Area veterans profiled at Ranger College

Tommy Wells / Ranger College
Ranger College recognized four veterans recently by presenting them with special pins that can be worn Veterans Day. Recognized were (from left) Lt. Gayla McLaughlin, Micah Martin, Crystal Beamer and Michael Bishop. Martin, Creamer and Bishop are all attending RC’s nursing program. McLaughlin serves as an instructor in the nursing program.
U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Micah Martin, a Bangs native, displays the award given to her when she was promoted. Martin served in Afghanistan for eight months as part of the Air Force’s Operation Enduring Freedom activities.
Michael Bishop uses visual aid equipment while serving in the U.S. Army Reserves. A native of Dublin, the Stephenville High School graduate has served in the reserves for the past five years.

Micah Martin knew early in her life that she wanted to make a difference in other’s lives, and that the best path for her to accomplish that goal was to be in the medical profession.

The path to becoming a nurse for the Bangs native had a few detours along the way, including a 10-year stretch as part of the United States Air Force and a deployment to the Middle East as part of Operation Enduring Freedom at Craig Joint Theater Hospital in Bagram, Afghanistan, for roughly eight months.

The hours of caring for U.S. servicemen and women – and the injured enemy combatants that required help – only solidified her resolve to become a nurse.

“My heart has always been in it,” said Martin, one of several veterans who are currently enrolled in Ranger College’s nursing program at its Brown County campus in Early. “I always knew I wanted to do something in health care. This is my way to do that.”

Martin, along with three other veterans, were recently honored for their military service by Ranger College Dean of Nursing Dr. Sandra Lee. Each were presented with red and blue ribbons that will be worn on Veteran’s Day as a way to honor their commitment and service to their country.

A tech sergeant, Martin spent eight months deployed to Afghanistan, often working long hours as a medic helping injured servicemen. Many of those she helped, she said, were enemy soldiers who had only hours earlier been committed to killing herself and her friends.

“It was scary,” said Martin, now 30 and in her second year at RC’s Associate’s Degree in Nursing program. “You get into a routine, though, and you do what you have to do to make it through and get home. For me, the hardest part was seeing the trauma that came with it (the war). Seeing the people that are your age, or younger, coming in really messed up. That is really hard to see.

“And to take care of the bad guys, too. That’s not something that people think about, but being in medical, you have to take care of the enemies of too. That can be difficult at first.”

For Martin, her path to becoming a nurse began shortly after graduating from high school – as part of the Air Force. After enlisting at 19, she spent her 20th birthday at basic training in San Antonio. From there, she spent five years stationed in San Antonio, before spending time at two Colorado bases.

The experience she gained as a medic only enhanced her passion to join the medical field.

“It has helped me so much,” she said. “It’s helped me have a foundation to build on.”

Gayla McLaughlin, Blanket, Air Force

Growing up in Blanket, Gayla McLaughlin didn’t really have any plans to enlist in the military. It just happened because her “‘Vette needed new tires.”

After graduating from Blanket High School, she drove her small Chevette vehicle to San Angelo and enrolled in classes at Angelo State University. While there, she was told about the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program and its ability to provide students with monthly pay.

That sounded good to her – even though she had to hide her uniform – and the fact that she was in the program – from her father, Beryl McLaughlin.

After graduating from ASU (and having her mother find her uniform in the laundry), McLaughlin took the plunge. On May 13, 1988, she was sworn into the U.S. Air Force as a second lieutenant and was shipped to San Antonio where she worked in the neo-natal intensive care unit. Over the next 17 years, she spent time as bases in Maryland, Colorado and Alabama. She also spent time at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and as a volunteer in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. After leaving Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, she requested to be stationed at Dyess Air Force Base in an effort to be closer to her mother, who had fallen ill.

McLaughlin turned her military experience into a fulfilling post-military career, becoming a nurse practitioner and, most recently, an instructor with Ranger College.

For all of that, she said she is indebted to the people whom she served.

“As a veteran, I feel I have received so much,” she said. “I think this (helping other veterans and nursing students) is a way for me to pay back some of the things that I have been given.”

Crystal Beamer, Deleon, USMC

Like Martin, fellow nursing candidate Crystal Beamer is using the experience and work ethic she developed in an 8-year career in the United State Marine Corps to make her way into the nursing field – even if it is a bit reluctantly.

A native of DeLeon, Beamer said she only decided to leave the Corps in order to return closer to home to help care for her ailing father, the late Sammy DeLeon of Mason. After her father had been diagnosed with renal failure with needed dialysis, she and her husband decided it was in the best interest for their family to be closer.

A sergeant in the Corps, the move had a major impact on her decision to pursue a nursing career.

“When he passed away, I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ Nursing school has kind of helped me find my niche,” said Beamer, who enlisted in the military as part of a delayed entry program while in high school. “I didn’t really want to get out (of the Corps), but it was something that was best for my family. That kind of brought me to this. Nursing, for me, is a lot like the military. It has that uniformity that I need to make sense of things.”

Having left for basic training at Paris Island only two weeks after graduating from high school, Beamer said she spent time at three duty stations, including a 2-year stint in Okinawa, Japan. From there, she was sent back to the States and stationed bases at 29 Palms and Miramar, both in California.

Shortly before leaving the Corps, she had been approved to attend Drill Instructor School.

After leaving the military and helping tend to her father, she and her husband, Carl, lived in his home state of Pennsylvania for six years before returning to Texas.

Having spent a large part of her life in the military, she feels she is prepared for whatever a nursing career can throw at her.

Michael Bishop, Dublin, Army Reserves

Serving in the military was something Michael Bishop considered a family tradition. The grandson of a Vietnam War veteran, the Stephenville High School graduate said his decision to enlist in the U.S. Army Reserves in 2015 was something he considered natural.

“I really didn’t know what I was going to do coming out of high school, so it just seemed like the thing to do,” said Bishop, who has served in the reserves since 2015, and is currently working his way through the first semester of the nursing program. “It (serving in the reserves) has taught me so much, and given me the opportunity to do things I might never had the chance to do.”

Like fulfilling his desire to follow in his mother’s footsteps as a nurse.

“My mother has been a nurse since 1994,” said Bishop, who serves as an Aviation Operations Specialist. “Growing up with a mom who is a nurse really inspired me. If I can be half the nurse she is, I’ll be really good and have a positive impact on the world.”

For Bishop, serving in the military is, in a way, a way for him to help protect the people he loves at home. His service, he hopes, is a way to preserve the freedoms that most Americans take for granted. That hope was driven home from the experience gained while living in China for four years as a youngster.

“My parents were missionaries when I was younger,” he said. “We lived in China from when I was 9 to about 13. There are a lot of things that are different there; things that we take for granted here. It’s a completely different country, politically obviously, but in other ways, too. They don’t really have any rights.”

“That has helped me not take things for granted too much,” he said.

Now 22, he has served five years in the Army Reserves.

“I’m not a veteran yet, but I have enjoyed it. I think I respect those, like my grandfather (Bud Bishop) and my uncle (Greg Bishop) and everyone else, for what they have done.”

Lindy Matthews, Gordon, Navy

Like McLaughlin, Ranger College Human Resources Director Lindy Matthews considered herself blessed to have had the opportunity to serve in the military. She spent five years in the United States Navy working as an aircraft mechanic at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego.

A 2005 graduate of Gordon High School, Matthews said she wanted to find a way to give back to her country. Enlisting in the U.S. Navy was her path.

“I’m absolutely proud of serving in the military,” said Matthews, who recently completed her Master’s Degree. “I think it is such an honor to serve your country.”

In addition, Ranger College also has several other employees who served in the military, including Transportation Specialist Sylvester Lopez (Attached to U.S. Army as a Civilian Contractor as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom), RC Assistant Librarian Helen Cozart (U.S. Army), RC Assistant Cross Country Coach Alfonso Rangel (U.S. Navy), RC Security Officer Mike Bonney (U.S. Army) and RC Security Officer Steve Lewis (U.S. Army National Guard).

Veterans seeking more information about the Ranger College nursing program, or other opportunities available through Ranger College, please contact RC Veteran Affairs Officer Don Hilton at (254) 647-3234, or via email at Veterans can also contact the college’s campuses in Ranger, Stephenville or Early.