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Chief serves beyond active-duty

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Staci Miller
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
John Burden retired as a chief master sergeant more than 18 years ago, but he never stopped serving his country and community.

"As I was parking at the Veteran's Association clinic, I saw a gentleman across the street get out of an old rickety van," Burden said. "He was an amputee on crutches and struggling to get his old beat-up wheelchair out of the back."

Burden parked and immediately walked over to help a fellow veteran.

"To be honest, his wheelchair belonged inside of a garbage can," Burden said. "I said to him, 'Wouldn't you like to have a better wheelchair?' He looked at me and told me there was no way he could afford a new one. So, I told him I knew I guy who could help him out."

Burden is the Disabled American Veteran's northern district commander for the state of Arizona, overseeing eight chapters and serving more than 12,000 veterans.

At the time, he had eight wheel chairs in his garage, donated to the DAV to give to needy veterans. A few days later, Burden and a fellow DAV chapter member drove to the veteran's house.

"We knocked on his door and presented him with his new wheelchair," Burden said. "He really caught me off guard when he started crying. As tough as I think I am, I might have shed a tear with him."

The DAV is an all-volunteer organization which receives no government funding.

"I got compensated that day, right here," Burden said as he pointed to his heart. "That's why I do the things I do. I get passionate about taking care of folks."

A 30-year veteran, he began his military career September of 1966. During the height of the Cold War, he spent three years at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, before being stationed at Luke Air Force Base as an aircraft fuel systems specialist. He spent less than a year here before moving on to his next duty station.

Thereafter, he served in Ohio, Arkansas, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Maine, Nebraska, Germany and California.

He finished his career at the Air Force Space Command Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Burden retired in 1996 as a command chief master sergeant with 16 years of first sergeant experience.

"Being a first sergeant was a great thing," Burden said. "Being able to help people makes my day."

He moved back to Arizona 12 years later.

"I fell in love with the Valley back in the 60s," he said. "I always knew I would eventually move back."

His community involvement to his adopted state is vast. At Luke, he is a legislative trustee for the Air Force Sergeants Association, Chapter 1260, and a member of the Western Maricopa County Association of Realtors, which helps keep veterans aware of housing issues. He also works as a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Surprise where he specializes in active retirement living communities.

"Working in real estate gives me another way to help the military," Burden said. "It gives me insight into the housing industry and allows me to help as members move in and out of the community."

All of Burden's efforts haven't gone unnoticed.

He was inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame in recognition of his service to his fellow veterans and community members Oct. 24.

"I always say it comes down to these three words -- service before self," he said.