News>Through Airmen's eyes: AEDC's Airman aims for the future
Senior Airman Eric Ball poses for a photo with an Afghani carpet merchant on Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan. For Ball, the six-month deployment was an invaluable experience and allowed him to forge strong friendships with people from all over the world. Ball is an Arnold Engineering Development Center financial services technician. (Courtesy photo)
Senior Airman Eric Ball, center, is flanked by two Afghani boys he tutored in the basics of reading, writing and English during his six-month deployment to Afghanistan from October 2011 to May 2012. Ball is an Arnold Engineering Development Center financial services technician. (Courtesy photo)
Romanian army Master Sgt. Andreea Marariu poses for an informal photo with Senior Airman Eric Ball during a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. Marariu is the medical advisor with the NATO Finance Contracting Command and Ball is with the Arnold Engineering Development Center financial services technician. (Courtesy photo)
by Philip Lorenz III
Arnold Engineering Development Center Public Affairs
7/20/2012 - ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories and commentaries focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)
One of the military's most effective recruiters is often a person's older brother.
Senior Airman Eric Ball is the first to acknowledge that joining the Air Force was not on his mind until his brother enlisted in the Air Force's security forces and told him about the work and the educational benefits.
When the Atlanta, Mich., native did decide to join the Air Force, he had his sights set on "a flying job," but learned during his medical exam that he is partially colorblind.
As a result, Ball's choice of Air Force job choices "went from a lot to a little."
Ball, the Arnold Engineering Development Center financial services technician, said he was determined to make a go of it regardless.
"I've always had an interest in business and finance, and so I picked this one out of five or six (other choices)."
He has persued that interest in his education, too. Ball will complete his bachelor's degree in September and then start his master's in business administration at the beginning of next year.
Regarding a future with the Air Force, however, he has yet to decide which path he will pursue.
"I don't know if I want to apply to go to officer training school, get out and go to the Reserves, or get out completely and become a civilian," he said.
Ball, who has actively sought out mentors while at AEDC to help him chart a course going forward, has impressed the officers he met while at AFB.
"Eric does a great job of interacting with (people of) all ranks and roles at AEDC, and his genuine concern for others makes him a great officer candidate," said Capt. Alex Henning, a project manager with AEDC's Test Technology Branch. "To pursue school while working full-time isn't an easy thing to do. His commitment to higher education is a great example for others."
This commitment to higher education was insired by leaders like Henning himself.
"(I enjoyed) the mentorship from all of the junior officers because they're more like my peer group," he said.
About three years ago they gave him a hard time about not going to college.
"That's why I started going to school," Ball said. "Just bouncing things off them and the mentorship from the officers has been something that probably not many other junior ranking airmen will (experience) in their careers."
Ball said his recent deployment to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, was also an educational experience but a very sobering one.
"It was my first deployment," Ball said. "It was like going from one end of the spectrum to the other. I went from basically no military here at AEDC to working with military from all over the world, working for NATO.
"You could walk down a corridor and you'd hear a conversation over here in French, a conversation over here in Romanian, and another language somewhere else down the hall. It was eye-opening at first, he said."
At Kandahar Airfield, Ball worked in the NATO contracting and finance office. Any base contract that involved NATO funds came through his offfice, including the building of roads and funding of seasonal projects.
"We did a flood mitigation project just off base," he said. "It was pretty good because I was there during flood season, and the base flooded four or five times while I was there."
Ball also joined coalition troops to teach the children of the local Afghans on base.
"We had a school on base (with) about 75 kids there, and we taught them reading, writing and English," he said. "They would come on base while their parents were selling things at the bazaar and we'd help tutor them, and that was where I felt like I was making an impact, even if it was small. I still felt pretty good about it."
Ball worked with and befriended Maj. Liviu Iusan, who was the chief of the office of the financial comptroller with the Romanian army.
"Professionally, it was a pleasure to work with Airman Ball, a very competent and dedicated fellow, capable of pursuing the organization's goals and his personal goals," Iusan said. "I have appreciated a lot his capacity to overcome the austere situation on the ground and his wish to move forward and to study for the next step of his career, sometimes late in the night."
While the friendships he forged with other coalition forces yielded the most enduring experiences, they developed after considerable initial trepidation.
"When I got there, I said, 'How could I ever get used to this place? This is awful,'" Ball recalled. "I was around more people from other countries than Americans. The best thing is that now I have friends from all over the world. Once it got close to me leaving, I wondered to myself, 'How am going to adjust back to life in the U.S.? This is my life now.'"
Ball said regardless of where he was during the deployment, there were reminders of why coalition forces were present.
"They would fire rockets at us, probably four, five times a week, sometimes less, sometimes more depending on the month," he said. "When you would hear the explosions it was weird to think that somebody out there (is) trying to take your life, except it's kind of (in) an indirect way because they're not shooting directly at you with a gun. But their goal is to take your life."
A more somber reminder came when Ball and others would take a bathroom break.
"I worked right on the flightline, my building was actually the last building that the U.S. took over when we invaded Kandahar in 2001," he said. "It was the Taliban's last-stand building and the U.S dropped a bomb in the middle of it and that flushed out the rest of the Taliban.
"Now we use it for offices. Our building didn't have any plumbing, so I would walk out to go to the port-a-john outside and there would be a ceremony going on, taking some of the fallen Americans (to their transport) back to (the states). You're going out there to go to the bathroom and all the sudden you see flag-draped caskets being loaded onto a plane. That was a pretty harsh reminder of where you were and what was going on."
In the end, the people he met along the way, here and in Afghanistan, were the highlights of his still young career.
"It's been a big benefit. They took me under their wing and it's been good."