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NEWS | Dec. 22, 2021

Career comes full circle for Army Reserve chaplain

By Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Wood 88th Readiness Division

This U.S. Army Reserve chaplain’s storied career will come full circle at Fort Snelling, Minn., Col. Joseph Burton will retire as the command chaplain of the 88th Readiness Division based at Fort Snelling on Feb. 28, 2022. His first Reserve assignment was in 1999 as the chaplain for the 114th Combat Support Hospital based at Fort Snelling after he transferred to the Reserve from the Arizona Air National Guard.

Burton will retire with 34 years of federal service. He joined the Guard in 1982 at age 18 as a member of the Aircraft Armament Systems Air Force Specialty Code. He received a direct commission as an Army Reserve chaplain on Veterans Day, 2000.

Reflecting on his chaplain career, Burton said he can’t pinpoint one favorite occasion. “I felt that I was serving the Army to the best capacity that I could when I was able to help Soldiers and families,“ said Burton.

He added that this assistance included many different dynamics, including helping people in crisis and helping them smile.

“It all boils down to being there for the troops and their families,” continued Burton, who is an ordained Southern Baptist minister in Minnesota and chief executive officer and founder of Isaiah Connection, an international humanitarian organization based in Hugo, Minn.

He compares his tenure as the division’s command chaplain to his assisting Nigerian many monarchs, who are similar to kings and queens, for Isaiah Connection. The monarchs can rule over large areas while others may rule a village or town.

“I get to do even more and take care of my general and command staff,” said Burton.

He pointed out that the division’s transformation gave him even more reason to excel as the command chaplain. “I love challenges,” he said. “I prayed for and wanted that challenge.”

Burton’s dedication to Reserve Soldiers and their families has been noticed. His master religious affairs noncommissioned officer in charge, Master Sgt. Jennifer Voelker, said she has worked with several chaplains in her career but Burton brings a new perspective.

“While serving with the 88th, when he wasn’t in Army boots, he would go to third world countries and help them,” she said. “Because of his experience, he was an infallible asset to our team.”

Burton’s experiences read like a book. He joined the Guard for two reasons. First, he was skeptical of selective service and wanted to join military service on his terms. Second, the Air Force offered the best education benefits of all armed services in Arizona. He commented he did not expect his parents, who were farmers in Connecticut to pay for his education. Burton is a recipient of seven college degrees. They include a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Phoenix in Business Management and Master’s in Theology with an emphasis in Missions from Bethel Seminary (graduated Magna Cum Laude), which were paid for by the Guard.

Burton served in the Air Guard until 1999. He tested new weapons systems and loaded ordnance onto A-7D Corsairs and F-16 Fighting Falcons as an airman first class. He reached the rank of master sergeant before accepting his Reserve commission. One of his fondest memories as an Air Guardsman was his “gift” for graduating from a weapons safety course. Burton said his new commanding officer handed him a g-suit.” Minutes later, Burton found himself strapped into an F-16. The jet’s pilot executed a vertical takeoff, a few touch and goes, and achieved faster than sound speed.

Burton described the latter, “the pilot counted off four, three, two, one, it was just like a slingshot. The rear end of the plane went down and away we went.”

Burton admitted that he told the pilot he did not want him to perform any more barrel rolls. “It was time to take me back, I know my limits,” explained Burton, who has raced Rally Cars and is a graduate of Combat Medical School and Combat Lifesaver Course.

Burton said he was “called” by God to become a chaplain. “I realized that God had gifted me with ministering to a select group of individuals, Soldiers, and their families. I feel that God chose me to pursue a career/calling to make a difference in lives. A difference that would be felt for a lifetime.”

Burton also has a “true Achilles heel. He explained that when he doesn’t listen to God, his Achilles tendon he snapped while playing a basketball game hurts. He pointed out that the only time his Achilles tendon hurt was when paramedics arrived and placed a brace on it.

Burton left the Reserve in 2005 as a captain and transferred to the Retired Reserve or non-regular retirement. He said he decided to take a break despite constantly receiving emails requesting him to return to the Reserve. Five years later, two Reserve enlisted Soldiers in their dress uniforms visited him at his house and sparked his interest in joining the Reserve again. He admitted that his wife convinced him to join the Reserve again. By this time, he had undergone knee surgery but he still managed to pass the Military Entrance Processing Station. He was promoted to major in 2011. Since then, he has served as a chaplain for five units, including the 127th Chaplain Detachment, Pago Pago, America Samoa, Black Sea Area Support Team, Mihail Kogalniceanu, Romania, and the 113th Alpha Chaplain Detachment, Belle Chaise, La., before being assigned to the 88th.

He was promoted to Colonel Oct. 31, 2019 and considers this as one of his biggest life achievements. He still has a paper given to him by a fellow officer listing all of the rank requirements.

His other life achievements include being able to bring his wife and two adopted children on several assignments and being there for Soldiers who suffered severe injuries in car accidents, comforting Soldiers who received a Red Cross message, and preventing Soldiers from committing suicide.

Burton may have been there for Soldiers and families in their times of need but he too was tested. He suffered a stroke in June 2021 which affected his lower extremities on his left side and his entire right side. A month later, he underwent heart surgery. It was discovered that he had a hole in his heart during this surgery. He has no residual effects from his stroke. Actually, while he was in the hospital, he said he assumed roles as a hospital chaplain and prayed over several patients and staff.

As Burton, who is Civil Air Patrol squadron chaplain in St. Croix, Minn., said, “I just enjoy being with the troops. I would not trade anything I have done.”