Face of Defense: Retired NCO Continues to Mentor

LAJES FIELD, Azores — 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.

Then-Cyn­thia Sumpter pos­es for a pho­to dur­ing her jet engine mechan­ic train­ing days in the Air Force in the 1970s. Lat­er, she mar­ried fel­low air­man, Gar­rick Bur­ney. She would go on to retire from the Air Force as a chief mas­ter sergeant.
Cour­tesy pho­to
Click to enlarge

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.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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