Ridgeline Middle School history teacher William Warren and his family have lived through chapters of the American history textbook.
Warren’s grandfather served in World War II, his father served in the Vietnam War, and he was a member of the United States Army during the Iraq War. After completing his 13 years of service, Warren decided to give back to veterans in need in his retirement from the military.
Warren joined the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association (CVMA), a charitable organization made up of combat veterans from all branches of the military. Its focus is “to provide assistance and help to individual veterans, veteran care facilities, other veteran organizations and registered charities,” according to the organization’s website.
“Every dollar that we get into the organization goes directly to a veterans organization to help veterans. That’s our motto: ‘Vets helping vets,’ ” said Warren, who serves as the public relations officer of the CVMA. “Our whole job is to put on events, get money and give it right back to the veteran community. That’s our focus in life.”
Warren, who is now in his second year at Ridgeline Middle School teaching eighth grade American history, said working with the CVMA is important to him because many veterans are struggling to adapt to life after their service, whether it be in social settings or finding employment.
“I didn’t really prepare myself for getting out of the military. I didn’t believe in all the hype, and I didn’t really listen to anybody because I thought I knew it all, and I didn’t. I knew absolutely nothing when I got out of the military,” he said. “You often have a lot of people who just cannot let go, and they’re living in that world. When it becomes so overpowering in your day-to-day life, then it becomes an identity that they don’t want to live anymore, and they’re having trouble moving on and finding new employment. That’s how I was when I first got out.”
Warren’s service began after graduating from Tenino High School in 2000, as he was first stationed in Germany with the 554 Military Police Company. After spending time at Fort Lewis (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord), he served three tours, each lasting about a year, in Iraq during the Iraq War. He described the 2006-07 tour as the “worst and best” tour of the three. He, along with nine other men, trained the Iraqi forces on weapons, convoy operations and radio tactics.
“That time was pretty hellacious,” Warren said. “There was a lot of unruly violence that was happening. It was at the height of the IED (improvised explosive device) strikes.”
He earned the rank of staff sergeant who was eligible for higher rank and was on the E-7 list before finishing his 13-year tenure in 2013. Upon the completion of his service, he enrolled at Tacoma Community College and earned his associate degree. But in 2016, he was fired from a job at Expeditors International, a moment that sparked his current path.
“I was like, ‘Screw this, I need to dedicate my life to something.’ So I quit everything. I quit working, and I just went full-time at the University of Washington,” Warren said. “It was hard to pay the bills, but I finished my bachelor’s degree and then I finished my master’s degree a few years after that. I wanted my kids and my wife to really understand that my whole priority was them, and I knew going to school full-time would lead me to a better job.”
He earned his bachelor’s in European history, and he initially wanted to earn his Ph.D. in Roman antiquity before choosing the education route. Warren began student teaching at Jason Lee Middle School — now Hilltop Heritage Middle School — in Tacoma and knew it was the right path for him.
“The first day of student teaching, I just fell in love with it,” he said. “I had this little kid who was a quarter of my size, snot in his freaking nose asking questions and for help on how to write this English paper, and it was that moment that I knew I was actually going to love this job. I’ve never looked back. I absolutely adore this job.”
While Warren admits that Veterans Day is “just another day” to him, he is proud of his service and what he gained from the 13 years in the Army. He doesn’t think or talk much about his time in the military, just as his father and grandfather never did. On Veterans Day, he and other members of the CVMA visit the annual Veterans Parade in Auburn and tell stories. But now, he said, “my identity is an educator.”
“This is my heart and soul. This is who I am. The Yelm community has been phenomenal. It has a very warm feel to it, which is what drew me here,” he said.