When Staff Sgt. Dirk Burton made the decision to join the Army, he had his heart set on being part of the chaplaincy so he could continue working in a religious capacity.
His military career took a different path, however. Nine years later, he’s a CH-47 Chinook helicopter repairer working in S-3 at Aviation Center Logistics Command at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and says he couldn’t be happier to be back in his home state doing a job he loves.
“Before I was in the Army, I was a pastor in New Orleans,” said Burton. “The game plan was to become a chaplain but, due to circumstances – specifically hurricane Katrina, I ended up enlisting instead.”
Burton says the change of plans worked to his benefit personally and professionally.
“It’s not to say I’ve lost any faith that I had previously, but it’s a different avenue,” said Burton. “It took me out of an office setting for a good period of time. I enjoy working with my hands and turning wrenches, and it turns out I’m pretty good at it.”
Maj. Sidney Roberts, operations officer for ACLC, said Burton has played a vital role in the command’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is an essential member of the ACLC team.
"Staff Sgt. Burton is the definition of a leader,” said Roberts. "As the sole COVID-19 representative for ACLC, he performed well above his paygrade and provided information that enabled the ACLC commander [Col. Stephen Owen] to make quick and informed decisions.”
In addition to some of the more traditional noncommissioned officer responsibilities, Burton filters and compiles COVID guidance from U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command and U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, implements required testing and ensures reporting requirements are met.
Like many Soldiers, Burton has been given the opportunity to visit and work in different parts of the world. His previous duty stations include Fort Hood, Texas, and Ansbach, Germany. He also took part in a humanitarian aid mission to Liberia in West Africa.
But Alabama is home and he’s making the most of being near family and partaking in one of his favorite hobbies – fishing – every chance he gets.
Military service was important in Burton’s family. His paternal grandfather was a Marine who served in Korea and was the driving force in the decision of Burton and his brother to join the Army and Air Force, respectively.
“My grandfather influenced me and my brother greatly,” said Burton. “He was a machine gunner and lost his leg in Korea. He had tremendous respect for veterans. If he saw vets or current military in a restaurant, he would silently pay their bill. He would give you the shirt off his back.”
Burton’s grandfather was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his actions and the brothers have kept all of his records, medals and other mementos of his service.
“My brother has the flag that was presented at his funeral and I have the flag that was presented to him at Johns Hopkins when he received his Purple Heart,” said Burton. “We both looked up to him. He was a great man.”