From Tragedy Comes Hope, Patriotism, Honor
(May 4, 2009)
Sgt. Dan Burge of
Littleton, Colo., hugs a friend at 3rd
Battalion, 157th Field Artillery's deployment
ceremony at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.,
April 17, 2009.
Courtesy photo by Dr. John T. Marelli
FORT HOOD, Texas - Sometimes when meeting someone, you might not
guess where they have been, what decisions made them who they are today.
You might look at Sgt. Dan Burge and think he's an average guy who
joined the military to serve his country or to leave home. You might
never know what historic landmark just passed in his life. But you might
recognize him from the news from a significant date just over 10 years
ago. You might have seen him with his peers crying and embracing each
other when they lived through the shooting at Columbine High School.
Burge said he would have gone to the 10-year anniversary, but instead
of being home with his family and friends, he's with his other family
and friends – the Colorado Army National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 157th
Although his commander can allow Soldiers to go home to see families
for emergencies requiring Red Cross messages, Burge said he wanted to
stay here and keep focused on the tasks that lay ahead.
Nonetheless, the moment he began recalling the day, it was evident he
was here physically, but mentally and emotionally he was back at
Columbine High School reliving the events that happened 10 years ago
that changed his life.
“We were supposed to have a canon come out for a history class to
shoot off black powder,” he recalls. “I was outside smoking with friends
and we started hearing blasts go off.”
Thinking they were the blasts from the canon at first, Burge and his
friends went over to get a better look.
To his dismay, he recalls seeing two distinct faces that he
recognized immediately, “They were throwing pipe bombs at kids. Everyone
was running out of the cafeteria. You could hear the semi-automatic fire
Burge said he and his friends took off running up
the hill toward Clement Park where students where students were already
calling the police.
“The police said they already got calls and were in route with
emergency vehicles,” Burge said. “We were instructed to go to the
nearest elementary school.”
It was nerve racking waiting at the elementary school, he said.
“It was good to see friends coming through the doors and having
family around. Everyone's family was there,” Burge said.
Burge lost some of his friends that day, but not hope.
It was a life-changing experience for Burge, who decided within a
year of the devastating event to join the military.
“I can name 25 people off-hand who joined the military,” said Burge
about his graduating class.
“The military got me away from the world – gave me a new adventure.
[That day] will always be there, it's something that I will look back on
and remember,” he said.
In early 2000, he joined the Marine Corps and was happy to receive
the training he had.
I am a certified Emergency Medical Technician and combat lifesaver,
“I knew the military would show me how to deal with something like
that (like the day at Columbine High School), so I would know how to
help more people.”
“Joining the military gave me more purpose – helped me stay focus.”
Sgt. Dan Burge stands with Lt. Col. Lynne Ciancio at his best friend's funeral, Sgt. Jon Stiles, at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colo., November 21, 2008. Stiles was killed in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, by an improvised explosive device in November 2008 while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Burge was asked by Stiles' wife, Launa, to go to Dover Air Force Base and bring her husband home. “I told [Launa] there would be no greater honor for me,” Burge said.
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Liesl Marelli
He learned how to carry on after such tragedy,
which in the military sometimes happen all too often. Of his friends who
joined the military, he says he's already lost a few fighting in the
Global War on Terror.
Burge, who deployed twice with the 1st Marine
Division, is now heading once again into a combat zone.
“There are three or four of my friends from high
school overseas right now,” said Burge, adding that friends and families
back home in Littleton are keeping up with him to track how he's doing
during the training and deployment.
Burge wanted to be there for the reunion, but
decided to keep his “mind in the game” and stay focused on the
deployment that awaits him and his fellow Soldiers.
Burge, who serves as a field artillery team leader
for Battery B, 3rd Battalion, 157th Field Artillery based in
Aurora, Colo., is ready both
physically and mentally to join his friends once
again overseas in the war.
“I'm looking forward to seeing the changes in
Iraq,” he said.
I'm going to deploy to the same region for the second time, so I'll
really get to see the progress first-hand and know what changes have
been made, he said.
It's remarkable the events one goes through in life, and the path
they chose as a result of it. Burge chose to step outside of his world
and serve his community and nation. He's among the many survivors of
Columbine who carries the events of that day with him and refuses to
He said he deals with sadness, loss and stress with hugs. Who would
have thought a Marine turned Colorado Guardsman who is heading on his
third combat tour can still fall back and find pleasure in the simple
things – like a hug.
By Army SSgt Liesl Marelli
Public Affairs NCO
3rd Battalion, 157th Field Artillery, Colorado Army National Guard
Author's Note: I met Sgt. Dan Burge during another terribly sad event in his life. One of his best friends, Sgt. Jon Stiles was killed in November 2008 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. Burge was asked by Stile's wife, Launa, to fly to Dover Air Force Base and bring her husband/his best friend home. I was there photographing the event for the family for his arrival, the wake and the burial. From the moment I met him under those terribly sad circumstances, I became instant friends with Launa and Burge. Now at Fort Hood, Texas, whenever we cross paths, he has a smile on his face and always has time for a hug. It's not just the family you leave behind when you deploy, but it's the family you take with you that makes it all worthwhile. I'm glad to have him around – he's not only a great Soldier but also one of my closest friends.
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