Kayla Williams is a former sergeant and Arabic linguist in a Military Intelligence company of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). During her deployment to Iraq, Williams was at the forefront of troops' interaction with Iraqis while also navigating the challenges of being part of the 15% of the Army that is female. She is an advocate on behalf of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Military Sexual Trauma survivors and is an authority on women in the military and gender integration and .
In July 2018, Kayla Williams became the new Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program The Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She had previously served for two years as the Director of the Center for Women Veterans for the Veteran's Administration (VA). While at the VA, Williams was the primary adviser to the Secretary on department policies, programs and legislation affecting women veterans.
Her 2005 memoir Love My Rifle More Than You chronicles her experience as a female soldier in the U.S. army, and details the hardships of the soldiers and the Iraqi people they met during their tours of duty. Her memoir is a tale of female empowerment and self-discovery. She was forced to take part in torture interrogations during which detainees were confronted with female interrogators, an experience that led to the suicide of her colleague Alyssa Peterson. Williams has said that the memories of these incidents haunt her still.
Her second memoir, Plenty of Time When We Get Home, is a love story of two veterans traumatized by service and her family’s journey from trauma to healing. Her husband Brian McGough sustained brain damage during a roadside bombing, when he was struck in the head by shrapnel. In the telling of her romance with McGough, Williams makes clear the V.A.’s shortcomings in dealing with PTSD and emotional trauma after war. The couple struggles endlessly to reclaim their lives and their relationship in civilian life.
After 5 years of service Kayla Williams left the U.S. Army and began the process of healing alongside Brian. She speaks about her books, her time at war, her love and recovery with Brian, and the issue of mental health care for veterans. She is a member of the Army Education Advisory Committee, a former member of the VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, a 2013 White House Woman Veteran Champion of Change, and a 2015 Lincoln Award recipient. She worked eight years at the RAND Corporation conducting research on service member and Veteran health needs and benefits, international security, and intelligence policy.
Williams has appeared on numerous media outlets including CNN to speak publicly about her personal hardships, PTSD, and sexism in the army, among other topics.
An Ohio native, Williams graduated cum laude with a BA in English Literature from Bowling Green State University and earned an MA in International Affairs with a focus on the Middle East from American University.
Williams is a former member of the VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, a 2013 White House Woman Veteran Champion of Change, and a 2015 Lincoln Award recipient.
Kayla Williams is one of the 15 percent of the U.S. Army that is female, and she is a great storyteller. With a voice that is “funny, frank and full of gritty details” (New York Daily News), she tells of enlisting under Clinton; of learning Arabic; of the sense of duty that fractured her relationships; of being surrounded by bravery and bigotry, sexism and fear; of seeing 9/11 on Al-Jazeera; and of knowing she would be going to war. With a passion that makes her memoir “nearly impossible to put down” (Buffalo News) Williams shares the powerful gamut of her experiences in Iraq, from caring for a wounded civilian to aiming a rifle at a child. Angry at the bureaucracy and the conflicting messages of today’s military, Williams offers us “a raw, unadulterated look at war” (San Antonio Express News) and at the U.S. Army. And she gives us a woman’s story of empowerment and self-discovery.
Brian, on his way back to base after mid-tour leave, was wounded by a roadside bomb that sent shrapnel through his brain. Kayla waited anxiously for news and, on returning home, sought out Brian. The two began a tentative romance and later married, but neither anticipated the consequences of Brian’s injury on their lives. Lacking essential support for returning veterans from the military and the VA, Kayla and Brian suffered through post traumatic stress amplified by his violent mood swings, her struggles to reintegrate into a country still oblivious to women veterans, and what seemed the callous, consumerist indifference of civilian society at large. Kayla persevered. So did Brian. They fought for their marriage, drawing on remarkable reservoirs of courage and commitment. They confronted their demons head-on, impatient with phoniness of any sort. Inspired by an unwavering ethos of service, they continued to stand on common ground. Finally, they found their own paths to healing and wholeness, both as individuals and as a family, in dedication to a larger community.
Women at War: Old Stories, New Voices
Appearing on the Alyona Show
Iraq War veteran Kayla Williams talks about her and her husband's return from Iraq and the major problems they faced reintegrating into American socie
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Celebrating the many accomplishments of women Veterans as Champions of Change.
Plenty of Time When We Get Home
“A must-read for military spouses, caregivers, and anyone hoping to gain an understanding of the challenges faced by soldiers coming home. Kayla and Brian’s perseverance is a tribute to the power of the human spirit to not only survive but to thrive.”
Marie Tillman, author of The Letter: My Journey Through Love, Loss & Life and founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation
“Part heartache, hard truth, love story, and an insider’s look at the back end of war, this book offers us a look behind the uniforms and the parades and into the damage of war’s wounds. In the end, it is a story about how love can ultimately heal.”
Lee Woodruff, author of In an Instant and Those We Love Most
“Kayla Williams’s raw, honest, and take-no-prisoners prose gives service members and families scarred by war the greatest gift of all―hope.”
Tanya Biank, author of Lifetime TV’s Army Wives and Undaunted: The Real Story of America’s Servicewomen in Today’s Military
Love You More Than I Love My Rifle
“You won't find another voice like Ms. Williams on your bookshelf, so unblinkingly candid, so aggressively raw and real."
Bob Shacochis, National Book Award winner, author of The Immaculate Invasion