WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — While traveling with a religious organization in East Africa during the summer of 2005, Master Sgt. Frank Williams, longtime member of the 445th Airlift Wing and current 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron member, placed a phone call that would ultimately change the course of his life.
He was in Uganda, one of poorest nations in the world, where families live on just a few dollars a day.
“I called my wife and said, ‘There’s this little boy.’ She immediately completed my thought and said, ‘I know,’” recalls Frank, who met his wife, Kim, while both were serving active duty in the Air Force, stationed in Japan. “It was one of those weird situations where we both knew that this was real — we weren’t in a position where we had to persuade one another. She told me, ‘Just go to the embassy and figure out how this whole thing works,’ so I did.”
The Williams family originally ventured to Uganda to participate in humanitarian relief efforts with their church. During the course of just a few weeks, they visited multiple villages and United Nations-run internal displacement camps.
The camps, Frank explains, exist as safe havens for Ugandans displaced within their country due to civil war and conflict.
“When I saw the children in these camps, many of whom were orphaned, I felt compassion for them, but it wasn’t like I was seeking out children to bring home,” Frank says. “Then I met Nathan, and it was different. This was much deeper and much more spiritual — a God thing, a divine appointment. It wasn’t coincidence. It’s been life-changing.”
Room to grow
Born the only boy among three sisters, Senior Airman Aaron Williams, an elementary-schooler at the time, welcomed the idea of a brother.
“Before my dad and sister left for the mission trip, they were asking everyone what they would like as a souvenir from Africa,” Aaron says. “My sisters wanted things like African drums or certain dresses. I, half-jokingly, said ‘I want a little brother.’”
The Williams family decided to adopt 10-year-old Nathan, along with his biological, 6-year-old sister, Sophia. Prior to this, the siblings were living in displacement camps on opposite sides of the country.
“We had never discussed adopting,” says Frank, mentioning that he and Kim married nearly three decades ago. “We had four biological children and we thought we were done, but there was something about Nathan. I couldn’t shake it.”
Lightning strikes twice
A couple years later, the Williams’ had the opportunity to reunite two more siblings through adoption. Lydia and Joshua were orphaned toddlers whose terminally-ill grandmother could no longer care for. One of the children had been moved to Kenya, so the siblings were living in totally different countries prior to their adoption into the Williams family. Between the years 2007 and 2010, they finalized four adoptions.
“It was a family decision. We were all for it,” says Aaron, who is a Citizen Airmen in the 87th Aerial Port Squadron.
Blending a family
While the children acclimated to life in America, Kim homeschooled them, based on their individual needs. One major hurdle was the fact that none of their adopted children spoke English.
“We communicated primarily through hand gestures and pointing,” Aaron remembers. “My mom is a saint.”
Despite the language barrier and other obstacles, Aaron maintains that life was good throughout those years.
“Going through it, you don’t think twice. My entire life experience growing up was awesome. I thoroughly loved it,” Aaron says. “Looking back, I can see how some people would think it was crazy.”
In an effort to help the individual family members to relate to one another, Frank and Kim ensured that each of their children visited Uganda at least once, totaling approximately 15 trips within a few years.
“This is more than just going over there and sitting in a courtroom, going to the embassy, etcetera. We wanted to create a shared experience by allowing the kids to see the culture and customs firsthand because it would help us relate to each other and our new family members,” says Frank, a West Virginia native.
Doing so, he adds, tremendously impacted the entire family.
“Going there is such an experience,” Frank says. “The decisions we’ve made have changed the course of our family for generations to come.”
One such trip resulted in an eye-opening experience for Aaron, Frank shares.
“Aaron had saved some money to take on the trip with him,” Frank says. “He became friends with a little boy, Richard, in a village over there. They played together and bonded. Eventually, Aaron decided to buy Richard a gift, and asked me what I thought Richard might like — a soccer ball or a pair of shoes. I suggested that he ask Richard, so he did, but Richard responded ‘Thank you for the generous offer of a soccer ball or pair of shoes, but what I would really like is to go to school.’”
Aaron did not have enough money saved up to pay for Richard’s school, and he did not want his parents to do it for him.
“So Aaron came home bound and determined to send Richard to school,” Frank says.
To raise money, Aaron cut grass and performed odd jobs until he saved enough money to pay for Richard’s education.
“If I had just gone to Africa on my own, met Richard, then returned home and told Aaron that he should earn money for Richard, Aaron would’ve had zero interest in that,” Frank says. “He was able to go, see, experience and connect. That one trip gave Aaron more perspective about the rest of the world than anything else in his entire childhood. The problems they face in third-world countries are nothing like the problems we face.”
“I think I’m a more understanding person than I would have been if I hadn’t experienced everything I did during my childhood,” Aaron says. “With a family of 10, there’s a lot of different personalities.”
Service before self
A multicultural perspective is something the Williams carry into their military service.
“At 16, I knew I wanted to join the military,” says Aaron, who is married with one child, and another on the way.
His sister, Sarah, is a member of Ohio Air National Guard.
“We live in the greatest nation on earth and have opportunities that don’t exist in any other country,” Frank says. “That’s only because of the men and women who put on that uniform and sacrificed to afford us this lifestyle. I want to make sure my grandchildren and future generations have the same thing. That’s why I still put on my uniform.”
Military heritage is something that flows deep in the Williams family, and Frank says it’s likely that one or two of his adopted children will pursue military service in the future.
The love of a family
“Shortly after the adoptions, the word ‘more’ hit me,” Frank recalls. “Whatever you have in your current home life — spouse, children — when you adopt, you’re going to get more of that. If your family is full of strife and sibling rivalry, that’s what you’re going to have more of. If your family loves one another deeply and tries to serve each other, then when you introduce an adopted child into that family, you’ll get more of that. It is a complex situation, but that’s a really simple way to explain it.”
When asked what he is proudest of in his life, Frank has only one answer.
“There is nothing than I could ever be prouder of than my family and my children,” he says. “They are all amazing kids. I’m a very blessed and fortunate man.”