Our veterans have the advantage of hindsight when it comes to looking back on their time in the military and what it meant. But what does serving mean to someone currently in the armed forces?

Like many of our veterans can undoubtedly relate to, Nicola Balletto – an Arizonan who is now a Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps (selected for promotion to Staff Sergeant) – wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life when she joined the service. “I wanted to make my family proud and do something challenging,” she relates. “The military, and specifically the Marine Corps, provided just that. It gave me the direction and discipline that I desperately needed.”

Balletto says she wasn’t quite sure what she expected when she joined the military and headed off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island for recruit training. “I knew it would be challenging, but I was still very young and just sort of ‘along for the ride,’” she admits. “The reality was that it was challenging – and then some. I have been pushed to limits, both physically and mentally, that I never thought I would encounter before.”

Sergeant Balletto on the range.

Now in her seventh year of service and based at the School of Infantry – East on Camp Geiger (a satellite facility to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina), the 25-year-old Balletto says she’s learned a tremendous amount from her time in the service, and continues to learn more every day. “One of the most important things I’ve learned is independence and problem-solving,” she says. “I make decisions every day that affect many more than just me. That is something I don’t believe I would have learned outside of the military – at least not at my age.”

Like many veterans before her, to Balletto, being a service member means giving up your time and comfort to serve something greater than all of us. When the nation needs them, she and her fellow service members are ready to answer the call, leaving behind loved ones, routines and relative safety for countless unknowns.

Balletto says she would advise anyone considering being in the military to seek out options between the various branches to make sure they get the MOS (military occupational specialty) they find most alluring. “Whether you do ‘four and out’ or stay in 20+ years,” she says, “it’s important to make sure you’re doing something you enjoy. Being in the military is by no means a walk in the park, but it is absolutely rewarding. Prepare for many highs and equal lows, but joining the military is something I do not regret.”

As Veterans Day approaches, Balletto knows first-hand how important it is to honor them – not only on this day, but at all times. “Our veterans give up countless privileges and luxuries in order to help protect our country ‘from all enemies, foreign and domestic,’” she points out. “Veterans sacrifice during and after their service so that others don’t have to. They miss birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and countless ‘firsts,’ just so we can sleep soundly. I’m honored to travel the path that has been paved for me by those who came before me – and I am so thankful for my fellow veterans.”

Join us in honoring our veterans at this year’s Phoenix Veterans Day Parade, Saturday, Nov. 11, at 11 a.m. in downtown Phoenix. For all you need to know about the parade, click HERE.