Fort Rucker


Honor and grace -- there's more to this senior noncom than what meets the eye

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Story by Terrance Bell on 08/17/2017
FORT LEE, Va. (Aug. 17, 2017) -- The expression "A picture is worth a thousand words" conveys the notion images can sometimes say much more about something than written descriptions.

Emphasis should be placed on the adverb "sometimes," meaning the picture can be misleading or inconclusive.

Take the image of Command Sgt. Maj. Terry D. Burton, who took over as the Ordnance Corps CSM in April. He is youthful in appearance with no visible tread wear from years in some of the most difficult work as a maintainer. He is engaging and affable by most accounts, often flashing an earnest smile or a hearty chuckle. He also is a model of achievement, having earned the rockers of a master sergeant in a mere 14 years of service.

In the flesh, he is a picture of predictability and stability, of comfort and well-being, of success and competence.

Burton is quick to note, however, his portrait has not always been rosy. For him, the picture grew distorted when life's occurrences became too much to bear and he sought help for mental health issues.

"I can say I've suffered from depression," said the 46-year-old Roanoke native. "I've come forward, and I tell leaders, Hey, if you need help, seek that help.'"

That is not just talk or heartless advice given by a leader to make himself look good. In Burton's case, it comes from the acute understanding one should be cognizant of mind, body and spirit to effectively undertake the business of soldiering. It also is a declaration fighting men and women are not bulletproof and sometimes require resources to support their efforts.

Born to a "disciplinarian" mother and a Vietnam veteran Marine, who is now an evangelist, Burton said both of his parents were instrumental in his upbringing.

"All the things I believe I do right is a complement to my mom," he said, adding that his father gave him an understanding of spirituality.

The teachings he received from both were buttressed by others.

"I grew up with a loving family and was raised by my aunts and uncles as well," said the 28-year Soldier.

Although Burton was familiar with the military through his father, he had no aspirations to join up while attending Roanoke's William Fleming High School. The only uniform he sought to wear was that of a college basketball player. Injuries, however, and a lackadaisical interest in academics pointed him toward the Army. That came via a military policeman uncle who he once saw perform a gung-ho PT session in combat boots.

Burton traded his street clothes for the Army's battle dress camouflage after high school graduation in 1989. Trained as a light-wheeled vehicle mechanic at Fort Dix, N.J., he went on to tackle a diversified mix of positions and assignments over the course of his career. These include five deployments; assignments in special operations units; duties as a drill and motor sergeant; and facilitator at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy.

Furthermore, Burton has spent the two previous assignments in nominative positions, including the top enlisted spot at the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., the first logistician to do so.

Burton credits retired command sergeants major James K. Sims and Sultan Muhammad for mentoring him along the way, as well as Brig. Gen. David Wilson, Chief of Ordnance; Brig. Gen. Rodney D. Fogg, the Quartermaster General; and Col. James S. Moore, commander, 593rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

As rigorous a career as any, Burton readily acknowledges the role of his Christian faith and the solid ground it provides when the Earth shakes beneath him.

"My first priority is my faith," he said. "That carries all. From a spiritual perspective, my life has already been written. I just need to understand why it is written this way."

If that sounds like the said-faithful is one who sometimes struggles with why things happen as they do, Burton is admittedly that person but progressively less so. Patience is slowly settling in as a companion to age and experience, he said.

"When you put it all together the answer is there," he observed. "It may not come the way I want it, but I understand I have to go through certain doors and barriers, and it may come instantly or later in life. I just have to be that humble person and understand there's a reason, and I've just got to wait for that answer. It's just that it doesn't come as quickly as I want."

Bouts of depression through the latter part of his career may be one of the barriers slowly revealing itself. Burton said he thinks the episodes are linked to various factors and events such as career uncertainty, deployments and some of what he has witnessed in the theater of operations. His last episode was triggered in 2014 when he sat on a jury.

"I had to sit on a capital murder (case)," he said. "I'll leave the name out of it, but I had to look at young kids, grandparents, mothers and fathers who were executed, burned to death. I had to relive that. It made me look at my own kids and resolve to do my best to protect them."

Burton said he leaned on his faith and his family and began taking better care of himself through the Comprehensive Soldier Family Fitness program that stresses psychological and physical well-being.

As the quintessential Soldier, Burton cannot be summed up solely as a fighting man. He also identifies as a head of a household and carries out his duties with as much dedication. His daily routine following a day at work consists of greeting his 8-year-old and 10-month-old at the door and later engaging them in some sort of activity. Burton is more one-on-one with his 13-year-old, interacting with him on a range of subjects.

On Sundays, the Burton family attends church but "our preference (for which church) is based on what our kids like," he said, "versus me and my wife taking them somewhere they're uncomfortable."

That lean toward empathy is a critical tenant of Burton's leadership style. He has learned to figuratively place himself in the position of subordinates when making decisions about them. "I try to put my feelings and my perspective in what they're going through," he said. "It's always easy to be in a position to say, No,' and not help until the shoes are on your feet."

For those who know him, this line of thinking is signature Burton, the leader who is caring, open-minded, unselfish and someone who radiates a sense of trust and comfort. Moore, who has known Burton for some time, said his persona lacks barriers.

"People find him easy to talk with and they gravitate toward him. He is a people person," he said.

Sgt. Maj. Michael Warren is in agreement.

"CSM Burton has a friendly and caring personality," said the Army Logistics University Soldier. "He is family oriented and leads based off of that."

Burton's take on how he has approached military and family obligations over his career:

"Understand my family is important," he said, "and understand my job in taking care of people. That exact order has brought me success, and I am humble enough to know I've gotten to where I am by not changing that course."

In the end, Burton added, the institution that is the Army is an enterprise of people, each of whom is charged with fulfilling assignments. Leaders facilitate the completion of those assignments when they focus on people as necessary resources.

"If you display that and you do that," said Burton, "the mission takes care of itself."

Well said from someone who is not afraid to retouch his pictures.

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