Shaped by service, sharpened by diversity

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell
  • Altus Air Force Base Public Affairs

Two members of the 97th Air Mobility Wing have dedicated the last 21 years of their lives in service to the United States Air Force. Together, they have pursued careers through the armed forces and have seen diversity grow throughout the years.

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Byron Ball is the 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron’s first sergeant. Gina Ball, a newly retired master sergeant, continues to work at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. as an operations flight member assigned to the 97th Communications Squadron. Byron said the two have been together since 2003 after they originally met at basic training.

“We were three weeks apart in our training when we met each other in the 331st Training Squadron,” said Byron. “During basic we would pass each other messages in the dry cleaners or the patio. After that, with limited technologies at the time, we wrote each other letters. Four years later, we were married and have been together ever since.”

Gina and Byron have experienced a multitude of changes in their careers as a dual military couple. Gina describes being a dual military couple as a “challenging, but rewarding experience” because of the inherit hardships found in the military.

“Between both of us we have six total deployments, countless TDYs (Temporary Duty) and several PCSs (Permanent Change of Station),” said Byron.

Gina and Byron have held many titles and jobs throughout their careers, including firefighter, air advisory, technical training instructor, missile maintenance, information management, client systems and first sergeant, just to name a few. Having worked in a variety of jobs has allowed both of them to experience and interact with members from all over the world.

“Being able to work with everyone that I have has allowed me to see all members from different walks of life,” said Gina. “When I graduated missile maintenance, I was the only female. It wasn’t a very diverse career field. Now… it’s just about being able to get the job done.”

According to Byron, during their early enlistment in 1999, the culture was still adapting and diversity in the armed forces was minimal.

“I have seen the service become well rounded in my years of experience,” said Byron. “It wasn’t always like this and we have come a long way from where we were before. During my technical training, out of hundreds in the building, I was one of the only four black people in attendance. I now work with people from ages 18 to 40 coming from all around the world. A lot has changed just even in my time.”

The Balls’ agreed that this advancement in diversity is, in part, enhanced by Black History Month, which Gina describes as an “inspirational and motivational time to be better.”

“Black History Month is a reminder to members about the efforts people have taken to get to where we are today,” said Byron. “It’s about the impact, appreciating those who got us this far and continuing to make a better future. It’s also the kick-off for the other heritage months of the year, following up with what other members have had to encounter.”

Together, both credited several members in their lives for shaping them as a person and service member of the armed forces.

“I couldn’t attribute one person because it has been a range of people of all shapes, races and ages,” said Byron. “It has been a grocery store of people who helped me and, without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”