JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas – Frank Burns has had many roles during his life’s sojourn.
Husband, father, son, brother, retired Army Colonel, elementary school principal, Army Civilian and now author.
“It’s kind of neat to see your byline,” said Burns, the Executive Officer to the Executive Deputy to the Commanding General at U.S. Army Installation Management Command. “I don’t consider a life meaningful unless you share it with others. You can keep everything to yourself and not share it, but I think it’s better to share it with others.”
Burns shares his professional and personal experiences in his new book, “Back Azimuths: It’s All About … Ships.”
An azimuth, or a compass direction, is an angular measurement used to locate an object measured clockwise around the horizon. A back azimuth is the projection of the azimuth from the origin to the opposite side of the azimuth circle.
“The book was a way to capture lessons learned throughout my life,” Burns said. “In the military, we have the green notebooks we carry around, and some use it to capture certain lessons and meaningful things in their lives. So, it’s really a memoir more so than an autobiography. As you shoot the proverbial back azimuth to certain events in your life, you see that some clearly define a certain ship. The self-reflective questions in the book allow you capture those lessons, and then that reflection turns the experience(s) into wisdom.”
The book, written from a Judeo-Christian perspective, consists of 21 chapters of “ships” that have specific meaning for Burns, a practicing Catholic. The chapters are divided into “Insight,” where Burns uses a Bible verse that has a significant meaning; “Inspire,” where Burns uses that Bible verse as an anchor for practical lessons to be learned, un-learned, and re-learned; and “Ignite,” which is meant to spark a certain emotive response to “Insight” and “Inspire.” The closing of each chapter offers some further reflection from the author, then gives similar questions to the reader to evoke an emotive response.
Burns grew up the eighth of nine children in Leominster, Massachusetts, and was called early to a life of selfless service. His namesake and uncle, U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Francis B. Burns, died June 8, 1951, 13 years to the day Burns was born. Cpl. Burns earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with valor in the Korean War.
Burns enlisted in the Army Reserves after graduating from high school and joined the Army National Guard when he enrolled in the University of Massachusetts-Amherst as a member of the Simultaneous Membership Program, an early commissioning program. Burns commissioned as a lieutenant when he was 19 and joined the Regular Army in 1986 upon graduating from UMass as a political science major with minors in Latin and philosophy.
He spent 30 years as an Infantry officer with various assignments stateside and overseas, including at the Pentagon during the Sept. 11 attacks, two combat deployments to Iraq and as Garrison Commander at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
It was at Fort Polk where the seed was planted to write the book.
“The suffix ‘ship’ is kind of a tongue-in-cheek or pun on the word,” Burns said. “While at the Naval War College I thought of a different way to look at the word ‘ship.’ When I was at Fort Polk, I had many chances to engage with the community. One engagement was at Faith-Training Christian Academy and I gave a Veterans Day talk. I had one slide with five ‘ships’ and a Bible verse. I explained how I interpreted that certain ship in the context of the Bible verse. Different words and verses have special meaning to each of us and how we in turn use them.”
Burns said the book doesn’t have to be read in sequence and that all the “ships” in the book are interrelated, but three stand out for him.
“Worship, which is where I share some eulogies about my family and father-in-law,” he said. “Relationships, which is interwoven throughout the book and closes the last chapter. And Workmanship -- the work and stories that went into this book made me think about my family. They and my in-laws’ work exemplify Workmanship in word and deed.”
After he retired from active duty in 2016, Burns became principal of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Elementary School in Selma, Texas, northeast of San Antonio. He returned to the Army as a civil servant, first as a Civilian Manager in charge of Army base support functions for JBSA-Army Support Activity and in his current role to IMCOM EDCG Randy Robinson.
Burns’ calm, professional demeanor stood out for Robinson when he hired Burns as his Executive Officer in May 2022.
“Without question he’s a servant-leader,” Robinson said. “It was evident he treated everyone with dignity and respect, and it was also evident his life’s calling was serving the nation and serving others. His life is based on a firm faith-based foundation and his actions follow. He’s one people can look up to and say he sets the example of service and in making our nation and world a better place.”
And Burns isn’t done with his journey. He said he would like to take different ‘ships’ and further develop them in others, be it seminars, workshops or sharing of the ‘ships’ in order to reach people and make a positive difference in their lives.