For Robert “Rob” Ballard, a lifelong love of sports and service led him to a career in the Navy. “I was blessed to have a wonderful childhood as the youngest of three kids. We were all high school varsity athletes in multiple sports, leaders in and out of school, church, and in the community which earned us all college scholarships. I graduated second in my class and earned an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy.”
Rob entered the Naval Academy in July of 1998 and was commissioned in May 2002. “I started my naval career earning my wings as a naval aviator flying helicopters, then became a division officer in my first operational helicopter squadron in Norfolk, VA. After that, I executed multiple deployments to the Middle East, and was part of Hurricane Katrina relief.” During his first squadron tour, Rob met his future wife, Lindsay, and they married in May of 2007, five days after he returned from his second deployment to the Middle East.
For the next 13 years, the Ballards accepted assignments living abroad in Bahrain and South Korea, and welcomed a son and daughter along the way. “I knew I wanted to end my naval career back in the states, and was accepted into the Professional Flight Instructor (PFI) program which selects senior naval aviators to be flight instructors. I would be finishing my career where it all began with my flight school squadron, in Milton, FL where we arrived January 2021.”
Just eight months later, a tragic accident changed Rob’s life forever. “I was injured in a helicopter crash on Aug 19, 2021 at a Navy Outlying Field (OLF) performing flight instructor duties with a flight student. The last thing I remember about the mishap before waking up in the ambulance enroute to the hospital was flying at 600 ft Above Ground Level (AGL) at one of our Outlying Fields (OLF) getting ready to initiate a maneuver.”
Rob was rushed to Sacred Heart hospital in Pensacola, FL, a Level 1 trauma center. “I had a lot of pain in my lower back and no feeling or sensation in my legs. I also had a collapsed lung, 7 broken ribs, multiple wounds on my legs and feet, a broken forearm, one badly sprained ankle, and one broken ankle. I was dealing with the trauma and loss of feeling in my legs, plus the hospital was incredibly overrun by COVID cases which delayed my surgery and ICU recovery.”
After 10 days at Sacred Heart, Rob was transferred to Shepherd Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta, GA. “We pushed hard to get into Shepherd because it is one of the top Spinal Cord Injury Centers in the country and Lindsay could be there with me and learn how to be a caregiver. Nothing can prepare you for learning how to live as a complete paraplegic; not only was I learning how to live without the use of my legs, but I was learning to live without any function in my bowel or bladder. Learning how to dress yourself, bathroom activities, grooming, and healing from all the trauma takes a toll, Lindsay was my rock and my sounding board.”
After six months of surgeries, physical therapy and intensive support, Rob was finally able to return home, where additional challenges awaited him.
“All our bedrooms and full bathrooms are on the second story, so I sleep in a twin bed in our downstairs living room and take a stair lift to conduct my bathroom activities every day. Lindsay, my son and my daughter all take part in helping me get up and down the stairs and in and out our front door every day.”
“Having an adapted, accessible home would allow me to be more independent and take more of the daily responsibilities off Lindsay and the kids. My goal is to be Dad again, I know there will be limitations, but I need to know my kids can depend on me and we are working to that goal every day. My family has made many sacrifices during my career, many moves and deployments, and now dealing with our current situation. We are a tough battle-hardened Navy family with icy sea-salt running through our veins, but we are in a hard transition right now and an adapted home would allow my family to become even closer and give us the ability to thrive with my new condition.”
The Gary Sinise Foundation looks forward to building Rob and his family a home where he can more fully and independently participate in the activities and routines of family life. We want to ensure that Rob has everything he needs to achieve his goal of being the best husband, father and provider possible.