They devote their lives to protecting those that they've never met, selflessly stepping forward to defend all that we hold dear in this country.
These individuals don't join the service for recognition or fame, it's just simply what they feel called to do, forgoing personal ambition to become a part of something much larger than themselves.
They're the brave few who make up our Armed Forces, and some of our nation's very best are right here in Chiefs Kingdom.
The Chiefs have a rich history of supporting our men and women in uniform throughout the years, including through the "Tribute to the Troops" program at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, which recognizes the real heroes in our community during every home game.
That initiative took place once again earlier this season, as Col. Donald Ballard was recognized as the "Tribute to the Troops" honoree presented by Crown Royal during the Chiefs' matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Col. Ballard originally joined the Navy in 1965 as a means of paying for his education. Col. Ballard wanted to be a dentist and figured he would hone those skills in the service, but upon arriving at basic training, he was informed that dental assistants were plentiful in the Navy. Instead, he was volunteered to be a frontline medic on the battlefields of Vietnam.
"I was a pre-med major in dentistry, but they needed frontline corpsmen," Col. Ballard said. "The way that it was described to me was that they didn't need dentists. I remember it very well, and that's how it happened."
In the years that followed, Col. Ballard – then a Hospital Corpsman Second Class – was responsible for attending to the wounded in combat, treating their injuries and coordinating their evacuation to a collection point. In fact, as Col. Ballard describes it, the job of a hospital corpsman in combat was the precursor to modern paramedics and EMTs in our current society.
The role back then was equal parts critical and treacherous, however, as Ballard was often tasked with treating those in need while actively under attack himself.
"It was scary," said Col. Ballard, who was wounded eight times during the war. "The enemy is sitting there, and he just shot the guy that you're responsible for treating. So, many of our medics were killed. Of the 369 medics in my class that went to Vietnam, 13 of us made it home alive. We had no weapons. It wasn't our job to shoot back at the enemy. We had our hands full as the first-responders."
That mentality was never more apparent than on May 16, 1963. Col. Ballard was administering routine medical treatment for heat exhaustion when his company came under attack by the North Vietnamese, thrusting him into action. Col. Ballard fearlessly navigated through a firestorm of bullets and artillery in order to assist a wounded comrade, and along with the assistance of four Marines, the group quickly began to evacuate the wounded individual to safety.
It was then, however, that an enemy grenade was thrown in their direction. Col. Ballard – in the face of certain death – didn't hesitate. He pounced on the grenade before throwing it into the distance, risking his own life in order to protect those around him. Mere moments later, Col. Ballard was back tending to the wounded Marine in need.
"It was love," said Col. Ballard when asked to reflect on that moment. "Those guys had risked their lives to save my life before that day…I didn't worry about dying so much as I worried about keeping those guys alive."
For his actions, Col. Ballard was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Nixon in May of 1970. It's a recognition only reserved for a select few, serving as the highest military decoration in existence that less than 3,500 individuals have obtained.
Col. Ballard – who went on to serve as a hospital corpsman for another three decades – is part of that fraternity due to his selfless act of valor on that day 60 years ago, but his actions weren't in pursuit of acclaim. Col. Ballard was simply trying to do his job to the best of his ability, and in the process, represented the very best that our country has to offer.
"In combat, my job was to be a paramedic. We wanted to help people, and I had no time to worry about my own life," Col. Ballard said. "Of course, I was afraid – I knew the enemy was there – but I had a job to do. When your life is on the line, and all you have is the guy on your left and the guy on your right, you truly love them, and at the end of the day, you just do the right thing for the right reason."