Becoming an Army Engineer to Continue a Life of Service All Over the World

Categories: Grad News, Alumni Profile
Class Years:

When CPT Ben Ketchum ’13 celebrated his 12th birthday at a hotel in the West African nation of Benin back in 2002, he would have never guessed that he’d be back in that same hotel nearly 20 years later traveling as an engineer officer with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This most recent visit was to conduct inspections on a series of construction projects while his first visit took place while living with his family aboard a non-profit hospital ship.

“It was a wonderfully fulfilling and somewhat surreal experience being back in Benin. The country has changed tremendously, but little things I remember as a kid are exactly the same—the hotel even had the same pizza on the menu I remember from my 12th birthday,” Ketchum said. “Benin has really come a l long way since the last time I was there when my family was serving onboard the M/V Anastasis in 2002.”

The M/V Anastasis was part of the fleet of hospital ships associated with the non-profit Mercy Ships organization, which provides surgical care to impoverished communities in developing countries all over the world. Ketchum’s father, now a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, was then the ship’s captain. Ketchum’s whole family lived aboard the ship continuously for three years, traveling and supporting their mission.

“Mercy Ships is an incredible volunteer/non-profit organization that operates and maintains multiple hospital ships crewed by hundreds of highly qualified volunteers, medical professionals, and their families,” Ketchum said. “I think the biggest take-away from that experience growing up was the tremendous potential for good that just a few people can have if they are properly organized and motivated.”

Being a part of that organization and his family being dedicated to that kind of global service made a lasting impact on Ketchum. He knew he wanted to find a career that would allow him to continue the same kind of service to others all over the world. He saw the U.S. Army as that opportunity.

“Even though the Army and Mercy Ships are vastly different organizations in terms of mission-sets, there are a lot of parallels in terms of service and the capacity to do incredible things while supporting and being supported by a great community,” Ketchum said.

Ketchum started his uniformed service enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, but was accepted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point through a special program to admit top enlisted personnel from the U.S. Army and other services.

“My primary reason for joining was to give back to the country that has already given my family so much. I wanted to support and defend the core values of America and hopefully gain a few skills to help some people out along the way,” Ketchum said. “I originally enlisted in the Coast Guard Reserve prior to the Army and did a ‘moonshot’ college application to West Point that wound up accepting me. They told me later that I was actually the first member of the Coast Guard to ever be accepted into West Point which was really wonderful.”

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