In 1987, what is now the headquarters of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes (LRD) and Ohio River Division (LRD) in Cincinnati, was just the “Ohio River Division”. The Great Lakes districts wouldn’t be absorbed by the Ohio River Division until about a decade later during a series of redistricting efforts. Prior to the LRD webpage, the internal signage TV screens, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even Microsoft Teams, the only way to receive news about the ongoings of the Ohio River Division was through a monthly published newsletter entitled, “RiverViews”.
In September 1987, Vol. 8, No. 3, a very special article was written about “A different kind of NCO”.
It reads, “Normally, Non-commissioned Officers (NCO) are leaders and trainers of men. Training is their main responsibility. They are also the first-line supervisors to the majority of the Army’s soldiers. But, here in the Ohio River Division Office, it is a different story.”
“Our NCO is Master Sergeant Robert Burnside and he has no troops to manage and train. He is a one-man office. His main duty as the NCO is to manage and maintain personnel records for the 26 officers within he Ohio River Division. This includes retirements, personnel actions, officer assignments, and military awards. He works directly for the Deputy Commander.”
“Sgt. Burnside came out to ORD in 1987 from his previous assignment in Heidelberg, Germany. While stationed there, Sgt. Burnside was a Personnel Staff NCO with the Criminal Investigation Command.”
“Being stationed in Cincinnati with his wife Virginia, and daughter, Anna, Sgt. Burnside has been able to spend more time with his family. He coaches his daughter’s grade school softball and basketball teams and plays on three softball teams.”
On February 28, 2023, 36 years after this article was printed, Robert Burnside retired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division. The official farewell ceremony for Burnside was held on May 1, 2023 at the LRD headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. Present at the ceremony were his wife, Virginia or “Gin”, his daughter Anna, and some new additions to the Burnside family since his introductory 1987 article, including his son-in-law Rob, and two grandchildren, Tyler and Kelsey. Also present were dozens of friends, and teammates of past and present.
Burnside was drafted into the Army in 1971 and was assigned to deploy overseas to Germany during the ongoing Vietnam and Cold Wars. He served in the Army through the 70’s and 80’s before his civilian service career started with LRD. In total, Burnside has served his country, whether in an active military role or as a civilian, for over 52 consecutive years.
Throughout his time at LRD, Burnside served in various roles. His career began as a Military Personnel Specialist. He later became an Emergency Management Specialist, and after 19 years in emergency support services, Burnside was elected Chief of Regional Readiness and Contingency Operations, also known as RCO Chief, and served in this role until his retirement.
During his career in emergency management, Burnside provided critical support oversight in response to natural disasters throughout LRD’s area of operation. He deployed to over 30 disasters with over 1400 days in support of various missions. These deployments included flooding events, hurricanes, tornados, and even the COVID-19 Pandemic, in which Burnside aided in establishing Alternate Care Facilities to extend hospital capacity throughout the region.
Burnside’s long and decorated career was highlighted as LRD Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Kimberly Peeples, celebrated Bob and his accomplishments during her opening remarks at the retirement ceremony.
“Under my watch, Bob has been my key teacher, mentor, and advisor,” said Brig. Gen. Peeples. “LRD has supported contingency response operations in support of 5 sister divisions, and in 2022 alone, Bob led response and recovery efforts in the Western Kentucky tornado and Eastern Kentucky flash flooding disaster events. These are examples of what great looks like. Bob, thank you for 52 plus years of thankful service to the mission. You’re a pillar to the Regional Readiness and Contingency Operations and Emergency Management communities, and you’ve left your mark on LRD and beyond. We’ve relied on your leadership during the most challenging times, and you’ve always gotten us through. You’re a leader of character, who has always showed us what true service looks like.”
Following these remarks from the Commanding General, Former Deputy Commanding General, Col. Paul Kremer (retired) also showed praise for Burnside’s hard work and humility throughout his long career.
“Mr. Burnside left an imprint on everyone who had the honor to serve him and receive his skilled leadership,” said Kremer. “Bob always impressed me by how humble he was. Every time I wanted to thank him or congratulate him on something he, did before I could even finish my sentence, he would immediately tell me someone else did it. Whoever it was, it was always someone else.”
Burnside received numerous gifts and awards at the ceremony, including his retirement certificate for 52 years of service, the Superior Civilian Service Medal, and the prestigious Bronze Order of de Fleury -- the highest award for professional excellence in the Engineer Regiment.
In addition to these awards, Burnside was also presented a gift from the emergency management staffs throughout LRD. The gift included district coins from each of LRD’s seven districts -- Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Huntington, Louisville, Nashville, and Pittsburgh Districts. Burnside was also given a gift from the LRD Emergency Management Community of Practice that included a large photo of his beloved alma matter, Elder High School. Bob’s wife, Virginia, was also awarded a Certificate of Appreciation for all her sacrifices in support of Bob’s service to LRD. His children and grandchildren were also presented gifts from the LRD Emergency Management Community of Practice to show appreciation for their support.
Upon receiving countless awards and recognition, Burnside’s humility was once again in full display as he personally thanked nearly every one of his colleagues in attendance of the ceremony.
“I appreciate everything, and all you folks showing up,” said Burnside. “To the EM community, when I look back over the years, it triggers me to see what you guys have done for me. It’s not what I’ve done. It’s these guys out here. These are the people that made my life easy, and fun. Thank you all and thank you for showing up and wishing me well.”
To see photos from the ceremony, click here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjABZZF
Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin - Madison, "RiverViews" Digitized newsletter can be found here: https://www.google.com/books/edition/River_Views/pFQ0WdDd22kC?hl=en&gbpv=0