A Wright-Patterson Air Force Reserve C-17 crew unloads hurricane relief supplies at Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida on Sept. 12, 2017. BOB GARLOCK / STAFF

Snapshots of service honor legacies of remarkable 445th AW Airmen

Smart, charismatic, caring, resilient, fun and friendly are some of the words used to describe the late Senior Airman Nichole Ball, former member of the 87th Aerial Port Squadron, whose impact still ripples through the squadron’s culture.

“She had a huge personality,” said Senior Master Sgt. Chad Cazan, who knew Ball during her two years as an air transportation apprentice. “She positively affected everyone she met.”

A distinguished graduate from basic military training, Ball joined the Air Force Reserve in 2001, arriving at the 87th APS in January, 2002. Tragically, Ball died in a single-vehicle accident near Totogany, Ohio, on March 30, 2004. She was 23.

“Nichole loved being in the Air Force, and she was invested in the mission,” said Senior Airman Sierra Copley. “She was a great example of what an Airman should be.”

Eight months after her death, the squadron honored Ball’s service by introducing the peer-nominated Nichole Ball Award, announced annually in December. The award, open exclusively to junior enlisted Airmen, is based on criteria such as volunteerism, attendance, dress and appearance, the Air Force core values, attitude, work ethic and willingness to serve others.

“Anyone in the squadron can nominate an Airman who stands out like Nichole did,” said Copley, who received the award in 2017. “I was making an effort and putting my best foot forward, so the recognition meant a lot to me.”

At the time of her death, Ball was a college student and recently promoted in her civilian job.

“By giving out this award each year, we cement her memory and keep it alive by bringing recognition to Airmen who exemplify all the qualities and characteristics Nichole represented,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michelle Caswell, 2005 Nichole Ball Award recipient. “Each winter we pause for a moment to reflect on Nichole’s legacy of service.”

Now nearly 15 years since her final unit training assembly, Ball’s upbeat attitude and wingman spirit influence even individuals she never met.

“She put everything she could into the Air Force any time she was here to work or train,” said Senior Airman Dustin Seelig, the most recent recipient of the Nichole Ball Award. He joined the Air Force less than four years ago, yet he knows who Ball is and what she stood for.

“The award is about self-improvement and carrying on her legacy of commitment and service,” Seelig added. “I hope to maintain a work ethic and mentality like Nichole’s throughout my military career.”