CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan – Navy medical personnel have been to countless battlefields over the years, side-by-side with Marines – keeping them in the fight. So when Marine aviation officially took to the skies on May 22, 1912, the development of naval flight surgeons was not far behind.
Today, Naval flight surgeons play an organic and critical role in every Marine and Naval aviation squadron. The Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362 “Ugly Angels” can testify first-hand to their importance as the squadron’s flight surgeon, Navy Lt. Sarah Ballard, was awarded the Richard Luehrs Memorial Award as the operational flight surgeon of the year.
“Lieutenant Ballard's medical leadership and care of all the Ugly Angels has been magnificent,” said Lt. Col. Thomas “Piglet” Pecina, the commanding officer for HMH-362, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). “She and her corpsmen provide world-class care to squadron Marines, which has positively impacted our mission readiness.”
Ballard said she is “honored to receive this award,” and contributes much of her success to the dedication of her three corpsmen, who have a firm grasp on their operational duty. She also stated that although safety mishaps have been very few in numbers, the outbreaks of flu and cold-like symptoms, as well as maintaining squadron medical records, have kept them busy throughout the deployment.
“It has been a great experience working with this squadron,” said Ballard. “The commanding officer truly cares about the Marines, which makes our job much easier.”
This deployment to Afghanistan with 3rd MAW (Fwd) is Ballard’s second deployment. Ballard previously deployed to Iraq, where she was able to work with the Iraqi Army in advanced trauma and help educate Iraqi citizens about women’s health.
While working with HMH-362, Ballard has set an example and demonstrated exemplary aeromedical service, work ethic, leadership, team-player mentality, military bearing, professional expertise and operational commitment, which are the character traits measured by the Richard Luehrs Memorial Award and lead to her nomination for the award by 1st MAW.
Ballard has gone above and beyond her medical obligations and lends her undivided support to the squadron.
“She is selfless in her duties as she volunteers to fly on combat missions in support of the infantry as an aerial observer and on-call [casualty evacuation] doctor,” said Pecina. “I am extremely proud of all of her accomplishments.”
Upon completing her tour in Afghanistan with the Ugly Angels, Ballard will prepare to return to school and attend Johns Hopkins University in pursuit of a Health and Public Policy Ph.D. in combination with attending the Navy Preventative Medicine Residency Program.
This will open future opportunities for her career to serve with the Marines as a preventive medicine officer, but she is thankful for her time spent with the Angels and all of the support she has received over the years.