The heroes among us: Retired Airman values military service

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cortney Paxton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Editor's Note: This is part two of a series highlighting the experiences of past military service members.

For many people, joining the military isn't an easy decision, and if joining is something they're committed to, choosing which branch to join can sometimes be as equally challenging.
Tech. Sgt. (ret.) Dave Burger, 341st Force Support Squadron readiness consultant and transitions manager, just needed a little push from the right person to make the life-changing decision to serve his country.

"My dad had the biggest impact on me; he was retired Air Force," said Burger. "He just kind of pushed me in that way. I decided on my own, but he supported it. I originally wanted to go into [the Marines], but he guided me towards the Air Force, which I'm glad he did. Also, in 1983, employment was kind of hard to find and Reagan was building up the military so it was a great opportunity because you didn't have to go to college - you could go straight out of high school."

Burger joined the Air Force in 1983 as a security police Airman. Travel was another reason he joined the Air Force and, just as he wanted, he spent much of his career exploring the world. He had several assignments at different places including Kadena Air Base, Japan; Clark AB, Philippines; Spangdahlem AB, Germany; Kunsan AB, Korea; F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., and Malmstrom. As a young Airman, he enjoyed the nightlife of Clark, but he had one favorite on-duty moment.

"My favorite moment on duty was when the Marcos Regime fell and we were all waiting for Marcos to leave the [Philippines]," Burger said. "They brought him through Clark and we had pretty heightened security at that time. I was posted on a C-141 that was probably transporting his household goods [and] his family..."

Burger also served five tours overseas on deployments to places like Panama, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Although he always deployed proud to be serving his country, one deployment to Saudi Arabia proved to be a little tougher than the rest.

"I think the hardest deployment was probably when we went to Saudi Arabia at the beginning of Desert Fox, Desert Shield and Desert Storm because we didn't know when we were coming back," he said. "We didn't know if we were going to be there for 30 days or if we were going to be there for a year. Plus, I had a new baby at the time."

Along with deployments, Burger spent even more time away from his family as a security police Airman. He was often in the missile fields of Malmstrom and F.E. Warren AFB providing security for the missile alert and launch facilities. Although time away wasn't something he enjoyed every time he left, he often returned home happy to be a part of it.

"I spent a lot of time in the missile field and at times it seemed mundane, kind of routine and unimportant," Burger admitted. "I was there for the fall of the Iron Curtain - [the end of] the Cold War - and it gives you a sense of satisfaction that you are part of it. As small as your part may seem at the time, you are part of that bigger picture in the Department of Defense."

Deployments and time away from his home gave him a whole new perspective on the military ways of life and allowed him to be thankful for things he has. However, there was one moment in particular that made him stop in his tracks and really cherish everything.

"When I was serving, I had an Airman pull a gun and stick it in my face," Burger said. "When you see down the barrel of a gun, life looks a little different. I'd never been so scared in my life. He wanted to get access to the command post - he was upset with his commander and the commander was in there at the time. We didn't have the area open on his restricted area badge - it wasn't allowed, so I denied him entry. He thought that would be the next best way to go about getting in there and it didn't work out for him. I did the initial challenge and did the duress alarm and then we had responding forces from around the base show up."

Burger's dedicated service brought him many unique experiences and proud moments. While he served, he earned various Air Force decorations, including the Commendation Medal, Achievement Medal, Overseas Long and Short Ribbons, Good Conduct Medal, Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal and many others.

Although he enjoyed his time in the military, there came a moment when Burger knew he served all he could and that it was time for him to retire. He was called in early one morning to report to his command for one of his troops receiving a Driving Under the Influence arrest. Following the meeting, he decided it was time to start his retirement paperwork. His decision to retire in 2004 was one that came easily to him as he strongly believes that "when it's time, it's time," he said; but transition to the civilian world is a task he soon found to be harder than he thought.

"The first year I think, for retirement in particular, is kind of a difficult transition time," he admitted. "I was 17 [years old] when I came in and I was raised in a military family, so I never knew anything other than the Air Force. We take for granted our benefits that we have in the service. You may think you're underpaid, but when you look at our civilian counterparts, our pay and compensation packages are really above everyone else. But, after a while, you overcome."

Burger admits to taking some things for granted, but there's one thing that, no matter what, he will never again take for granted - as long as he lives - and he challenges all Airmen to do the same.

"Never take for granted the raising of the flag and hearing the National Anthem play," he said. "Even to this day, that still raises the hair on the back of my neck every time I hear it."