Friends, family, and fellow Marines gathered Saturday afternoon at the Northeast Georgia History Center to honor Lt. Col. Michael Scott Ballard in his retirement ceremony from the U.S. Marine Corps.
Ballard served in the Marines for about 25 years. Originally from Columbia, Mo., he enlisted in the Marines in 1984.
“I entered in 1984 at the tail end of President Ronald Reagan’s first term,” Ballard said. “There was a wave of patriotism that swept the nation.”
What influenced him to join was the bombing of U.S. barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 23, 1983, that killed 241 Americans, most of them Marines. He was on a hunting trip at the time with his father and brother. Four months later, he enlisted.
During his quarter century of service, Ballard served in Cherry Point, N.C., Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, Quantico, Va., and Fallujah, Iraq.
While in Iraq, he served as the Operations Officer for the Civil-Military Operations Center. Troops there helped Iraqis rebuild their city and return to their homes.
He also got to be a part of the first election held in Iraq in January 2005. He helped set up polls and get them running.
“I witnessed tears, and I witnessed laughter,” Ballard said. “It was great watching humankind being free and embracing being free.”
He also was responsible for holding press briefings for the local and national media.
“I was the individual who briefed the dignitaries,” Ballard said.
One of those dignitaries was John Negroponte, who served as deputy secretary of state and ambassador to Iraq under President George W. Bush.
Ballard was awarded the Bronze Star and other medals during his military career. His name is engraved on the Iraq pillar in the Freedom Garden at the History Center as a gift for his 40th birthday in 2006.
“It’s a dedication to all those and their families that have supported the Armed Forces,” Ballard said of the garden.
The ceremony was led by Brig. Gen. Robert D. Papak, who worked with Ballard and is a close friend. After the ceremony, a reception was held for friends and family.
“I consider it an honor and privilege to have worked with you,“ Papak said during the ceremony. He said that if any word could better describe Ballard it would be “service.”
“It’s the opportunity to serve a great country that we all live in,” Ballard said in his speech.
He described his reason for staying in the Marine Corps for 25 years as a fraternity among his fellow soldiers.
“You realize at a certain point that you fit,” he said. “The culture of the Marine Corps is a brotherhood. It’s like a fraternity. It’s hard to leave the fraternity.”
Ballard doesn’t see his retirement as “retiring” from the Marines altogether. He just sees it as a transition in his life.
“This is not an end, it’s just a new beginning, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.