First lieutenant goes to Washington
First Lt. Latisha Ballance, executive officer of Company B, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, talks a group of Soldiers. Ballance was chosen from 50 applicants from across the services to serve as a youth mentor with the U.S. Senate Youth Program.

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- When 104 high school students from across the country descend on Washington this March to participate in the U.S. Senate Youth Program, one Fort Jackson Soldier will be there to welcome them.

First Lt. Latisha Ballance, executive officer of Company B, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, was selected to be a military mentor for the program. About 50 officers from all branches of service applied for the honor, and Ballance was one of five Army officers selected.

"I'm excited and I'm thankful to my chain of command for giving me the opportunity and seeing the potential in me," Ballance said.

Two high school juniors or seniors from each state, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity participate in the annual program, which started in 1962. The students spend one week in Washington where they will meet with and hear addresses by senators, cabinet members and officials of the departments of State and Defense. Throughout the week, 17 military officers will serve as mentors for the students.

Lt. Col. Bryan Hernandez, commander of the 3-34th, said he immediately thought about Ballance as a possible mentor when he found out about the program.

"First Lt. Ballance came to mind because she represents all that is right with the Army and military," Hernandez said. "She is an extremely intelligent, professional and committed officer. She has supported our battalion's Adopt-A-School program with Caughman Road Elementary and is fantastic with youth. She has all the requisite skills to inform our nation's youth on the liberties guaranteed in our country through our Constitution, our political system and about those sworn to defend its freedom."

Before joining the Army three years ago, Ballance worked as a teacher and later as a mental health counselor. She said that because of her background she was interested in applying for the program, but was surprised when she found out that she was selected.

"It was a board or committee that met together and looked over all of the applicants and from there they chose," she said. "I was excited, but I just was in shock -- not that I doubted myself -- but just who I was competing against -- me, a lowly lieutenant competing against captains and majors."

She said she sees her participation in the program as a chance to convey to the students what exactly the military does and how the support of the civilian population resonates with service members.

"A lot of them aren't familiar with (the military) or do not have that exposure, so it's an opportunity to share my background with them," Ballance said. "I just want them to understand how we protect them and make it safe for them to live here in America, ... because of their support, we're able to do that. I just want to convey to them that we're thankful for their support as well."

Ballance said she hopes to leave a good impression of the military with the students and would welcome the opportunity to have some of the students visit Fort Jackson.

"It's one thing to tell them (about the military), but they if they have the opportunity to actually come see it, I think that would have an even more lasting impression on them," she said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16