Like father, like son
By Sgt. Marcy Sanchez, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort
In 1986, Richard Burris took the challenge of going through the rigorous 13-week training that is Marine Corps boot camp. Nearly three decades later, Burris’ son followed in those same yellow footsteps that transform young adults into Marines.
Now a master gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps, Burris is known throughout the field of correctional specialists by name and by reputation. His position as the technical advisor at the Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston speaks well of his experience as a leader; leadership that spans not only through the enlisted ranks but carries over to officers. Naturally, his leadership transferred over to his family of five.
The story is common in the military; following a family tradition and serving country. What isn’t common is the opportunity for father and son to serve side by side in the same work environment.
Private First Class Kaelen Burris, a correctional specialist with the Naval Consolidated Brig v shipped to those same yellow footsteps in October 2013. Upon graduation, Kaelen, who had originally enlisted for reconnaissance in the infantry, was designated a correctional specialist after sustaining injuries during his initial training.
“[When] I went through [Infantry Training Battalion] I had an issue with my right knee but didn’t go to medical for it,” said Kaelen, a 21-year-old native of Jonesboro, Ga. “When I went to medical I had a torn meniscus and didn’t want to injure it any further making it a long-term injury.”
After injuring himself, Kaelen had the opportunity to choose an available Military Occupational Specialty and he chose to do what his father has been doing for nearly three decades.
“When they offered him different MOSs this is the one he chose and this is the one they gave him, luck of the draw, and he wanted the East Coast and they sent him to [Joint Base Charleston] so it’s kind of neat but whether he would have come here or not, I’m still proud of him,” said Burris, 51, a native of Fairfield, Ill.
Although Kaelen grew up in a Marine Corps environment, he did not know the particulars of his job when he started because his father was always vigilant about separating family from work.
“I didn’t push him into the Marine Corps or his MOS,” said Burris. “I never treated him as a recruit; I never let the stressors of work go home with me, because working in this environment you can get frustrated with the individuals that are here, but I left it all here.”
“I knew a lot of the NCOs and SNCOs prior to joining the Marine Corps,” said Kaelen. “I definitely knew about the living conditions and Marine Corps in general, but the ins and outs of this MOS I’m learning just like everybody else.”
While Kaelen grows in his knowledge of the corrections field, the young Marine has a lot of mentors who worked with him before he claimed the title “Marine.” Prior to earning his eagle, globe and anchor Kaelen had trained with Gunnery Sgt. Scott Wean, who helped him prepare for the swim qualification test all Marines are required to complete. Wean had also served with Burris at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
“We have the grandfather of corrections and our newest little brother of corrections working in the same place,” said Wean, the prisoner management staff noncommissioned officer in charge at the brig and now Kaelen’s immediate supervisor. “[Kaelen] works extra hard because he knows some of the older staff his father has worked with will hold him to the high standards that were expected of them.”
“[Burris] raised us in this MOS, now we have the opportunity to raise his son,” said Wean.
For others the association with the newest correctional specialist at the brig goes back a lifetime.
“I used to babysit Kaelen when he was a toddler,” said Chief Warrant Officer Nolan, the Marine detachment officer in charge and operations officer of Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston. “I was a lance corporal when [Burris] was my staff sergeant.”
Both Burris’ stand at nearly six feet with muscular builds that speak of their passion for weight lifting, one of many passions passed from father to son. The Marines’ relation is unquestionable, but Burris promotes individualism in his son, from choices in careers to his performance at work.
Burris, who has deployed in support of Operation Iraq Freedom twice and is administratively responsible for all Marines in the Brig, says he really doesn’t converse with his son much at work.
“He’s professional, a lot of people said we would have issues working together but not really because he knows what is expected of him, and I know where I stand in his chain,” said Burris. “I’m proud of him, not just for being in this MOS or here but being in the Marine Corps. I let him make his own decisions and this is what he decided.”
Although the father and son team stay professional at work, having mom close by is one advantage that Kaelen has over his father.
“He’s welcomed anytime he wants, but he stays at the barracks, I let his mom do his laundry once a month,” said Burris. “We’ll abuse him for chores, I tell him to come home and mow the lawn.”
Although Kaelen still has chores at home, Burris says mom is excited that he got stationed at Joint Base Charleston as were his two younger sisters.
Jokingly, Burris said to Kaelen, “Don’t expect mom to bail you out anymore.”
Kaelen, who is looking to pursue a degree in sociology, plans to continue a career in law enforcement.