By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Fighter jets soared over Tucker County last week in recognition of one of our own who is retiring from the United States Air Force after three decades honorably serving our country. Curtis Bates, son of Larry “Gabby”, and Linda Bates of Hambleton graduated from Tucker County High School in 1991, but his mother recalled he knew well before that he would be going into the military. When asked how she felt as a mother being told her son wanted to enter the military right after high school, she said, “I was proud of him, we’ve always been proud of him, but he decided in school that he was going to go to the Air Force when he got out.” L. Bates wasn’t surprised at the decision as her husband spent four years in the Navy and her daughter, Cindy Lipscomb, spent seven years in the Army Reserves.
“I entered the USAF on August 16, 1991. The reason I joined was pretty simple to me. I knew that there were not many opportunities back home and the thought of having the ability to give back to my nation by joining the military was exciting. I guess you could say that I am patriotic,” said Bates, who is now residing in North Carolina.
Ranked as a Chief Master Sergeant, his current position is a Chief Enlisted Manager of the 333rd Fighter Squadron. Serving in this capacity puts Bates in charge of over 300 personnel. When first enlisting, he began as a fighter aircraft mechanic and over the years, continued to work his way through the ranks holding many leadership positions.
Lipscomb is proud of her brother’s dedication and accomplishments during his tenure in the military. “In our eyes, he’s our very own hero,” began Lipscomb. “He has traveled the world, seen many places and cultures, from Germany, Turkey, Japan, Alaska and all over the United States, he has had an incredible journey throughout his career.”
Bates explained that during anyone’s time within the Air Force, the opportunity is actually rare to get to ride in the backseat of a jet. “My opportunity came up since I am about to retire. Once I learned that I was able to get my ride, I asked if it would be possible to fly over West Virginia,” he said. Fortunately, there is a low-level route that goes over Route 93 (Corridor H) that could also serve as an opportunity for the aircrew to receive valuable training flying at lower altitudes over the mountains.
“Once I found out that I was getting a ride and I knew the location, I contacted my mom and dad to see if they would be available yesterday to go park on route 93 to hopefully get a glimpse of me flying by,” Bates said. “My mom contacted Fred Davis, the County Commissioner and it seemed to grow from there. Fred posted a message on FaceBook to the public about the event and once I read it, I was instantly grateful for the support as a veteran. I had no idea how many people were going to show up showing their support on that cold afternoon.”
The aircraft that soared over Tucker County were F-15E models that flew out from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. The first aircraft was piloted by Major Brack “Atomic” Nall, Director of Operations, with Bates in the back seat. The second jet was piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Drew “Butcher” Bures, Deputy Commander and Weapons System Officer. Seated with Bures was Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan “Vapor” Bott, Commander. “It was an honor to have the opportunity to get to fly with the leadership of Squadron and an even greater opportunity to get to fly back home and let some of the community be a part of it,” stated Bates.
“The flyover had been planned for a little while, from getting approval to make the flight, to the pin drop to sending pictures of our vehicles,” explained Lipscomb. “The entire experience was amazing! The actual flyover was so emotional, filled with joy, tears, pride, and excitement all bundled into one! We not only got to experience the flyover once but twice as they made a second pass at a much lower level.” She continued, “Even though Curtis was in the jet, he didn’t get to see us until he was back at his base and reviewed the flight video. What a huge honor to celebrate his retirement with our family, friends, and the residence of Tucker County!”
As she reflected back on the flyover, L. Bates shared, “It was just overwhelming, it was really something.” She is hoping that with her son’s retirement she will be able to see him and his family more frequently.
Bates also has a brother, Chris, who attended the flyover in honor of his brother’s service. “I think it was nice to have the support from the community and all of the local fire departments,” said Chris Bates. “All of the Facebook videos are very nice and I’d like to thank all our veterans,” he added.
Bates will be recognized with a retirement ceremony on March 26, 2021, but his official retirement date is September 1, 2021. Though he is unsure of his plans for retirement, he stated he will be rejoining the civilian workforce to help put his children through college.
“I appreciate the support the community displayed yesterday during my flight. Oftentimes, the military population loses sight of the pride the communities around the nation show in support of the Armed Forces,” he explained. “Even though my flight was for me to celebrate my 30 years of service, it was more important to me to get the opportunity to showcase a little bit of the air power that the United States Air Force has to offer. I feel truly humbled with the amount of people that showed up and the support that they provided.”
Bates and his family stated they are grateful for the love and support that was shown by everyone who helped spread the word and witnessed the event, in person or through social media, to help them celebrate this memorable occasion.