Saying farewell to a safety icon

  • Published
  • By Lisa Gonzales
  • Air Force Safety Center

On July 29, Michael Ballard will retire with over 45 years of service to the Department of the Air Force. His career has been marked full of “First-Evers” which have without a doubt not only affected the safety career field, but Airmen and Guardians worldwide.

It all began in July of 1975, when Ballard enlisted as a firefighter. He spent nine years extinguishing burning threats before being drawn to protect Airmen and their families in another way; in May 1984, he retrained into ground safety. Ballard completed his distinguished military career upon his retirement in September 1993. However, his time in the Air Force safety field was not over and he has continued to serve as a civil servant for over 27 years.

“Mike Ballard has dedicated his career to safeguarding personnel and protecting resources,” said Maj. Gen. John T. Rauch Jr., Department of the Air Force chief of safety and commander of the Air Force Safety Center. “His unwavering leadership and expertise have made significant impacts to Air Force safety programs across every discipline.”

Ballard made a significant impact from the onset. In his first year in safety at Cannon Air Force Base, he was lauded for his significant contributions to establishing the wing inspection program, leading to a 54% reduction in overall mishap rates and an excellent rating during their Management Effectiveness Inspection.

Some of his military accolades included Cannon Air Force Base representative for Outstanding Airman of the Year, distinguished and honor graduate awards for safety courses, and annual awards recognition as the Ground Safety Manager of the Year and Safety Professional of the Year. In addition, his commitment to safety was recognized with a total of four Meritorious Service Medals and an Air Force Commendation Medal.

After entering civil service, he went on to become the first-ever non-aviator to hold the civilian flight safety manager position at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas; the first-ever civilian chief of safety at the 37th Training Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; and the first-ever civilian deputy director of safety at Headquarters, United States Air Forces in Europe.

Additionally, Ballard was the first-ever former noncommissioned officer to fill the role as deputy chief of Air Force occupational safety.

As the deputy chief, Ballard conceived the early implementation of Occupational Safety and Health Administration electronic activity tracking, which was developed into today’s OSHA module on the Air Force Safety Automated System. 

“Mike has devoted his highly successful career to the safety of Airmen as a firefighter and safety professional. He carries more than 36 years of Air Force Safety corporate knowledge envied by 1S0s and 0018s worldwide and is the most knowledgeable and dedicated safety professional I’ve known in my career,” said Bill Parsons, former chief of Air Force Occupational Safety and longtime friend. “If you research the word “icon” you should see Mike’s photo … wildly admired for having great influence or significance. I know his impact has saved the lives of Airmen and Guardians around the world.” 

He also oversaw the Risk Management program at Air Force Safety Center that catapulted the popular safety video series, “Risk Management in 45 seconds or less with Dr. Love.” The videos highlight risk management initiatives to Airmen and Guardians worldwide on the AFSEC website, the Armed Forces Network, Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

During his tenure as a senior leader at AFSEC, the Air Force experienced a 12-month period with zero occupational fatalities three different times; first time ever accomplished.

On Sept. 9, 2019, Ballard was presented the Distinguished Service to Safety Award by the National Safety Council at their Congress & Expo. The DSSA is a lifetime achievement award recognizing standout safety professionals who have created a difference in safety within their scope of influence.

“I have worked with Mike at the Air Force Safety Center over the past 10 years, and he is one of the most knowledgeable and dedicated safety professionals I have had the honor to work with,” said Mark Erpelding, deputy chief of Occupational Safety at AFSEC. “His focus has always been on the safety and healthful working conditions of our Airmen and Guardians around the world. He is truly a safety icon.”

Erpelding added, “I wish Mike and Johanna the very best in their new chapter in life.”

Ballard serves in his last assignment as the Chief of the Department of the Air Force Occupational Safety at the Air Force Safety Center. During his time as the chief, he forged partnerships, solidified structures and put into place policies that will endure long after he is gone.

One of these contributions is the development and implementation of the Air Force safety management system – a comprehensive management system designed to manage safety elements in the workplace. It includes the blending of occupational, aviation, weapons and space safety into alignment with civilian and military regulation requirements. Ballard was instrumental in keeping the AFSMS as a single system within the Department of the Air Force to cover all elements of safety programs.

Ballard’s contributions to Department of the Air Force mishap prevention programs have directly affected enterprise-wide safer work environments and operating conditions. His impact on the safety of over 685,000 Airmen and Guardians serving in locations around the world has been instrumental in preserving combat capability.

“I am excited for Mike and Johanna to join in the ranks of retirement; I want to thank Johanna, Jimmy, Jackie and Josh for their unwavering support.  You are the cornerstone for Mike’s tremendous success,” said Parsons. “It was an honor to work with you, Mike.  Your guidance and encouragement have helped me and so many others maintain a steady course in storms resulting in safer Airmen worldwide. I wish you and Johanna good health and happiness in your retirement.”

The DAF Chief of Safety commended Ballard for his commitment and dedication in the service of the nation.

“Mike has served his country well in all respects, distinguishing himself through a career spanning both active duty and civilian service for over four decades,” Rauch said. “On behalf of Air Force Safety and the Safety Center, we wish him and Johanna all the best in retirement.”