New role at Clemson ranks high in Air Force colonel’s career
Clemson University was a natural next step in Col. Keith Balts’ military career.
The new senior ranking U.S. Air Force officer on campus, Balts had been very familiar with Clemson’s strong military heritage, which weighed heavily in him applying for and being selected as the Commander of Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps for Detachment 770.
“Clemson has an incredibly strong reputation for its support of officer training, so I feel extremely blessed to have been selected to serve here. It was my first choice and my number two wasn’t even close,” said Balts, who has three master’s degrees and also serves as the chair of aerospace studies department in the College of Business.
Balts comes to Clemson by way of Peterson AFB, Colo., where he served as inspector general for Air Force Space Command. Most of his 25 years in the Air Force has been spent on satellite systems, missile warning, space surveillance and launch operations. Those areas of expertise have served him well in various staff and operational positions, including deployments to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other parts of southwest Asia.
As a command space operator, Balts was responsible for leveraging U.S. space capabilities and applying them to military operations in different parts of the world. For instance, satellite GPS systems accurately identify locations of troops and guide precision weapons. Space capabilities are also utilized to rescue downed pilots. He was also responsible for supporting friendly satellite communications to detect and react to any intentional and unintentional interference.
As the commander for recruiting, training, education and commissioning Air Force officers at Clemson, the Wisconsin native oversees a cadre of seven faculty and staff in the department. He also instructs a senior-level course titled “National Security Affairs and Preparation for Active Duty.”
Balts succeeds Col. Chris Mann as leader of the Clemson Air Force ROTC program. Mann recently announced his retirement from the Air Force but continues to serve as an educator in the College of Business.
Balts said he has relished his 25 years in Air Force space operations but has always aspired to get back into academia where his military career began as an undergraduate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “As a product of Air Force ROTC myself, I have the honor of returning to my roots and helping develop tomorrow’s Air Force leaders at an institution with such a rich military heritage.
“I’ve commanded at many levels in my career and being here at Clemson is very special for a number of reasons. The academic environment and the support for military here runs deep,” he said. “In addition to the visible artifacts around campus, like the Scroll of Honor and Military Heritage Plaza adjacent to Bowman Field, there is also tremendous support from the university and College of Business leadership, unparalleled alumni support from the Clemson Corps, a myriad of campus activities like Military Appreciation Days at sporting events, and robust military-affiliated student organizations on campus. They all recognize and celebrate the importance the military has played and will play in the institution’s history. I cannot think of another university that provides this level of commitment to their ROTC units and it shows in the caliber of talent that chooses to come here, and in the officers that represent Clemson on active duty.”
On average, Clemson’s Air Force ROTC program commissions 16 to 20 second lieutenants a year and has been growing over the past two years. The program’s roots date back to 1947 when the Air Force became an independent military service. Clemson was founded as a military school and has had more than 10,000 alumni who have served in the armed forces.
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