Sampson County has many things for which it can boast. Now among is the fact that the first Army Aviator from North Carolina to become a Brigadier General. is from the area.
Brig. Gen. William Ronny Coats, from the Clement community, was promoted in a ceremony at he Old House Chamber of the North Carolina State Capitol building on Aug. 24, 2012, with family present to witness the momentous ocassion.
“I never dreamed when I enlisted my senior year in high school that I would achieve this honor,” Coats during a recent interview.
The new general shared that he left Midway High School one afternoon following school and went to Dunn to enlist. That was May 10, 1982, and he was back, he noted, in time for baseball practice that afternoon.
Coats is a 30-year North Carolina National Guard veteran and is the first Army Aviator to earn such an honor in the N.C. National Guard. He has served overseas in multiple deployments, including a command in Afghanistan of Task Force Panther.
Coats has now assumed a position at the National Guard Bureau Headquarters in Virginia as the Special Assistant to the Director of the Army National Guard.
“The Guard has excelled under his leadership,” said Reuben F. Young, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, during the ceremony.
As members of his family attended the ceremony, Coats stood at rigid attention, as his wife, Army Col. Toni Coats, pinned the one star general’s rank to his uniform.
“I am so proud,”Mrs. Coats said. “All of the wonderful things that have gone on before went into that star.”
“I have truly been blessed,” remarked her husband. “I am very fortunate to have a wonderful wife, supportive family and a magnificent mother and father that saw to it that I maximized my capabilities to get here. I cannot thank them enough.”
Born May 4, 1964 in Fayetteville, Coats attended both Clement and Midway high schools. He enlisted in the North Carolina Army National Guard as a soldier in the 30th Infantry Brigade.
“By joining the National Guard, I knew I could do what I always dreamed of doing — being in the military and continuing my education,” explained Coats.
He received his officer’s commission through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Campbell University where he earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology and was a distinguished military graduate. The general also holds a Master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the United States Army War College.
During his 30 years in the N.C.N.G., the general has continued to experience assignements in ever-increasing positions of responsibility. Coats was commander of Task Force Panther from 2003 to 2004 in Afghanistan and commander of the 449th Theater Aviation Brigade from 2004 to 2008. He is an accomplished AH064 Apache Attack Helicopter pilot and a Master Army Aviator. Coats’ awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal and the Air Medal.
Prior to his selection for promotion, the general served as Chief of Joint Staff at the North Carolina National Guard Joint Force Headquarters in Raleigh. He last held the position of North Carolina’s Assistant Adjutant General for Maneuver before his appointment to his current post.
He shared that he is very honored to have been selected for this promotion and acknowledged that his entire career has been a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
“When I was about to graduate from Campbell, I thought I wanted to be in the Special Forces. But I was influenced to change and go into Army Aviation. It was a new program and I decided to take a chance. I set up an interview with Col. Leslie T. Everett and he asked me following the interview when I wanted to go to flight school. I responded in June. So in June I began flight school,” shared Coats.
According to the general, “timing is everything.” As Coats explained, the time at which he entered the new Apache helicopters had come out and many of the veterans were nearing retirement and did not have an interest in going back to several months of flight school to learn how to fly the new aircraft. Timing made the situation easier for him to move into.
“I have enjoyed my career with the National Guard. Before I became full time, I taught school at Clement, Lakewood and Midway. I was even the head baseball coach at Midway before being deployed to Desert Storm. Following that experience, I decided to go full time in the military,” said the general. “It is a decision that I have never regretted.”
In speaking of his experiences in Afghanistan, Coats said he had great people working with him, making the experience a good one.
“We were in a hot zone. Our pilots were the only attack helicopters in the country. I was fortunate to have great people that were mature and very dedicated to the job we had before us. They did a perfect job and we did not lose a single person during the deployment. I was able to meet and get to know a lot of people during this time,” commented Coats.
Coats and his wife have four children, Aaron, Lindsey, Jackie and Reid. They live beside his parents, Alma and Penn Coats, right where the general has lived his entire life, in the Clement Community.
“If there is anything that I would like for others to remember about me, especially the young people, it is that no matter where you come from, you can be whatever you desire to be. You have to commit to it and make it happen. Take a chance when needed. But if I can come from such a small rural community in Sampson County, growing up as a farmer’s son, playing sports in high school and committing myself to the military, enlisting and now being honored as a general, they can do it too. They just have to decide what they want and go for it. Pray and ask for support of your family, friends and community and you can make it,” remarked Coats.