The daughter of two retired Marines with a drill instructor background is setting about in new territory.
Gunnery Sgt. Tara Ballard recently departed from her position as the logistics chief for Combat Logistics Regiment 4, Combat Logistics Battalion 453, Detachment 2 Supply Company at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany. She is now the assistant Marine officer instructor at The Citadel.
She is one of very few women selected to serve in the AMOI role. She is the first female drill instructor to do it at The Citadel.
Ballard, recently promoted to her current rank, is a native of Jacksonville, North Carolina. Her father was a sergeant major before his retirement, while her mother retired as a master sergeant.
“I wanted to be a Marine since I was 8,” Ballard said. “I grew up around Marines. I liked the challenges of the institution and what it is about.”
“I have experienced things I would not be able to as a civilian.”
She attended Drill Instructor School in 2014, later serving as a drill instructor for Marine recruits from January 2015 to February 2018. She then reported to MCLB Albany, where she remained for three-and-half years.
Among her duties while in Albany was coordinator of the Toys for Tots campaign for the southwest Georgia area during the 2020 season.
Ballard’s father was also a drill instructor during his time on active duty. She followed in the same footsteps because she wanted to make an impact and produce a change in future Marines.
“I wanted to be able to have a Marine say: ‘I knew my drill instructor,’” she said. “Marines always remember who their drill instructor was. This was a way for me to have my stamp on them.”
Ballard recalls her drill instructor being extremely hard on her during her transformation from civilian to Marine.
“It was a long three months,” she said of her recruit training. “She pushed me in every possible way. When I became a drill instructor I looked back and saw what my DI did. They had to be in their best uniform and best appearance.”
The toll could be especially hard on female drill instructors. Drill instructors store a lot under the surface, and female drill instructors often have unique circumstances to deal with.
“It is very damaging physically and emotionally. The recruit doesn’t see that,” she said. “The female Dis; some were pregnant in the field.”
“Some of mine where single parents or had a partner stationed elsewhere,” the gunnery sergeant added.
Ballard came to MCLB Albany to do physical inventory, a role she continued until Hurricane Michael hit the Albany area in October 2018 and cut that duty short. She also served as the company gunnery sergeant for Marine Corps Logistics Command.
She was instrumental in standing up operations at 2nd Marine Force Storage Battalion in August 2019. The battalion reports to Marine Force Storage Command and helps MARCORLOGCOM manage equipment and supplies.
The largest tenant command for MCLB Albany, MARCORLOGCOM is headquartered in Albany. It has several subordinate commands including MFSC.
Ballard served in the battalion as the organic supply officer. She speaks highly of Lt. Col. Fred Glencamp, the first commanding officer for 2nd MFSB.
“It was definitely a new experience standing up a command,” she said. “All our reservists went away, but we were still expected to do some of their duties. Lt. Col. Glencamp gave back that motivation and reinforced the structure and set the same foundation.”
“With (current 2nd MFSB Commanding Officer) Lt. Col. (Kurtis) Sargent we are seeing the same thing,” Ballard added. “After the hurricane everything was backed up.”
Ballard describes her time with CLR 4, CLB 453, DET 2 Supply Company as a “completely different ball game.”
Geographically dispersed around the United States and other parts of the world are Marines who instruct and assist Marine Corps Reserve units in order to maintain a continuous state of readiness. These Marines are serving on Inspector-Instructor duty. The I&I duty stations fall under Marines Forces Reserve’s four major subordinate commands, and the Marines perform missions specific to their command and unit.
The unit Ballard recently left was the I&I duty station at MCLB Albany.
“My time with I&I changed my outlook of who reservists really are,” Ballard said. “We have some really phenomenal reservists. They maintain their civilian jobs at the same time. You have to understand where they are coming from.”
Ballard said her role in DET 2 taught her a different form of leadership.
“We help them as a Marine and in civilian life as well,” she said.
Reservists undergo two days out of their drill period in which they strive to meet standards similar to that of active-duty Marines.
“It shows a different perspective on Marines in general,” Ballard said. “They put the uniform on and you see how it changes them.”
She was extremely grateful to take on the opportunity at The Citadel.
“To be chosen for AMOI is very rare for a female DI,” Ballard said. “I did not know what The Citadel was about until I looked at it.”
The Citadel is in Charleston, South Carolina. This means she will remain on the East Coast, close to family.
This is not the only reason she wanted the position.
“For female DIs there are a lot of sacrifices they make a lot of people don’t see. Where ever I go, whatever I do we will remember. Good or bad we suffered together. I am the first female DI to go there. This gives me a new challenge,” Ballard said. “I have helped to train recruits; this gives me an opportunity to train officers. I will be building new leadership to interact on a level I have not been in.”
“It gives me the chance to have an impact on the officer community,” she added.
Her new role holds significance for her. She said the different environment makes it a unique challenge.
“They hold themselves to a higher standard and I will help to train them to be the best officers they can be,” Ballard said.
Being a part of their lives in a mentorship capacity as a staff non-commissioned officer gives her a chance to be a part of their lives, interact with them and be alongside them.
Her last assignment at MCLB Albany gave her a chance to see the civilian perspective. She perceives this to be useful while at The Citadel.
“Being in I&I first allowed me to see what the civilian side of it was. Now I am going to a civilian university,” she said. “There are a lot of different influential leaders. I will be a sponge and learn their knowledge.”
Ballard encourages her active-duty counterparts who are early in their careers to remain positive.
“Make your own career and make your own opportunities,” she said. “You have to see the brighter side of things. Don’t be complacent.”
She learned during her time in Albany to get involved, and encourages other Marines serving at MCLB Albany to do the same.
“If you hate Albany you are not getting involved. You are making it terrible,” Ballard said. “There are a lot of things to learn from people and from this base that would be helpful.”