Son’s revelation prompts CSM’s decision to retire

Command Sgt. Maj. Terry D. Burton, former Ordnance Corps CSM, poses with his son, Christian, 16.

For many wearing a military uniform, the decision to retire may come after months of deliberation, or it could be spurred by a sudden realization.

In the case of Command Sgt. Maj. Terry D. Burton, who was serving as the Ordnance Corps CSM until a change of responsibility here Friday, it was the latter. The thought of losing precious time with his son, Christian, convinced him it was time to join the retiree ranks.

Christian, a 16-year-old student at Prince George High School, had expressed to the family at the dinner table earlier this year he was growing tired of having only his stand-in-dad, a.k.a., mom – present at school and social activities.

“He said, ‘Dad I don’t want to blame anybody … but mom is not dad, and she’s been here with me as I’ve grown up,’” said Burton, recalling the conversation.

The CSM, who has 30 years of service and a gazillion deployments, responded with a large measure of sobriety.

“I was like, wow!” he recalled. “I didn’t get mad, and it didn’t bother me, but it was good that he shared something like that with us as a family.”

It was definitely an appeal, and Burton responded immediately.

“I’m retiring,” he said a few seconds after his son’s revelation.

Later, the Roanoke native said he informed a number of senior leaders. Some had solicited him for follow-on assignments. 

Burton, however, was not having it. Furthermore, he had prayed for answers on issues concerning his “most challenging assignment” as the Ord. Corps CSM.  Burton now realizes the answer was not related to his current position or next assignment. It was his son.

“That’s what opened my eyes,” he said. “God had been telling me this the entire time.”

Since he made his decision, Burton said he has acted with amazing clarity. He has plans to provide Christian – and his brothers Ezar, 3, and Abram, 9 – with a more stable life; one in which he is there for sporting events, birthdays and their first dates.

“That requires my attention, me being there for them,” he said. “I need to show them what I learned and open up and share with them my mistakes.

“They also need to know we learn from society, the school system and the internet, but ultimately, their educational foundation starts with me and their mother.

“We have the responsibility of helping our kids reach their goals.”

It was announced during the change of responsibility ceremony Friday that Burton is heading to Huntsville, Ala., where he will lead a Junior ROTC program.

Soldiers are regularly told that healthy family lives are key to their resiliency. The moral to Burton’s story is to understand what spouses and children go through; what they miss as a result of the military parent’s long hours at work or time away on temporary duty or deployment. A lot can be accomplished through open communication.