After watching his step-father graduate from basic training, Cullman resident Justin Bates decided he would go into the military one day.
Now a National Guard veteran and Cullman County Sheriff’s deputy, Bates said being a part of two deployments with the National Guard changed his life. He said his time in the armed forces showed him military service is more than a job, it’s a calling.
“I think everybody changes to a certain degree-It’s different for everyone, but I would not change anything in my military career that happened, it’s made me the person I am today,” Bates said. “All in all, I think the military did me well. When I joined, I was a young and an immature person at that time of my life and it instilled a discipline in me and put a better head on my shoulders.”
Bates spent a year deployed in Afghanistan and a year in Iraq and was named an E6 Staff Sergeant. During that time, he had to develop the ability to trust himself and those he worked with completely.
“I worked on various personnel details and security units throughout that area in Afghanistan,” Bates said. “Anytime a General would come in, we would escort them through the city and provide security for any movement through that area. We did a lot of missions. No mission was too big or too small for us. I think the smallest ones that we did were transporting different people to the airport when we were at the Infantry base. People trusted us as their form of security.”
A 2005 West Point graduate, Bates said he left after his senior year for basics, but a lot changed between his first tour in 2008 and his most recent tour this year.
“When I left for my first tour I was single, but being away from my family was hands down the toughest thing about this last deployment,” Bates said. “I got married and when I left last year my daughter was seven months old. Knowing that their lives are going on without you there is so hard, but it’s part of it.”
For others interested in joining a branch of the military, Bates said to make sure to do your research before committing because it is a life change.
“The military is not for the weak or faint hearted- if your heart isn’t in it, you will have a miserable enlistment, but if it’s something you think you’re interested in, go and talk with a recruiter,” Bates said. “They’re willing to talk 24/7. There is a job out there for everyone. This might not be your calling, but something is, you just have to find it.”
For Bates, Veteran’s Day holds a new place in his heart because of his experiences in serving his country.
“I cherish the day, I think it’s a great honor,” Bates said. “The American flags get put in the median on Highway 31 every year during this time. I even remember seeing them even as a little kid. To all the Veterans out there, thank you. The military is such a unique thing and group to be apart of, and to know that you’ve done something not just for yourself or for Cullman or even the State of Alabama, but that what you’re doing is serving people across the nation. I don’t know how else to say it, but that’s pretty cool.”
Lauren Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 137.