JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. (June 14, 2013) -- "I had no idea that she was going to join, but just by watching her grow up, I knew that she had the potential to do great things in service to the country," said Command Sgt. Maj. Dewayne Blackmon of his daughter, Denae. "Now we share this common passion of patriotic duty."
Blackmon not only has the distinct privilege of serving in the same Army as his daughter, Pfc. Denae Burkes, but he also serves together with her in the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard).
Burkes, supply specialist, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d U.S. Inf. Regt. (The Old Guard), enlisted into the U.S. Army in March 2012, attending basic combat training (BCT) at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Basic Combat Training is a nine-week training course that transforms civilians into Soldiers. With all the stressors of military training and life, Burkes reached out to someone who she knew would understand: her father.
"We wrote letters to each other throughout her time there," said Blackmon, command sergeant major, 4th Battalion, 3d U.S Inf. Regt. (The Old Guard). "She would tell me about her day and how she was homesick. I would just encourage her to make it through."
Burkes said having a father who understood what she was experiencing was the light that helped guide her along the way.
"My dad always told me to work hard and just don't quit when you are dealing with adversity. It is our family motto," said Burkes. "BCT and advance individual training (AIT) wasn't hard for me, especially when you know so many people who have made it."
Burkes received word that she would be assigned to the same unit as her father days before graduating from AIT.
"I was excited. My dad told me a lot about The Old Guard, but I didn't really understand it all at first," said Burkes. "I was just happy that this unit was bringing my father and me closer."
Being assigned to the same unit has been a great opportunity for Burkes to bond with her father; however, they haven't let their proximity to each other affect them professionally.
"It was very strange to call him sergeant major and not daddy all the time, but that's the rank he has earned," she said. "It is just a balance that we had to adjust for."
Burkes said she's also able to relate to her dad a lot more.
"Our conversations have really changed in a good way," said Burkes. "I think it is funny that we can share funny training stories together now. I really enjoy having him here to talk to about the military in general and about life."
Burkes said her entire view of her father has changed also. Now she has a new appreciation for him.
"I thought I had a good understanding of what my dad was doing for us everyday when I was younger. He went to work, came home, and he occasionally deployed," said Burkes. "It's not until I laced up my own boots and walked a few miles in his shoes that I realized all his sacrifices. He makes me so proud to be in the military."
Blackmon and Burkes aren't the first in their family to serve.
"One of my brothers is an Army captain in Korea right now. My other brother medically retired as an Army sergeant first class," said Blackmon. "My father was an Air Force chief master sergeant and has 28 years of service. My grandfather served in World War II. What can I say, but we like to serve?"
Being in the military has become almost like a tradition for this family; however, Blackmon insisted it wasn't something he forced on his family and children.
"I think my family gravitates toward the service simply because of the values in which we were raised. It fits very well with a military lifestyle," said Blackmon, who is now in his 23rd year on active duty. "We talk about responsibility, accountability, family stability and of course, love and communication."
Blackmon highly regards having a family line that is intertwined with this nation and its military, but nothing has meant more to him than to watch his daughter accomplish her goals.
"She has strong character. She knows who she is and who she wants to be," said, Blackmon. "I couldn't be more proud of what she has done and continues to do for her family and country."