- Tuesday, 27 December 2022
- Written by Hannah Lee
Each year Army Community Service accepts nomination packets from units for the Family of the Year program. There were 25 families nominated from units across Fort Bragg. Out of those 25, the family that chose “Commitment” was the Burlee family.
Maj. Sarah Burlee and 1st Sgt. Christopher Burlee has been together for 16 years. After almost two decades together, they have been deployed multiple times, stationed at several military installations, and raised one older son and two daughters together. The two met in Korea. They bonded over the movie “Highlander” and had a similar sense of humor.
“The night that I caught her with a really great line, she was on her way up the stairs, with the basket laundry, and I was on my way down, and she just passed by when I said, ‘what, you’re not going to say hi,’ which I’m pretty sure made her more angry than anything else,” Christopher Burlee joked.
They were married a few months later in Hawaii. Alex Burlee, 26, was Christopher’s son from a previous relationship. Their daughters, Audie, 11, and Paisley, 9, have been to four different schools, but have kept a happy, joking attitude and don’t mind being the ‘new kids’ at school.
The success of the family can be partially credited to Sarah’s family. Her parents moved out to Fort Campbell shortly after the family was stationed there. When Sarah worked in the D.C. area for two years, her sister was in the area and helped watch after the girls. Now at Fort Bragg, Sarah’s parents have moved to Fayetteville and reconnected with other family members who live in the area.
Her family were present at the Fort Bragg Family of the Year ceremony on Dec. 1. Another thing that helps the family is a digital family calendar and jumping back into routine after one of the Burlees were away. Christopher has been on eight total rotations to Afghanistan, six after the girls were born.
“So when he says like eight rotations, it’s like, okay, we’re leaving today,” Sarah remarked.
Christopher says the one to two month rotations are the hardest to get adjusted back into family life.
“Because by the time I got back, she had found her way into a schedule. And now I’m back and it’s like, oh, throw me into the rotation coach and it just threw her off a lot of times. But I look back now and I think that her assertion was absolutely 100% correct. You just have to have family help and just understand that when we come back, things have to change. That was the hardest thing for me,” Christopher remarked.
“I know it’s not easy for anybody, even me traveling in and out. I try to get back into the routine just in time to like jump back out again,” Sarah jumped in. In the last year, Sarah spent 13 to 14 weeks gone — a quarter of the year away from her family.
In the end, both the Burlees agree that, at the end of the day, the job has to get done.
“I think there’s the understanding too that, you know, for especially in Sarah’s position now is this stuff has to get done. There’s very few people that can do it and when she showed up to her job, they said, ‘here’s a problem, we need you to fix it.’ And then a little over a year later, she’s like, ‘Are your problems fixed?’ ‘How did you do that,’ ‘Well, because you told me to fix it.’ So it was fixed with trips and long days at work and everything else,” Christopher said.
“My job requires me to be here. There’s 300 people in this company that need my help. So I just have to be available for them and have to be willing to say work day doesn’t end just because 1700 hits or 1800. The workday continues until the next workday begins for everybody else. So just a lot of commitment and dedication to get the job done. We're hired for a reason.”
The Fort Bragg Family of the Year is a unique title given to just one family annually who exemplifies the spirit of military families. Christopher was the one who nominated his family for the Family of the Year award, which was odd, according to Sarah, because he’s typically the one who hates any attention and additionally hates Hallmark movies.
Little did he know that the submission for his family would lead to the ultimate Hallmark moment — lighting the Christmas tree at the annual Fort Bragg tree lighting ceremony. Christopher also didn’t tell his wife that he applied. She learned about it a few days before the Family of the Year Board interviewed them. She was also in Lithuania at the time, so she had to call in.
“I heard very little of the interview. I was literally in a speakeasy in Lithuania trying to listen in,” Sarah said.
According to the ACS, one of the many reasons why the Burlee Family was nominated included the Family’s initiation of a Girl Scout Troop, where they have volunteered leading the girls and helping them develop tangible skills.
The Burlee family also organized a blood donation program at the Fort Bragg Blood Donor Center and created a Quilts for Valor program with Sarah’s mother. The program presents Soldier’s newborn children with handmade baby quilts.
Each family who is nominated for family of the year has to submit a word that describes their family. The word for the Burlee family was “Commitment.”
Sarah recalls a story from a kickboxing teacher in Afghanistan, which has stuck with her for a long time and has reflected in how their family is run.
“You don’t think you have time? You don’t think you want to do a second workout? You don't want to have to deal with the laundry. You don’t want to have yeah yeah yeah. And then you will do it because you want to. We'll do it because we decided that was what we were going to do,” Sarah said.
“We decided to do the Girl Scouts thing. We decided to put them in the school. We decided that we were not caving either one of our careers. We decided that we were going to finish this degree,” Sarah said. “We do because we decided to do.”