Seconds from separation, Airman helps retain those who were once in his place

  • Published
  • By SSgt. Courtney Dotson-Essett
  • 434th ARW Public Affairs

As a Civil Engineering Squadron Water and Fuels System technician, Staff Sgt. James Burton has seen some interesting things. Including watching his Air Force career almost wash away when he decided to separate from the military several years ago.

Burton is a plumber at Grissom; a job he’s been doing since he enlisted a little over nine years ago.

He had a limited experience with plumbing before, but he said joining the Air Force as a plumber definitely gave him more tools for his toolbox.

“Plumbing is actually pretty cool,” he said.  “I’m a landlord on the outside as well, and one of the biggest expenses you’ll have is electrical or plumbing. Being able to take care of a lot of those issues myself is a big money saver,” Burton said.

As much as the Indianapolis native enjoyed what he was doing here at Grissom, when his civilian career as a sales representative with a local cable company began to take off, Burton decided it was time to move on from serving in the Air Force and focus solely on that.

“I knew for a fact that I was going to get out because my civilian job at the cable company was just that awesome,” he said. “I thought, well, I’ve served my country - time to go.”

But it was a chat with Chief Master Sgt. Wes Marion, 434th Command Chief, that Burton says changed his mind. 

“Chief Marion saved my life,” he said. “I was saying goodbye to him and he told me that you never know what’s going to happen on the outside so maybe I should think about my decision to leave.”

Those words from Marion would prove to be almost prophetic for Burton.

“Right before I was telling the chief I was getting out, my company was sold to another company,” he said. “They changed everything about my job. I was making a lot less money and doing a lot more work.”

Burton decided to stay in. Not for lack of options, but because he really did enjoy being in the Air Force.

“I wanted to serve my country,” he said. “Some might think it sounds kind of cheesy but that’s really why I joined.”

Reflecting upon that decision that could’ve sent his life in another direction, Burton was relieved that he heeded Chief Marion’s advice.

“Had I not talked to Chief Marion, I would have really been regretting some things,” he said.

Soon, Burton would be on the other side of the table, presented with the opportunity to help others with their careers.

When his unit’s career advisor was deployed, Burton jumped at the chance to fill the role.

“I immediately knew I wanted to do it because I knew how close I came to separating and how much I would’ve regretted it,” he said. “I knew I needed to spread the word and make sure people keep their options open.”

The importance of helping Airmen decide that next step in their career is not lost on Burton. After all, a bit of well-placed advice is why he’s still at Grissom.

“It means almost everything to me because I was the guy who was about to get out, and I can share my story with people that are about to get out,” he said. “I think it does have a little sway on what they might do.”

He recognizes that lives take different paths and the choice for each individual must be the right one. He believes, however, that the Air Force remains a great choice.

Burton said, “My advice would be to think about it long and hard. You never know what the future holds and the Air Force is a good backbone and stability for your life.”

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

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