Best Warrior Competitor Continues Family Tradition of Military Excellence
October 4, 2007
FORT LEE, Va. -- Staff Sgt. Russell Burnham, U.S. Army Medical Command, has amassed quite a list of achievements in nearly six years of service in the Army. The 2003 Forces Command Soldier of the Year, 2003 Department of the Army Soldier of the Year, 2004 American Legion Military Spirit of Service awardee and 2007 Medical Command Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, to name a few.
These accolades would make any relative proud, and Burnham comes from a family of great military tradition.
His father was drafted in 1966 and served four years in the Army. His grandfather also served as an engineer during World War II. Burnham's great-grandfather, Maj. Frederick Russell Burnham, was a British scout and was the only American decorated with the Distinguished Service Order during the Boer Wars. His grandfather was selected for the Victoria Cross; Britain's highest military award, but declined, rather than forfeit his American citizenship.
Although he never met his grandfathers, it is still a history he holds in high regard.
"These are things that are not necessarily ingrained in me, but it is in my blood," said Burnham, native of Tucson, Ariz. "I'm very proud of my family history."
During an interview at the Media Day portion of the 2007 Best Warrior Competition,
Burnham said being an Eagle Scout has probably helped prepare him more for his Army career and competitions than anything else.
"To get promoted to each rank in the scouts, you have to go to boards, just like I'm doing now in the Army," said Burnham. "As an 11-year-old boy, I'd go into these rooms and stand in front of all these adult scout masters. And, they ask you all kinds of questions about scouting, and reciting the scout oath and the scout law. And at that age, you're under a lot of pressure to ascend to the next rank. And then you attend summer camp and learn to shoot and navigate the woods with a map and compass. By far, being in the scouts is what has set me up for success today."
He may have his great-grandfather to thank for that scouting experience. More than 100 years earlier, the elder Burnham was a celebrated tracker and scout - in the military sense. He befriended Lt. Gen. Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts) during the Second Matabele War in 1896.
"My great-grandfather was an excellent scout," said 27-year-old Burnham. "Baden-Powell was so intrigued that he even wrote in his memoirs how he met Maj. Burnham, and sat night after night learning how to scout - how to move behind enemy lines and things like that."
Burnham said it was interesting that while Baden-Powell is considered the founder of the Boy Scouts, it was his grandfather who had taught him scouting.
"I'm very proud of that and wished I had a chance to meet him," said Burnham. "But it's nice to know that military success runs in the family. Hopefully, I'm living up to my family's hopes and dreams for me. But I'm doing my best, that's for sure."