Freedom is not free: Those who serve
Gilliam: Service in Afghanistan “restored my faith in young people”
Newly elected as the most likely District 42 State House representative, Doug Gilliam says he saw first-hand serving in Afghanistan 10 years ago acts of heroism that made him realize heroism is not a trait solely for experienced soldiers.
Gilliam won the June 12 Republican primary for House 42, which represents the PC side of Broad Street in Clinton and all of Union County, where Gilliam and the two other men running for the position all live. One of his opponents, Phillip Russell, won more votes in the Clinton-Joanna area, with Gilliam carrying Union County for the outright victory with more than 50% of the vote. There will be no Democrat running in November, and no announced write-in candidate; therefore, Gilliam most likely will replace Mike Anthony, a retired coach and teacher, who chose not to seek re-election. Gilliam said he knows, going forward, that he will need to establish a presence in Clinton and Joanna, and feels comfortable that he can do that, as he takes the district’s concerns to Columbia.
Part of the life experience that Gilliam takes to the state capital comes from his 26 years, 10 months with the South Carolina National Guard.
He retired June 30, 2015, and works as a Union County reserve deputy and with the JROTC and Rifle Team at Union High School. His second deployment was to Kosovo.
This was part of a 10-nation peacekeeping effort to provide freedom of movement and security in-country. Gilliam said, “It was a great deployment. We got to seek the peacekeeping aspect. The people in Kosovo said, ‘That’s the people that saved us.’ They were very appreciative people.”
That was 2012-13. Earlier, in 2007-08, Gilliam led a 16-man team in Afghanistan to mentor and train the Afghan National Army (the ANA). Since Afghanistan is still a hot war for the United States, Gilliam has been reluctant to have his service publicized, even resisting calls for him to have a Facebook page until now, in conjunction with his political campaign.
“I guess, after 10 years, it’s OK,” Gilliam said. “Seeing the members of my team work, it restored my faith in young people.”
The reason for his social media reluctance is the modern, global reach of terrorism.
It is a network that the ANA’s enemy in Afghanistan, the Taliban, is part of. Gilliam said, “The overwhelming majority of people loved us. The village elders tried to help us, but many of them paid a very heavy price for doing so. Some would try to play both sides against the middle. The children on the FOB always wanted chocolate, first, and then pens and paper. The people in the States were very supportive in sending school supplies to us.”
The American soldiers were in the business of winning over the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, even as their primary objective was training the Afghans to fight their own war. The role of, “you are here as advisors, only,” quickly was adapted to fighting as the enemy struck, relentlessly.
“We conducted many humanitarian drops,” Gilliam said. “Sometimes, the Taliban didn’t like that.”
The province where Gilliam’s team worked was near the Pakistan border, and was especially hot in battle action in an escalating war against global terrorism. “The ANA, they hated the Taliban. They were fierce fighters, but they drove Ford Ranger pickup trucks and they just sprayed bullets.”
The Americans were there to teach them how to fight – watching the enemy’s movements and studying tendencies. Knowing the hills where the Taliban fighters liked to set up told the Americans where to tell the ANA to strike first. “Our second day in the FOB, the Taliban ambushed the Afghan Police and took out 18. We made a big difference in helping those people,” Gilliam said. “We showed them tactics, then we went on the offensive.”
Just two men in Gilliam’s unit didn’t make it, neither for military reasons. “My 14-member team came back with no major injuries. We had 94 contacts with the enemy and survived 46 IEDs (improvised explosive devices), a preferred weapon for the strike-and-run Taliban.
“We had a great team,” Gilliam said.
Then, it was time to think about coming home.
“They sent replacements. We had people from all over. During my deployment, my daughter turned five. I missed a couple of Christmases. My wife had to be the mom and dad, the disciplinarian, she had to take my daughter everywhere. It really makes you appreciate your family. I took leave to get back for my daughter’s birthday, we picked her up at school. She saw me and came running – we were all crying. It was a great time.”
Before coming back to the States, Gilliam’s team was at FOB Apache. “The last week or two (of a deployment), you get very attentive. You don’t want something to happen right at the very end.”
It was Christmas Eve. They were on a mission. The enemy attacked.
The unit survived that – and many other – fire-fights. It is a soldier’s life.
It’s a life that soon will be even more represented in the Statehouse. Gilliam most likely will join the General Assembly from Union-eastern Laurens County. An endorsement letter for Gilliam said, “I will vote for my friend and colleague Command Sergeant Major (Retired) Doug Gilliam. CSM Gilliam has spent most of his adult life serving us, and our great country. He has held senior enlisted leadership positions in peacetime and war. He was the senior enlisted soldier for one of my Embedded Training Teams in Afghanistan, and served as the Command Sergeant Major of the 218th Infantry Brigade, SCARNG, during a deployment to Kosovo. Most recently, he is training our young people as the Union High School Senior Army Advisor for their Junior ROTC program. I have known and served with CSM (R) Gilliam for more than 30 years. He possesses the personal traits to serve us well in the State House. He’s a very hard working person focused on accomplishing the task at hand. He’s an intelligent, honest person who knows how to work with elected officials to get something done, and that is very much needed in Columbia. CSM (R) Gilliam understands compromise is necessary at times, but will maintain his integrity and values for which he is elected. And he has the personal courage to stand against opposition and vote for our best interest in the State House. CSM Gilliam was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor for combat action in Afghanistan. I know firsthand of his personal courage; I was there!” - A. Corey Cannon, Colonel (Ret), Infantry United States Army, Clinton.
Also, a Republican challenger for governor, John Warren, has Marine Corp experience and won a spot in the June 26 run-off. The Democratic nominee for governor, James Smith, has extensive military experience (see VoteVet endorsement, this section).
Smith will face either Warren or current governor Henry McMaster in November.
All of these veterans, and more already serving in the public arena, are battle-tested and service-ready.