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Purple Heart commander performs tough duty with tender heart
Mr. Joseph “Snake” Balanovich is the commander of the Biloxi Military Order of the Purple Heart which is comprised solely of veterans wounded in combat operations. He started his 23½-year Army career as a sniper and then moved on to aviation. He also spent 3½ years fighting in Vietnam. (Courtesy photo)
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Purple Heart commander performs tough duty with tender heart

Posted 1/12/2011   Updated 1/12/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Airman 1st Class Heather Holcomb
81st Training Wing Public Affairs


1/12/2011 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- While many people were tearing through wrapping paper, sipping cocoa and basking in the glow of twinkling lights, Joseph "Snake" Balanovich was thousands of miles away from home being Santa for wounded soldiers at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Mr. Balanovich is the commander of the Biloxi Military Order of the Purple Heart which is comprised solely of veterans wounded in combat operations. He started his 23 1/2-year Army career as a sniper and then moved on to aviation. He also spent 3 1/2 years fighting in Vietnam.

Even after he retired from the Army, Mr. Balanovich has never stopped serving his country. Now, he spends most of his time working with the MOPH to give back to past and present military members.

"The only thing we do is help other veterans," Mr. Balanovich said.

Mr. Balanovich said that thanks to Brig. Gen. William Crisler, commander of the 172nd Airlift Wing, he had the most memorable Christmas of his life.

Dec. 23, he boarded "Spirit of the Purple Heart," one of the 172nd AW C-17A Globemaster III aircraft, and flew from Allen C. Thompson Field Air National Guard Base in Jackson, Miss., to Joint Base Andrews, Md. There they picked up medical personnel who would assist the 23 wounded warriors on the trip home from Germany.

Mr. Balanovich said that when he went through German customs, he almost wasn't allowed to bring the nearly $20,000 of phone cards and gifts that the MOPH had acquired for the wounded veterans into the country.

"When the man working customs told me he would need to see a letter from my commander, I opened up my jacket and said, 'I am the commander. Give me a sheet of paper," Mr. Balanovich said.

For him, the best way to give back to the troops is by allowing them the opportunity to talk to loved ones. Every year he collects and purchases as many phone cards as possible for deployed veterans.

"There's nothing like hearing a human voice," Mr. Balanovich said.

He spent the next two days talking to veterans and helping the chaplain and base leadership bring cheer to those restricted to the hospital for the holidays.

On the day after Christmas, Mr. Balanovich, the wounded service members, the medical staff and the C-17 crew returned to Andrews, where more extensive care awaited the wounded warriors.

"Their dedication and determination to bring our wounded home was a true inspiration," Mr. Balanovich said.

"As I was preparing to depart the plane, one of the surgeons told me that a triple amputee wanted to talk to me," he said, "I leaned my ear next to his mouth because hr had tubes coming from his nose and mouth and he said, 'Thank you for coming and seeing me home. When I get up and around, will you come and visit me?' I gave him my card and told him to call day or night and I would arrange to come."

Mr. Balanovich said that when he returned home to Biloxi, he met with Brig. Gen. Andrew Mueller, 81st Training Wing commander, and told him about his trip. He said that when he told General Mueller about the amputee's request, the general said, "The day he calls you, you call me and the Air Force will get you there."

Mr. Balanovich doesn't plan on slowing down any time soon. He retired from the Army, the fire department and construction and plans to continue to serve his country and give back to veterans with the MOPH as long as possible.

"I guess when I can't get around anymore, then I'll retire," he said.



tabComments
1/13/2011 8:45:47 PM ET
I am not surprised Mr. Balanovich is still doing so much for our military giving so much to protect our country. I knew him many years ago as my brother-in-law and he was the big brother I never had. There was nothing this gentle giant wouldn't do for you if you needed something. He always was a hero to me and he has continued to be a hero for so many to this day Thank you JoeyCathy Morris Sterling VA
Cathy Morris, sterling va
 
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