than what it is now, we’re obviously more modernized, we have all the machinery to help us get to our destinations,” she said. “The one thing that we just focused on at Constitution was learning how they would’ve operated this ship back in the 19th-century so we did a lot of sail maintenance and a lot of sail work... all together we all had the one job of learning how to... get the ship moving back and back how they would have in the 19th century.”
Braithwaite praised Williams for her work in ensuring the future of the Navy.
“That’s why it is so important what you do,” Braithwaite said in a statement. “You have created a bridge from the past to the present. For all that those who have gone before you have done to create the honor and glory of the greatest Navy and Marine Corps the world has ever known. At this point, at this time, it is now your job. You have the watch.”
The U.S.S. Constitution defended sea lanes from 1797 to 1855, according to the press release. During the War of 1812, the ship earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” after British cannonballs bounced off of the vessel’s hull, the press release said.
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