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Patriotic Article
By Army SSgt Liesl Marelli

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From Tragedy Comes Hope, Patriotism, Honor
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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. Had it not been for the deployment, Burge would have gathered with fellow classmates from the ’99 graduating class of Columbine High School to remember friends lost and friendships sustained after the tragedy that unfolded April 20, 2009. Instead, he spent his time at Fort Hood, Texas, with his military family as they prepare for their deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Burge currently serves with Battery B, 3rd Battalion, 157th Field Artillery based in Aurora, CO.
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 Field Artillery.

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 go off.”

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, he said.

“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 forget.

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
Copyright 2009

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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