Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Face of Defense: Retired NCO Continues to Mentor

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Olufemi Owolabi
65th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

LAJES FIELD, Azores, April 6, 2011 – Many people know Cynthia Burney as a counselor at the Airman and Family Readiness Center here. But not many may know she retired as a chief master sergeant after 26 years of service in the Air Force.

When she enlisted in the Air Force 33 years ago, Burney said, she knew she was going to get an education. She earned two associate degrees, a bachelor's degree with honors and two master's degrees before she retired.

Cynthia would also gain a husband, Garrick Burney. They've been married 27 years and both retired as Air Force chief master sergeants. Garrick retired three years ago after 30 years of service.

The story of the two retired chiefs began in the 1970s before they met. They had separate goals and came from different backgrounds. But fate and the Air Force brought them together.

While Cynthia came from a military family, Garrick did not. Cynthia's father was in the Army at Fort Bragg, N.C., and Garrick's only military tie was living close to a military base in Indiana.

Coming from a family of 11 siblings, four of Cynthia's five brothers joined the Army. Her goal, she said, was to travel and get an education. She knew the military was one way to achieve that goal.

When she was in the 11th grade, an Air Force recruiter visited her school and talked about the opportunity to go to college and travel the world. Right there, Cynthia said, she knew the recruiter was talking directly to her, and she was going to join the Air Force, despite being in Army ROTC at the time.

Garrick also had a large family, and his parents couldn’t afford college for him. Driven to get a skill that would last him a lifetime, he often worked with summer hires cutting grass for a civil engineering unit and planned to join the Air Force.

When the time came for Garrick to join the service, a job opening happened to come up in the civil engineering department. Unlike Cynthia, Garrick said he wasn’t enticed by any recruiter or his parents to join the Air Force. He was simply attracted to the Air Force by the image of "sharp airmen" who visited his town decked out in their uniforms.

After two years of service as a pavement maintenance specialist, the Air Force sent Garrick to Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where he met Cynthia, then a jet engine mechanic sergeant. The pair married two years later.

"We've both always been goal-oriented," Cynthia said. "That is one of the things that really kept us together as a couple."

As an Army brat, Cynthia already knew about discipline. She was used to following rules, she said, so she didn't have any problems after joining the Air Force. Later, she decided to become a counselor.

"I knew I wanted to be a counselor when my fellow coworkers and friends would always come and talk with me about different issues or problems," she said.

"I knew I could make better use of my life's gifts as a counselor,” she said, “and Garrick encouraged and supported me.”

She described her husband as a mentor in teaching her about the Air Force.

Garrick said he also learned from his wife.

"Together, we were able to meld our careers and bounce things off each other about life," Garrick said.

"We never really got to the point where I was telling her what to do, and she wasn't telling me what to do," he added.

Cynthia now is assigned to the 65th Force Support Squadron as the community readiness consultant for the Airman and Family Readiness Center. Though a lot has changed since the Burneys joined the Air Force and met each other, they said one thing hasn’t changed -- the Air Force always needs good mentors.

As a former enlisted member, military spouse and mother of three, Cynthia said, she has vast experience as a counselor, and enjoys continuing her commitment to serve.

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