North Chicago, Ill –
Applicants at Minneapolis MEP got a rare glimpse of military history when they had the privilege of meeting a Medal of Honor recipient on November 22, 2021. Donned with his ribbon around his neck, retired Kansas National Guard Col. Donald Ballard, performed an Oath of Enlistment ceremony then spent time with Minneapolis MEPS staff and applicants before they departed for their initial entry training.
Ballard, who resides in Kansas, was in the area for a military recognition event at a Minnesota Vikings football game. While visiting Minneapolis, he had a straightforward request: administer an Oath of Enlistment ceremony for applicants entering military service. With the help of the Armed Forces Service Center, Ballard connected with Minneapolis MEPS commander Army Lt. Col. Dennis Leung, who was happy to help make the wish a reality.
On the day of the enlistment ceremony, Ballard, who retired from military service in 2000, greeted the applicants as equals.
"Hello, my name is Col. Donald Ballard," he said while greeting the applicants from the podium. "It's important to know that you are now part of a new family. I want to welcome you to the family."
After administering the oath to the group, the former U.S. Navy hospital corpsman made his way around the room. He shook each applicant's hand while asking their name and the branch of service they had chosen. Then before leaving to meet with the MEPS leadership, Ballard had a clear message for the next generation of American warfighters.
"You look like a sharp group of guys and gals," he said. "Just know, this journey is going to be as easy or hard as you want it to be. I want you to know that many people have gone before you and done the same things."
Ballard received the Medal of Honor for acts of heroism while serving with the U.S. Navy in the Vietnam War. President Richard N. Nixon presented the award to Ballard in a ceremony at the White House on May 14, 1970. According to his award citation, while attending to the critical medical needs of injured U.S. Marines on the battlefield, Ballard's unit was attacked by enemy forces using grenades. Fearlessly and without regard for his safety, he threw himself upon a lethal explosive device to protect his comrades. When the grenade failed to detonate, he calmly arose from his dangerous position and resolutely continued his determined efforts in treating other Marine casualties.
Leung, 1st Battalion MEPS commander, said meeting a Medal of Honor recipient was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for him. He knows this experience positively impacted both the MEPS personnel and the applicants.
"The shippers were glued into the experience," said Leung. "It was an awesome experience for me. Ballard sat down with the other leadership and told us his story. To listen to him talk about the glorious acts that he had done and he felt like he was just doing his job… it was something I wish every person could listen to."
An estimated 40 million people have served in the United States Armed Forces since the Civil War. Of those, 3,527 have been awarded the Medal of Honor. During the Vietnam War, 246 individuals were awarded this prestigious recognition. Since September 11, 2001, 28 service members have been awarded the Medal of Honor from the Iraq War, Afghanistan Wars and War on Terrorism.
The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force bestowed upon an individual serving in the United States Armed Services. With a decline in military combat warfare, fewer Medal of Honor ceremonies have occurred over recent decades. Only 65 Medal of Honor recipients are still alive today.