It was 2 a.m., and Ron Long was finishing his shift on a U.S. naval base in Okinawa, Japan, prepping P-2 planes to fly on a mission to Vietnam. Some chemical cleaning agents had accidentally sprayed into his eyes, and they stung a bit. But he didn’t think much of it until he woke up the next day and couldn’t open his eyes.
What seemed like a temporary infection became a permanent challenge. Long was declared legally blind and honorably discharged from the Navy as a seaman in 1968. Some of his fellow troops weren’t as lucky. Four planes he had worked on that fateful night never came back from their mission. Though he had lost his eyesight, Long never stops thinking about his friends and fellow servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The sense of duty and service has stuck with him over the years, and he credits the Navy with shaping his approach to life and work.
“When you’re in the military, there’s only one way of doing it and that’s the right way,” says Long.
After the Navy, Long started his own restaurant and mobile food service business, specializing in what he dubbed “Santa Maria Style Barbecue,” named for his California hometown. Over the years, he has hauled his refrigerator trucks and portable kitchens up mountains to feed hundreds of hungry U.S. Forest Service firefighters combating blazes in the Lake Isabella and High Sierra Mountain Range regions.
His pride is making hearty meals that can be swiftly served. It’s what earned him a contract to run dining facilities for the Navy in San Diego, and why his portable barbecue pit is now stationed at the U.S. Army National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., where he serves hundreds of military members daily in both the cafeteria and the field.
Long’s passion for his work is what fuels him. As a former service member who had his military career abruptly cut short, he is honored to feed the men and women in the Army. And outside normal business hours, he hosts fundraising events for the Army Emergency Relief Program and Toys for Tots.
“Having served in the military, they really make me feel like I’m one of them,” says Long. “They treat me like family and I even go on vacation with some of them. It’s the least I can do to give back.”