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Utah’s first female general retires leaving a legacy of strong leadership

Maj. Gen. Jefferson S. Burton, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, gives Utah Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Christine Burckle the Legion of Merit, one of the highest peacetime U.S. military decorations, during her retirement ceremony at the Roland R. Wright Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.
Maj. Gen. Jefferson S. Burton, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, gives Utah Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Christine Burckle the Legion of Merit, one of the highest peacetime U.S. military decorations, during her retirement ceremony at the Roland R. Wright Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.
Kristin Murphy

SALT LAKE CITY — When a person serves in the military for many years, their accomplishments can come to define how people will remember them. For Brig. Gen. Christine Burckle of the Utah Air National Guard, her legacy will include being a pioneering leader and a role model for those she served with and others she may never have actually met.

Burckle, 53, is retiring from the National Guard after 31 years, two months and a few days. She was the first woman to achieve the rank of brigadier general — in August 2016 — in the history of the Utah Air National Guard. While she understands the gravity of such a distinction, Burckle contends the time has come for others to take her place as a leader.

“I understood what a milestone it was when it happened. But I also knew that I came from a group of 12 (colonels) on base of which five were women,” she said. “(Women) are there now, poised and ready to step up to that next level. I just got to be lucky to be the (first) one. There’ll be more.”

She recalled a conversation with Col. Gina “Torch” Sabric, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base and the Air Force Reserve’s first female F-35 pilot, regarding their status as “first” in their respective circumstances.

“She and I both agree that it’s important to acknowledge, but then it’s also important to move on and set the stage because you know you won’t be the last,” Burckle said. “The future is bright, and I’ve done what I feel like I needed to do to set the stage for the future, but it’s now time to pass the baton (to the next generation).”

On the occasion of her retirement, she received the Legion of Merit — one of the highest peacetime U.S. military decorations — during a ceremony on Thursday at Roland Wright Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City. The award symbolized “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements” over 31 years of dedicated service.

Burckle was commissioned in 1988 through the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she graduated first in her 1990 undergraduate navigator training class at Mather Air Force Base, a news release stated. Later, she served more than eight years in the active Air Force at Carswell Air Force Base in Texas and at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.

She joined the Utah Air National Guard in 1996 as a navigator for the KC-135 — a military aerial refueling aircraft — deploying for operations Desert Shield, Deseret Storm, Uphold Democracy, Joint Forge, Allied Force and Enduring Freedom, and was also activated for Operation Noble Eagle, the release stated.

Burckle logged over 3,000 flying hours in the KC-135. Over the years, her assignments included director of staff, 151 Air Refueling Wing vice commander and state human resources officer.

More recently, she served as commander of the Utah Air National Guard and was responsible for the command, control and operations of plans and programs of more than 1,400 Utah Air National Guard personnel located at Wright Air National Guard Base.

Burckle will be replaced by Col. Daniel Boyack, who has been appointed to serve in Burckle’s former role as assistant adjutant general of the commander of the Utah Air National Guard.

Though she will miss her friends and colleagues in the military, Burckle said the time has come to allow the next generation of warfighters to lead the battle against the new age enemies facing the nation and its allies.

“The new generation of warfighter that’s coming up, they understand that who we consider the enemy is hard to define,” Burckle explained. “(Today), you may not even be engaging eye to eye with people. That’s why it’s time for someone like me to go, the younger people know that the wars of the future will not be fought and won on the same type of battlefields that we (fought), and they understand that.”

Her fellow officers lauded her leadership and professionalism throughout her career, saying she is a person of exceptional principle.

Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton, adjutant general for the Utah National Guard, described Burckle as a “selfless servant” of great personal character. Noting that Utah has the lowest participation rate in the Air National Guard nationwide, he said Burckle was an example that others could emulate.

“A lot of young women have been watching her with a new view on what they’re capable of becoming and that means a lot,” he said. “Brig. Gen. Burckle exemplifies some of the finest leadership we have seen in the Utah National Guard.”

“Her ability to connect and influence our airmen and soldiers, our state and national leaders, will have a lasting impact on the organization and the state of Utah for decades to come,” Burton said. “She will be greatly missed.”