U.S. Army Officer Joe Nathan Ballard was born on March 27, 1942, in Meeker, Louisiana. He grew up in Oakdale, Louisiana and later married former Tessie LaRose with whom he had three children. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1965 and last promoted in 1996 to the rank of Lieutenant General.
General Ballard earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electronic Engineering from Southern University in Baton Rouge. Immediately after he graduated, he was commissioned in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He was about to leave the Army when he was offered a scholarship for graduate studies. Consequently, he entered Missouri University of Science & Technology at Molla, Missouri, and earned his master’s degree in Engineering Management in 1972. During those years and after graduation from Missouri S&T, he attended several military schools: Engineer Officer Basic, 1965; Advanced Engineer School, 1968; United States Army Command and the General Staff College, 1978; U.S. Army War College, 1985.
Ballard was deployed in South Vietnam for his first tour of duty as a platoon leader in the 84th Engineer Battalion. He briefly returned to the U.S. where he served as commander of Company C., 2nd Training Brigade. He went back to South Vietnam where he was head of Company C., 864th Engineer Battalion and Chief of Lines and Communication Section, 18th Engineer Brigade.
Starting from 1978, he was based in South Korea as Chief in the Mapping and Intelligence Section, 8th U.S. Army, Korea. He was also appointed Operations Officer and promoted Executive Officer to the U.S. Forces in Korea. Ballard returned to the U.S. in 1979 and worked as facility energy manager in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, in Washington D.C., until 1982. Right after this 3-year long stay in D.C., he was sent to the U.S. 7th Army in West Germany where he served as Commander of the 82nd Engineer Battalion, 7th Engineer Brigade, then as Commander of the 18th Engineer Brigade, and finally as Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff, Engineer, Headquarters, U.S. Army Europe.
In 1991 Ballard was designated Assistant Commander of the U.S. Army Engineer School and Deputy Commanding General of the Engineer Center, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. That same year, on October 1, he was promoted to Brigadier General (one-star general). On August 1, 1994, he became Major General. In September 1996, President Bill Clinton appointed him Chief & Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington D.C., his first position ever on the civil side of the Army. Thus, he became the first African American to hold both Chief & Commander positions. He oversaw a huge infrastructure composed of dozens of harbors and dams which produced almost a quarter of the country’s hydroelectric power. On October 1st, 1996, he was promoted Lieutenant General of the U.S. Army. General Ballard has also been awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal.
General Joe N. Ballard retired from the military in 2000, after 35 years spent on duty. In 2001, he launched Ravens Group, a company providing technical support to U.S. Government agencies. Later he and his wife, Tessie, started the Ravens Group Challenge, enabling African Americans students to be granted scholarships.