Local gym owner partners with wife to help veterans with PTSD and their spouses


Dressed in a grey, dri-fit T-shirt, blue Under Armor shorts and multicolored tennis shoes, Will Williams looks like a typical gym owner at first glance. Yet the owner of Willness Fitness in Ponte Vedra Beach is anything but typical upon further inspection, and it’s what he does outside of the gym that sets him apart.

“I love helping people,” Williams said. “I do my best to pave the way for them.”

In addition to helping clients through private training at his gym, which recently celebrated one year of business, he is partnering with his wife Alison to build Operation Green Zone, a nonprofit organization that helps veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Founded by the couple in January 2016, the organization’s mission is to provide veterans with fun-filled weekends away from home and ultimately a support system to help them persevere through the challenges of their everyday lives.

“We want it to be one big family you can depend on,” he said.

As an Army veteran, Williams understands the challenges firsthand. After tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he suffers from extreme PTSD, and he has struggled to find the very family they’re trying to build.

“We started Operation Green Zone because he has a best friend that has PTSD, and I noticed when they’re together, it’s not their main focus,” said Alison Williams, who is the president of the organization.

In addition to providing a support system for veterans, she said, the nonprofit will organize separate retreats for their spouses, who are often forgotten.

“Spouses don’t get that much help,” she said. “There are things that us as spouses, we don’t say to our husbands or wives. They don’t understand because we don’t want to put more pressure on them, but we want to able to speak freely.”

The idea to include spouses, she said, originated from an encounter the couple had at lunch one day. A woman approached them and asked about Williams’ service dog. She mentioned that her husband has PTSD, and Alison told her to call if she needed to talk.

“She came over to our house and started crying,” she said. “Will didn’t understand from our point of view. They have no idea what we go through. We take a lot of the responsibility because there’s only so much they can handle without triggering something.”

After recently acquiring their official nonprofit designation, the Williams’s are now navigating through the beginning stages of building the organization, including the management and acquisition of budgets, grants and sponsorships. They anticipate the weekends to include fun activities that align with participants’ interests like fishing, fitness and trips to the beach, as well as activities like equine and art therapy. The goal, Alison Williams said, is to first hold these retreats every other weekend, and then shift to every weekend once the operation is up and running. The retreats, which they expect to include four to five people, will alternate between veterans and their spouses.

“You’re with your brothers or sisters in arms, and you get to talk about the good times while you have a good time,” he said. “You can let your guard down. This will be another place to call home.”

The couple hopes to hold their first Operation Green Zone retreat in January or February.