From the Pershing Community Center's stage to performing with a country music star on national television - Sgt. Christiana Ball, a Rising Fawn native, has come a long way.
Last year, Sgt. Ball, a drill sergeant for Company B, 787th Military Police Battalion, won Fort Leonard Wood's Operation Rising Star contest and went on to win Army Entertainment's 2013 Operation Rising Star contest.
"I didn't even think I would make it to the finals," said Sgt. Ball. "I just thought this would be a fun thing to do. I had no idea Operation Rising Star would impact me like it has. The opportunities that have come from it are amazing."
She was selected to participate in an Academy of Country Music concert, paying tribute to the armed forces, an honor she couldn't have imagined just a few months ago.
Sgt. Ball went to Las Vegas to tape "ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops," a two-hour concert special to honor service members through song and stories. While there, she also attended the ACM Awards Ceremony.
"It was surreal because Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood are my heroes, my icons, and I was so close to them," Sgt. Ball said. "I don't get super emotional about being around famous people, but I had a knot in my stomach, and I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I saw Garth Brooks. I look up to him."
The "ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops" is slated to air at 8 p.m., May 20 on CBS. Sgt. Ball was one of about 12 military members chosen to participate in the event.
During the taping, Sgt. Ball got to sing with Lee Brice. They performed "I Drive Your Truck," which won song of the year at the ACMA. When Sgt. Ball first found out she was singing that song with Brice, she said she had a lump in her throat because she was familiar with the mournful lyrics.
"The first time I heard that song, I cried," she said.
Sgt. Ball only had two hours to practice with Brice before they performed the song in front of thousands of people and dozens of network cameras.
"He was awesome," said Sgt. Ball. "He gave me feeling that I was back at home jamming on the back porch with him. It felt like we were family. When we got on stage, I tried not to think about the crowd because I didn't want to get nervous, but when I looked out I saw people crying. It's a very powerful song."
When the song was over, Sgt. Ball said she was overwhelmed with adrenaline, and she knew she could get used to that feeling. She said she loved performing for all those people.
Expected viewership for the broadcast is slated at 12 to 14 million, and Sgt. Ball will be watching it for the first time with them.
"I have never seen myself on television," said Sgt. Ball. "I have seen photos from the performance, but not video. I am looking forward to hearing myself with professional sound equipment. I am looking forward to seeing what the performance was like."
She said she never thought her military police career with the Army could give rise to a singing career.
Next month she plans to join Lee Brice in St. Louis to perform at the first of his two concerts.
"We have a night fire range the second night, so I have to rush home," Sgt. Ball said. "It's a bit of a balancing act, but it's worth it."
Sgt. Ball is looking forward to her future - singing and training new soldiers.
"One of the producers of the Rising Star contest is flying here to help me write songs for the Operation Rising Star CD," she said. "I really love the Army, and I love watching soldiers be successful."