19th Special Forces Group Commander

 Has Eventful Last Day at Helm

 

Written by Maj. Hank McIntire

Published August 7, 2006

 

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Pfc. Jason Burton, center, receives his jump wings from his father Col. Andy Burton at a Fort Benning, Ga., graduation ceremony July 14.

Photo by Capt. Vincent Bray

Pfc. Jason Burton, center, receives his jump wings from his father

 Col. Andy Burton at a Fort Benning, Ga., graduation ceremony July 14.

CEDAR FORT and CAMP WILLIAMS, Utah —  For Col. Andy Burton, commander of the 19th Special Forces Group, and his son Pfc. Jason Burton, Wednesday, July 19, was a day of firsts and lasts.

Father and son had just recently returned from Fort Benning, Ga., where the previous Friday Jason graduated from Airborne School and Andy was the keynote speaker at the ceremony and pinned new jump wings on his son.

On this day, the recent graduate would break in his wings jumping out of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter for his “cherry jump,” which is what Special Forces Soldiers call their first parachute jump after Airborne School.

The younger Burton would be joined by his father and commander, who would be completing his 150th and last jump as a member of the 19th. The Burtons were also joined on the first stick—or batch of jumpers—by Sgt. David Burton, Group Support Company, 19th Special Forces Group, a nephew to Andy and cousin to Jason, as well as Col. Michael Adams, who would assume command from the senior Burton later in the day.

The Burton Boys, from left to right, Col. Andy, Pfc. Jason, and Sgt. David, all of 19th Special Forces Group, prior to takeoff for their jump July 19.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

The Burton Boys, from left to right, Col. Andy, Pfc. Jason, and Sgt. David,

all of 19th Special Forces Group, prior to takeoff for their jump July 19.

The father-son combination also garnered a great deal of local media attention with all the television stations and major and small-town newspapers represented at Drop Zone Ashau, a conglomeration of farmers’ fields just outside Cedar Fort, Utah.

The weather was slightly overcast with almost no wind—a perfect day for a parachute jump, according to Col. Burton.

Jason jumped first, followed three seconds later by Andy. About two minutes later the two Burtons landed within about 30 feet of each other in the soft dirt.

After collecting and repacking their chutes and trudging through the Cedar Valley soil to the dirt road representing the western edge of the drop zone, they were met by reporters—including this one—anxious to get their reaction.

“The jump was good, but it’s kind of sad. It’s my first jump with the unit and [my dad’s] last,” said Jason. “It was a good experience to jump with him and carry the tradition forward.”

Pfc. Jason Burton, left, and Col. Andy Burton interview with Jed Boal, local television reporter, at Drop Zone Ashau near Cedar Fort, Utah.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Pfc. Jason Burton, left, and Col. Andy Burton interview with Jed Boal, local television reporter, at Drop Zone Ashau near Cedar Fort, Utah.

The young private said he prefers jumping from the Blackhawk, which was quite a change from the traditional C-130 fixed-wing aircraft used as paratroopers’ air frame at Fort Benning.

“In the helicopter you can actually see the drop zone. In the C-130 all you see is a little red light before you’re out the door,” said Jason.

Having jumped in sun, rain, snow, swamp and desert in the U.S. and overseas, father Andy rated this one near the top of his highlight reel.

“It’s unbelievable! What a thrill,” he said.

Burton explained that Fort Benning trainees jump using a T-10 parachute, which requires Soldiers to pull on the actual risers—the thin strands linking the jumper and the parachute—in order to turn and maneuver. But this jump was made with the SF-10, a parachute with toggles on each side which allow the jumper to more easily control turns and landings.

Col. Michael Adams, left, receives the 19th Special Forces Group colors from Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet at the change-of-command ceremony July 19.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Col. Michael Adams, left, receives the 19th Special Forces Group colors from Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet at the change-of-command ceremony July 19.

Cheryl Burton, Andy’s wife and Jason’s mother, was also there at the drop zone to watch her husband and son—and not without a little angst and a lot of pride.

“It was very emotional. It was a wonderful feeling to see them come out, and they’re done,” she said with a smile of relief. “I’ll sleep better tonight.”

“I’m very supportive of Jason. I wanted him to join the military. We’re a very patriotic family,” Cheryl added.

With his last jump under his belt, Col. Burton, a 23-year veteran of the Salt Lake Police Department who worked extensively with the gang task force, then turned his attention to his last official act as commander of the 19th: Turning over the Group’s colors to his successor.

The ceremony, held at the Camp Williams Readiness Center, included the traditional passing of the flag from Command Sgt. Maj. Allen Smithee, Group sergeant major; to Col. Burton, outgoing commander; to Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, Utah National Guard adjutant general; to Col. Adams, incoming commander, and then back to Smithee.

Soldiers of the 19th Special Forces Group stand in formation at the Group change-of-command ceremony at Camp Williams.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Soldiers of the 19th Special Forces Group stand in formation

at the Group change-of-command ceremony at Camp Williams.

In his remarks Burton outlined the scope of missions completed by the 19th Special Forces during his nearly four years as commander to include supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Iraqi Freedom in Iraq, Noble Eagle and Desert Spring in Kuwait, Unified Endeavor in Puerto Rico and Talisman Saber in Australia.

“The command team and these commanders are without equal. The staff at Group Headquarters is the most qualified and experienced staff in the history of the Group, with combat experience in almost every case,” Burton said. “The key was that Soldiers performed flawlessly, accomplishing every mission with expertise and professionalism while living Army values and working as quiet professionals.”

Burton also paid tribute to Soldiers’ families, Family Support, previous Group commanders and his wife and children.

Tarbet lauded Burton for his legacy and his service in his comments as presiding officer at the ceremony.

“The Burton story is a classic story of service to the state and nation. As I’ve listened to all that they’ve done over the past five years, it is a remarkable record that they’ve written and Andy Burton has been a large part of it,” said Tarbet.

Col. Andy Burton, left, and his son Pfc. Jason Burton before boarding the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter for Dad's last and Son's first jump.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Col. Andy Burton, left, and his son Pfc. Jason Burton before boarding

 the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter for Dad's last and Son's first jump.

After the ceremony Burton summed up his feelings about serving as Group commander.

“The longer you’re there, the harder it is to go away. But I have a son serving in the unit, so I can stay involved in some way. It’s a tremendous honor to have been the commander,” Burton said.

“The credit is really to the Soldiers. The work they do and the professionalism they exhibit, it’s without equal. And we have the finest noncommissioned officers anywhere. They are so professional, so competent, and so hard-working. They’ve really made the difference,” he added.

Cheryl Burton was honored with a bouquet of roses during the ceremony and received the loudest and longest standing ovation when she was recognized for her service as the wife of the Group commander.

“I’m honored that my husband has been in the National Guard. I’ve always enjoyed the camaraderie of Soldiers and the wives, the whole atmosphere,” she said after the ceremony. “It’s brought us closer and the times we’ve spent together, I’ve absolutely enjoyed it.”

Adams, who comes from a regular-Army background, expressed appreciation for the close-knit group of Soldiers that is the 19th.

Sgt. David Burton, Group Support Company, 19th Special Forces Group, shortly after exiting the helicopter over Drop Zone Ashau July 19.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Sgt. David Burton, Group Support Company, 19th Special Forces Group, shortly after exiting the helicopter over Drop Zone Ashau July 19.

“I really feel like I’m joining a family here. This is different than what I’ve seen before. Taking command of a Special Forces group is the pinnacle of tactical command for Special Forces officers. I respect what means in terms of trust and confidence.” said Adams.

“These Soldiers have clearly demonstrated that they are a dedicated bunch. They have their civilian jobs to put food on the table, and they come to train and often deploy. And they do it not to get rich but because they are great Americans,” added Adams.

And Tarbet has great confidence in the new leader of the 19th.

“They are challenged in terms of what is being asked of them. They’ll have to run hard, but Col. Michael Adams is the right guy to run out in front of them,” he said.