In this Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program Scholar spotlight, Jennifer Ballou, Deputy Chief of Staff at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, discusses her passion for serving the military-connected community, the lessons she learned in the Veteran Leadership Program, and how she has put those lessons into action.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your personal leadership project (PLP).
I am originally from Mentor, Ohio, and the oldest of six children. In June of 1994, three weeks after high school graduation, I enlisted in the United States Army and served for almost 21 years, retiring in May 2015. I like to say that my parents set me up to be successful in the Army: I was a squad leader (of my siblings) by 10 years old; if I wanted seconds at the dinner table, I had to eat very quickly, and I was singing (cadence) to my brothers and sisters before bed regularly! I held numerous leadership positions throughout my Army career, culminating as the Senior Enlisted Advisor of the United States Army Resilience Directorate, Army G1, Pentagon. I also served as the first Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Program Manager, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and as First Sergeant, 257th Dental Company (Area Support), 44th Medical Brigade, Fort Bragg. It was during this last assignment, while deployed to Afghanistan, that my husband, Army Staff Sgt. Edwardo Loredo, was killed in action.
I am currently serving as Deputy Chief of Staff at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum (NVMM) and as Gold Star Fellow for the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation. I am extremely grateful for both opportunities, as they allow me to continue to serve in honorable and unique ways.
My personal leadership project (PLP) is to write a book that shares the stories of Gold Star family members. More specifically, this book will highlight the courageous men and women who have turned tragedy into triumph after their loved ones were killed in action (KIA). After the loss of Eddie in 2010, I vowed to keep his memory alive. Along the way, I have met some of the most amazing Gold Star Families doing tremendous work, continuing to serve, and making the world a better place after already having given so much. Their stories are bound to inspire all who read them.
Please give us an update on what you have been working on since completing the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program.
After completing the program, I joined the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation as their Gold Star Fellow. In this sacred role, I am honored to serve as a liaison to the Gold Star community on behalf of the Foundation, to continue raising awareness about the Memorial.
Additionally, I have been focused on the planning and execution of several large projects at the NVMM, most recently being Memorial Day weekend. We offered six different opportunities throughout the weekend for guests to remember and honor the fallen. Events included the CrossFit Hero workout “Murph,” a motorcycle Ride for Freedom, 5K race, Brazilian jiujitsu seminar, Gold Star Family Candlelight Vigil, and our National Remembrance ceremony, all of which were special and meaningful in unique ways.
Which lessons learned during the Veteran Leadership Program have stayed with you the most, and how have you put those lessons into action?
I learned so many lessons during the program but, without a doubt, the one that has stayed with me the most is the power of connection. People matter. Always. I knew that before the Veteran Leadership Program, but I am not sure I experienced anything like this network of professionals since leaving the Army many years ago. I began the program with 49 complete strangers and now they are not only part of my network, but also my confidants, supporters, and friends. Our connections continue to grow and, on any given day, I am in touch with at least one of my classmates. The connections formed during the program are a blessing that I am extremely grateful for.
What drives your passion for serving the military-connected community?
My passion for serving the military-connected community is driven by my deep love and respect for the people who choose to serve our Nation and those who support them. Making the choice to serve requires tremendous courage, and, after doing so myself for many years, it feels extremely rewarding to provide support in different, yet meaningful ways.
What do you currently see as the greatest challenge facing the military-connected community and why?
Perhaps not the greatest challenge, but one that I am immensely proud to be part of addressing is building a Global War on Terrorism Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Memorial will serve as a place to honor all who served in the conflict, provide a place for healing and reflection, engage and educate civilian and military communities to build mutual understanding, and foster and sustain the sense of patriotism that brought all Americans together in the wake of 9/11.