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Face of Defense: Belize Native Returns Home in U.S. Uniform

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kali Gradishar
12th Air Force

COROZAL, Belize, April 22, 2014 – While Army Sgt. Karen Burbank was growing up in Belize City, Belize, her mother always emphasized that if she stuck with her education, she would succeed. She heeded that advice, and with five years of training and experience as a medic, Burbank recently deployed to Belize from the 349th Combat Support Hospital in Los Angeles.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. Karen Burbank talks with a Belizean girl while checking her in for medical care at the Chunox Roman Catholic Pre-School in Chunox, Belize, April 7, 2014. Burbank, a Belize City native, deployed from the 349th Combat Support Hospital, an Army Reserve unit in Los Angeles, as part of the New Horizons Belize 2014 medical training exercise. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

From April 7-17, Burbank helped people from her home nation receive proper medical care while working in the triage section of the New Horizons Belize 2014 medical readiness training exercise. Burbank was responsible for obtaining blood pressure and pulse readings and for determining patients' main reasons for visiting the temporary clinic.

New Horizons is a multi-faceted exercise geared toward providing mutual medical and engineering training opportunities for Belize’s defense force and for Canadian and U.S. military members. This was Burbank's first time supporting a New Horizons exercise in Belize.

"This is a real emotional and appreciative experience for me, because I get to actually take care of my own," she said. "I think it's a real good opportunity for us to learn, to build relationships with another country, and also for [Belizeans] to learn the things we can teach them.

"I'm just happy to be here and be a part of this mission supporting a place where I came from,” she added. “I know how important it is."

Many Belizean patients did not immediately recognize Burbank’s accent, but once they did, she said, their demeanor changed and they were stunned that she is from Belize but serves in the U.S. military. "They're amazed. … They're happy when they hear me speak the mix of English and Creole," she said.

The path from Belize City to Los Angeles involved a determination to succeed and continuous encouragement from her mother to value education, Burbank said.

"I was raised up with my mom being a single mother having four kids,” she recalled. “What she always told us was school is very, very important. It's a way of a better opportunity. It's a way of getting out of poverty. … She also used to tell us that nobody can take your education away. We realized how hard it was for her taking care of all four of us, so we couldn't let her down. I realized that I had to focus."

When Burbank's mother died in 1999, she began her path to life in the United States and, eventually, a life in uniform.

"I decided to join the military because it's something that I thought was a very good opportunity for me and my family,” she said. “That's how I ended up in the Army from Belize. It wasn't an easy path. … However, you have to be determined. You have to want it."

Burbank got her education at Queen Square Anglican School and Wesley College, both in Belize City, and then received training in the Army to become a soldier and a medic. She is continuing her education, in line with her mother's advice.

"My daughter, right now, she looks at me as an example," Burbank noted. "If I didn't make that change for myself, or if my mom didn't encourage me, it would have been the same pattern of not wanting more. Now my daughter can see, and she can use me as a positive role model. My mom is not here today, but I know if she was she would be very, very proud."


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