BEST and BRIGHTEST: Gates ready to serve country through a military career

NANAIMO: Andrew Gates plans to reach new heights in his chosen career.

Andrew Gates

Andrew Gates

Andrew Gates plans to reach new heights in his chosen career.

The Cedar Secondary School graduate is heading to the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont., with the help of a $200,000 scholarship to study aeronautical engineering. He wants to fly fighter jets for the military.

Flying has been on Gates’s radar ever since he was a toddler. His father and grandfather before him were civilian pilots and since he was three years old, the family has owned a small plane.

Then he joined the 205 Collishaw Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron when he was 12 and several years later, his dream of flying became a reality.

When he was 16, he earned a scholarship to get his glider pilot’s licence. Last summer, he was one of 40 air cadets chosen to complete his motor pilot’s licence at age 17 – an impressive achievement given that only the top two per cent of air cadets actually become pilots.

“It makes driving cars look easy,” he said.

Flying gives Gates a thrill that few other activities can do.

“It’s kind of like being on a roller coaster, except you can control it,” he said. “It gives you a real feeling of freedom.”

Gates initially joined cadets because his father volunteered with the squadron, teaching the theory of flying. But quickly it became clear that a military career would be perfect for him.

“After the first year in cadets, I knew I wanted a flying career and at the same time, I wanted it to be in the military,” said Gates. “It’s a great opportunity to make friends around the world, travel lots. Protecting your country is a huge responsibility, but as huge of a responsibility as it is, it’s equally rewarding. If you want to help people, I can’t think of a better way to do it.”

He hopes to play a peacekeeping role, providing support to ground troops as they help developing nations.

Throughout high school Gates has devoted much of his time to cadets – he plays trumpet in the squadron band and is one of the top shots in the province on the cadet biathlon team – but he also plays rugby to balance off a demanding course load and his cadet duties.

Capt. Bill Derby, commanding officer of Gates’s squadron, said Gates was heavily involved with the group in many capacities, including as an instructor.

“He’s one of our strongest cadets by a long shot,” he said. “He’s got no ability to sit back and watch, he has to apply himself and he does well at everything.”