The Aviation and Missile Command leadership hosted a memorial ceremony Aug. 3 at AMCOM headquarters on Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, honoring Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky Yates, who passed away July 29.
Yates was the command sergeant major for AMCOM and Redstone Arsenal from January 2006 until April 2012. During his six-year tenure, he served under three former AMCOM commanders: retired Maj. Gens. Jim Pillsbury, Jim Myles and Jim Rogers — all of whom attended and shared personal stories that brought both laughter and tears.
While each story was unique, they all added color to the portrait that depicted Yates as a Soldier’s Soldier with a larger-than-life personality and a love for everyone he met. Family and friends attended the ceremony from near and far to honor the Alabama native who had reluctantly retired in 2012 after 35 years on active duty.
Rogers told the audience that he vividly remembers the day Yates learned of his impending retirement.
“I was in the elevator one day, and he stopped the elevator, and he said, ‘Sir, what the hell? You don’t like me?’ I said, sergeant major, the Department of the Army has decided it’s time for you. He said, ‘I think I can fix that.’”
“I can fix that.” — Rogers was not the only speaker who heard Yates utter that phrase. Nearly every story about Yates recounted a time when he learned of an issue and took it on personally to fix.
His daughter Maj. Kim Rulli spoke about her father and said that while he embodied all of the Army values, his selflessness stood out most.
She said, “I know every single one of you can remember countless times that he would be faced with a problem or a situation that needed fixing. And before you’re even done explaining what that problem was, he was jumping up from behind a desk; he was grabbing the phone to initiate action, getting in the car to go get whatever it was that you needed, or running out to the shop to get that tool.”
Pillsbury said during their time as a command team, he and Yates took multiple trips overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as to aviation units stateside, such as Forts Campbell and Liberty (known as Fort Bragg at the time). During their trips, they would gather action items that needed fixing.
He said while he talked to the unit leadership, Yates would usually disappear to go talk to the Soldiers because he knew that if you want to figure out the problems, you go directly to the Soldiers and the noncommissioned officers.
Before his time at AMCOM, Yates served in the 82nd Airborne Division for two decades, and he was inducted into their Hall of Fame just two months before his death. To honor one of their own, the 82nd Airborne Chorus provided musical interludes during the ceremony.
The tributes and stories continued throughout the morning as each speaker kept the audience’s attention. And each of those stories helped begin the healing process for everyone in attendance because each one helped explain the impact Yates had on everyone he met.
Myles said everyone has a story about Yates, and they all begin with, “Man, he was my brother, but you’re not going to believe this. See, what happened was, and then the story goes …”
“We all have these stories because he was all in,” Myles said. “He was committed to each of us.”
Pillsbury said selecting Yates as his command sergeant major was one of the best decisions he ever made, second only to asking his wife for her hand in marriage.
“He made this place a much better place. He made our Army a much better Army. He made our country a much better country. He made his family a much better family. God bless the Yates family. And may God hug his newest sergeant major.”
A recording of the ceremony is available on the AMCOM Facebook page, facebook.com/usarmyamcom