Honoring Air Force Captain Lee Tate

Published 2:59 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2023

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Selma residents may recognize Air Force Captain Lee Tate from his 15-year tenure as Director of Missions for the West Central Baptist Association in Selma and Pastor at Benton Baptist Church, where he has diligently served both his church family and the community. 

But before answering his spiritual calling, Tate served his country from 1985-1990 in the Strategic Air Command (SAC) at Blytheville Air Force Base (Now Eaker AFB), located in Blytheville Arkansas.

For many, the decision to join the military is driven by various factors, including a sense of duty, desire for financial stability, or the need to provide for their family. Tate’s journey into the United States Air Force was no different. Newly married and with a young child to care for, the allure of a stable income and comprehensive benefits was strong. Yet, unlike many of his peers, Tate had no prior experience with planes. 

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“I had flown maybe once or twice in my life; it was all brand new” Tate said. 

Despite his limited exposure to aviation, Tate embraced the challenge and soon found himself working with the 340th Bombardment Squad, aboard a B-52 Gulf.

Joseph Alley, Exhibition Manager, for the National Cold War Center, a museum operating on the Blytheville AFB grounds, shared resources regarding the importance of the work Tate’s squad would have performed.  

“When they were on alert, there was a readiness crew building where they were sequestered,” Alley said. “And that building was located right next to the pad where the planes were parked. So, if there was an alarm, they could instantly run out, get on the plane and take off. This place specifically was a second-strike facility, meaning it had the ability to take a nuke and send one back. Blytheville Air Force Base, routinely ranked at the top of the list of targets to be taken out in the event of nuclear war.”  

Alley said The National Cold War Center is preserving this important military history and is currently working to preserve the SAC Alert building.  

Tate’s tenure in the Strategic Air Command during the late 1980’s was a time of heightened global tension and a pivotal period in history. The Cold War loomed large and the responsibility for those like Tate was to ensure the readiness and the effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear deterrent. These brave men and women, often working behind the scenes, played an essential role in maintaining peace during those tumultuous times.

After completing his military service, Tate embarked on a new journey, one led by faith and a calling from a higher power. In 1997, Tate says that the Lord guided him towards the seminary, where he would dedicate his life to ministry. This transition allowed him to continue serving others, this time spiritually by providing guidance and support to those in need.  

These days Tate enjoys his quiet life. He explained that Selma has always been home and after his military service ended, he and his wife returned to Selma, to the same home he grew up in. Whenever they are able, they enjoy traveling to visit his three grown sons and seven grandchildren.