In 2013 alum Peter Williams began an unexpected journey that lead to a national-level leadership role with the National Guard Special Victims' Counsel (SVC) Program in Arlington, VA.
Sometimes the journey to using our gifts in service for others comes in a way that could hardly be planned. In 2013 the Minnesota National Guard asked Peter Williams ‘00, then a private practice lawyer, to spend three months helping them set up a victim advocacy program for victims of sexual assault.
“When our initial team started this program back in 2013, we could not have imagined the scope and reach of our work today,” Williams says.
Williams himself couldn't have anticipated the trajectory that this request would set for his life. After graduating from Bethel University with a B.A. in History and Political Science, Williams took a couple of years off to work. These years included substitute teaching and coaching at Minnehaha Academy, his alma mater.
From there he went on to study law at the University of St. Thomas, eventually joining the Minnesota National Guard in 2011, serving while still working full time in private practice.
From Local to Regional
Then came the call in 2013. The Minnesota National Guard's proposed three months stretched into five years. Williams left his private practice and stepped into the role of providing legal representation for victims of sexual assault in the nine-state Midwest Region.
"Our clients come to us because they are the victims of terrible crimes. The cases are often difficult and emotionally charged."
Williams explains that the legal side of sexual assault reporting is often the scariest and most daunting aspect of the journey for victims.
"Our job is to prepare them for that process and represent them throughout...Giving victims the opportunity and the confidence to speak up empowers them to stand strong in the face of great adversity."
Empowering Others to Serve
For four years Williams served in this capacity. Then, in 2017, the US National Guard asked Williams to leave Falcon Heights, Minnesota to become Chief of Operations and Policy for the National Guard Special Victims' Counsel (SVC) Program in Arlington, Virginia.
The single program Williams helped spearhead in 2013 is now one branch of the Special Victims Counsel Program, comprised of military attorneys stationed throughout the country who represent victims of sexual assault throughout the military justice process in the 54 states and territories.
Williams is now responsible for all policy development and training for this program, as well as advising SVC attorneys and recruiting and hiring new attorneys and paralegals to join the work.
Considering Early Foundations
While this wasn’t the role Williams might have imagined for himself during his years studying history and political science at Bethel, and especially not earlier as a student at Minnehaha Academy, it is a role that these years nudged him unknowingly towards.
While at MA Williams shares that teachers Jim Erickson and David Glenn challenged him to think critically and look at the study of history differently.
“The lessons they taught me translated into my study of history and political science in college and eventually in law school,” he says.
Spiritually, he still feels the ripple effects of his foundations at MA.
"While I can’t pinpoint one example or experience, I can certainly speak to a spiritual growth that occurred for me during some of the most formative years of my life. Teachers played a huge role in that growth."
He explains that the vast majority of his teachers lived out their faith with an intentionality that came out both in the classroom and in their daily lives.
“I am incredibly grateful for my time there,” he says. He is also the twelfth person in his family to graduate from Minnehaha Academy.
Williams went on to meet and marry his wife Amy (herself an Air Force Combat Veteran) while at Bethel, whom he says is his best friend.
Eight years later and just a year and a half into their new life in Virginia the couple has two daughters and a third on the way.
“It has been a great honor and incredibly humbling to be a part of this program,” Williams says. “With these clients in mind, equipping and assisting our current field staff and developing policies to allow them to continue this work motivates me every day.”
The views expressed in this article are personal and do not reflect the views of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army or the National Guard Bureau.
For more alumni stories check out our alumni blog posts here.