John Ball, Col, USAF (Ret), ’78
I’m John Ball, Texas A&M class of ‘78 from San Antonio, Texas. I was born in Paris, Texas on 8 September, 1956, to John D. (Shorty) Ball and Ruth Hulsey Ball. I grew up on a farm near Paris and attended Deport and Prairiland schools, graduating in 1974. My former teachers would tell you I was a pretty average kid; plenty of potential but not enough follow-through. I spent a lot of time playing every sport but didn’t take academics very seriously at the time.
In the summer of 1976, I married my high school sweetheart, Wyn Dunn, daughter of Bobby and Donna Dunn. We moved to College Station; I to attend Texas A&M, and Wyn to finish high school at A&M Consolidated. I quickly discovered if you don’t study, you don’t graduate. So with Wyn pushing me, I studied and received my degree from Texas A&M in May 1978. After a short time in Houston, we moved back to our hometown of Paris where I had a couple of jobs over the next two years, but none of them really motivated me. Then in the spring of 1980, I applied for and was selected to attend U.S. Air Force Officer’s Training School and Undergraduate Pilot Training. It’s at this point in the story that my son-in-law Kyle Meredith likes to say I “fell off the back of a tractor and landed in the Air Force.” Suffice to say, I found my niche.
There is really nothing as motivating as finding a career doing something that is really fun, exciting and just cool to do. Flying jets in the Air Force was all of that and so much more. I had never been around airplanes before the Air Force; I had never even bought a ticket and ridden on an airplane. But words cannot begin to tell how great it is to be able to do something for an entire career that you like to do. Between June 1980 and August 2006, God blessed me with a most rewarding 26 year Air Force career. During that period, I logged over 5000 hours of flight time, visited 76 foreign countries and never once regretted the decision of becoming an Air Force officer. I flew in every major contingency operation during those years, including Grenada, Panama, Bosnia, Desert Shield/Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq. I spent a year with the Army at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas attending Command and General Staff College and received two Master’s Degrees, one from the University of Oklahoma and another from The Air War College. A highlight of my flying career was serving two years as an Air Force 2 pilot for Vice President’s Gore and Chaney. I commanded two squadrons and two operations groups and retired as the Dean of Students of the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama in the rank of Colonel.
After retiring from the Air Force in 2006, I started a second career in San Antonio training Air Force pilots to fly the C-5 aircraft; the same airplane I had spent most of my career flying. This second career serving as a Pilot Instructor for FlightSafety Services Corporation and as a Manager for Lockheed Martin lasted 8+ very rewarding years.
During our two careers, Wyn and I raised two beautiful daughters, Jessie (TAMU ’05), and Karla (TAMU-San Antonio ’12). Seeing the two of them grow up to be mature, productive adults and have families of their own is the absolute greatest accomplishment of our lives, bar none.
After retiring from my second career in 2015, I went on a 2686 mile, 170 day coast-to-coast walk across America. Though I had never been a big backpacker or hiker, I went into that adventure with a healthy awareness and respect for the challenges I faced, both physical and mental. As far as the physical challenge, I had prepared for the walk for several years. I was always physically active while in the Air Force, with running being my primary choice of exercise. However, as I grew older, and around the time of my retirement from the Air Force, my knees began to show the inevitable wear and tear that running brings. The doctor told me I needed to stop pounding the pavement like I was doing, so I turned to walking long distances instead. In the 8 years leading up to my 2015 walk across America, I walked over 16,000 miles, never once walking less than 2,000 miles per year. I routinely walked over 30 consecutive days without a break, covering 6-10 miles on an average day, and quite often walked 15-20 miles per day on weekends. The most I walked in one day was 30 miles. So from a physical perspective, I was ready for the challenge.
The significant challenge of hiking long distances lied in the mental, and this belief was consistent with the experiences of others who had thru-hiked from coast-to-coast before me. Being on the road for almost six months, with its associated isolation, boredom and the uncertainty of where you will sleep on a given night, eat your next meal, or find your next gallon of drinking water can take a toll on you mentally. However, I had developed a solid hiking plan that helped alleviate much of the uncertainty of that trip. In addition, the motivation of raising funds for The Walking Aggie Endowed Ring Scholarship helped with the mental challenges I faced. Finally, with the full support of my family and friends, and hundreds of amazingly nice people along my route, I successfully dealt with the mental aspects of that effort as well.
Now, with my walking companion, Dave Alcorn ’85, whom I met in Tallahassee, Florida on my coast-to-coast walk, the two of us will set out on another walking adventure; this time 2321 miles across the entire European continent. From Athens, Greece to Oslo, Norway, we’ll walk through 7 countries in 150 days. I can only hope this walk will be as rewarding as the first.
So that’s who I am. Small town Texas kid who got lucky enough to find something he really liked to do in the Air Force; a retiree with a second career in aviation; a grandfather; an avid walker with a passion of backpacking long distances; and a supporter of any and all things that have to do with Texas A&M. I would be honored if you would join us online as we set out on this adventure.
Thanks and Gig’em!
John Ball, Col, USAF (Ret), ‘78
I’m Dave Alcorn, A Battery, Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, Class of ’85, from Tallahassee, Florida. I think you will find some striking similarities between John and I as you read my bio. I was born at Glasgow Air Force Base, Montana on 5 March 1963 to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Marshall W. Alcorn and Jewell (Jordan) Alcorn. I have three older brothers, Marshall, Don and Patrick (TAMU ’84). My dad retired from the Air Force in 1964 and we moved to a small farm near Marion, Texas where I attended 1st to 12th grade, graduating in 1981 from Marion High School in a class of 45 students. I started Texas A&M and the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band that fall. Lucky for me, my future wife, Lisa Talley, (now Lisa Alcorn), started Texas A&M the following year. Although Lisa also attended Marion schools from 1st to 12th grade, we didn’t date until she arrived at Texas A&M. She helped inspire me to succeed in college and I graduated on the 4 ½ year plan while she graduated in 3 ½ years. The timing worked perfectly as I was commissioned in the Air Force on 13 December 1985, married on 11 January 1986 and entered the Air Force on 20 April 1986. While my initial intent was to be a pilot like John, the Air Force decided the sky was safer without me so I became a Security Police (later Security Forces) Officer, where I served my entire career.
Lisa and I were blessed as two farm kids to be able to see the world during my 26+ year Air Force career. The military moved us 14 times, but despite that, Lisa was able to have a very successful career as a CPA with several firms including PwC as a Tax Director. Early in my career, in 1990, while stationed at Ramstein Air Base Germany, I earned my Master’s Degree from Troy State, European Region, and like John I also spent what the Army calls “the best year of your life” at Ft Leavenworth, Kansas attending Army Command and General Staff College in 1999. Through the years, I commanded five squadrons, served as a Deputy Group Commander, and served on the Air Combat Command (ACC), U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) Staffs. I also was assigned to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency/Cooperative Threat Reduction (DTRA/CTR) Directorate as an International Project Officer from 2001-2005. In this capacity I spent extensive time in Russia overseeing the protection of former Soviet Union weapons of mass destruction (WMD) during their reduction/disablement as well as time in Azerbaijan setting up their WMD interdiction program for the Caspian Sea. In early 2003 I deployed to Iraq as the Executive Officer for Joint Task Force WMD Disablement and Elimination, responsible for investigating, securing, disabling and eliminating WMD materials and facilities. My final two swan song tours were as the Chief of Force Protection for U.S. CENTCOM at MacDill AFB, Tampa, Florida from 2008-2011, and then Director of Force Protection for AFCENT at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar where I retired in the rank of Colonel in 2012. In both these positions I traveled extensively throughout the Middle East working with forces throughout the region including units in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After retiring from the Air Force I returned to the Tampa Bay area where I worked as the Inspector General for the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. About 2 years later, Lisa received a job offer she couldn’t refuse in Tallahassee from the International Law Firm of Arnold and Porter. This happened to be where our son was attending college at Florida State University. Our move to Tallahassee couldn’t have worked out any better. After living in cities such as Washington D.C., Denver, and Tampa with hour-long commutes for both of us, Lisa now had a three-minute commute and I could work out of my home office as a part-time consultant for K2 Technical, a small Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) in Panama City, Florida.
During our careers we also raised two wonderful sons; Austin Alcorn, who is a Nuclear Electronics Technician currently stationed at Pearl Harbor on the USS Chicago, and Tyler Alcorn, a graduate of Florida State University who currently attends Ole Miss Law School with a graduation date of May 2019.
I met John on his previous coast-to-coast walk and when he asked me to join him for this one, it was an easy decision; once I received approval from Lisa of course. It only took her a minute to tell me it was an opportunity of a lifetime I should not pass up.
While I have never attempted a hike of this magnitude, 2321 miles across the entire European continent, from Athens, Greece to Oslo, Norway, covering 7 countries in 150 days, I am confident I can complete the walk. To prepare, I now average walking over 7 miles per day and have walked over 24 miles on my longest day in the Florida heat and humidity. I look forward to the challenge and the companionship with John.
So just like John’s story, I am a small-town Texas farm kid who married a beautiful hometown girl, joined the Air Force for adventure and have been blessed with a wonderful family and life. While I am also a lifelong supporter of all things Texas A&M, as residents of Tallahassee, and with a son who graduated from Florida State, Lisa and I are also “all in” with supporting Florida State University. This includes all men’s and women’s sports, the FSU School of Theatre, and hosting the FSU College of Motion Picture Arts whose students have used our home to shoot over 20 short films for the undergraduate and graduate programs. So, whether you’re an Aggie, a Seminole, a fan of the U.S. military, or just have an interest in our effort to walk across Europe, please join John and I online and follow along on our trek. It will be much appreciated. I hope you enjoy it as much as we will!
Dave Alcorn, BQ ‘85