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Veterans’ Voices Honoring our men and women in uniform By MARY DRENNON I Special to the Tribune-Herald n the 1980s, the movie “Top Gun” with Tom Cruise was a hit. It left an impression on many a young man, including Ron Bates of China Spring. After he viewed the movie, he decided he wanted to work on a deck of a carrier in the U.S. Navy. Born in Farmington, Missouri, Bates’ family moved a lot, but for the last 10 years of his schooling, he was in Burleson, Texas, where he graduated high school in 1987. By this time, Bates had already joined the Navy under the delayed entry program. Two weeks after he graduated, he found himself in boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois. Advanced training was in Millington, Tennessee, where he learned aviation ordnance and how to load it on planes and helicopters. Bates got what he wanted and went to work on the flight deck of the USS John Kennedy, homeported in Norfolk, Virginia. “The ship was so large that if you stood it on its end, it would be as high as the Empire State Building,” Bates said. It carried some 5,500 men. u.s. NAVY His first cruise was to the Mediterranean, where he visited lots of ports. But it was his second cruise that was a bit busier. The Kennedy went through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea during Desert Storm. Africa was on one side, and Asia was on the other. The experience was pretty much one-sided, as Bates said he loaded lots and lots of bombs, but never took any incoming. Bates would load weapons on the aircraft, and it would take off to bomb its targets. The hours, however, were long and hot. He also served as a spiritual adviser of sorts, leading worship service for the Baptists on board. He would also try to lift others up who were suffering from separation anxiety. By this time, Bates decided to get off active duty. He did so in 1992 but ended up joining the Navy Reserves in 1998. “I missed it,” he said. Bates did the monthly service for a while but was called to active duty in 2006. This time, he wasn’t on a ship but an actual base in Baghdad, Iraq. There, they took incoming fire, but nothing too close. “Initially, you’re scared,” Bates said. “After you’ve been on base a while, you don’t think about it as much.” Something else those who’ve never been there don’t think about: sandstorms. Bates said you could see them coming like a huge cloud. “You had to cover everything because sand gets in everywhere,” he said. The highlight of his career came when he was called to go to Djibouti, Africa, where he spent a year on an airfield handling arrivals and departures. Bates met a lot of interesting people and had some wonderful experiences, he said, including learning how to scuba Photo by Mary Drennon China Spring resident Ron Bates visited more than 30 countries during his 24 years of active and reserve duty in the U.S. Navy. dive. He also got to swim between the two continents. In the right spot, you could touch both continents at the same time, he said. While he was swimming in Africa, he got to swim with a whale shark. He also always had to try the local fare wherever he went. In Africa, it was camel ― camel hump to be exact. It tasted like beef, he said. “I have eaten a lot of crazy things,” he added. Bates also helped train Ukrainian and Romanian sailors. He would go into an academy and teach short gigs between deployments. In the spring of 2014, Bates retired as an E-7 chief petty officer. He had spent some 24 years on active and reserve duty and visited over 30 countries. Bates married Lisa Allenbaugh and they just recently celebrated 25 years of marriage. They have two children, Brian and Meghan. His son followed in his footsteps and joined the Navy for a time. 574 Youngblood Road, Waco, Texas, 76706 • 254.662.5571 • JRoof.com Bates went to college for a time then went to work for a trucking company, where he drove a truck for about 10 years before he went into management. (He still has his commercial driver’s license.) He has spent 27 years with the company. The family moved to China Spring about four years ago. “We love Texas and Waco,” he said. As a member of the VFW 2148 in Waco, Bates enjoys spending time with other veterans. “It’s nice to have someone who understands,” he said. Even though he’s seen a good portion of the world, Bates, 51, prefers America the best. “It was a good career,” Bates said. “I really enjoyed it. I would do it again in a heartbeat.” “Veterans’ Voices,” featuring stories about Central Texas veterans, publishes every Sunday. To suggest a story about a Central Texas veteran, please email email@example.com. “Veterans’ Voices” is proudly sponsored by Johnson Roofing. At Johnson Roofing, we believe in America and proudly stand behind the men and women of our armed forces.