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Air Force Medical Service general honored by alma mater

  • Published
  • By Peter Holstein
  • Air Force Surgeon General Office of Public Affairs
Brig. Gen. James “Jay” Burks is a member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class at his alma mater, Irmo High School, in his home town of Irmo, S.C.

Burks, the director of Manpower, Personnel and Resources, and chief of the Medical Service Corps for the Air Force Medical Service, says he was humbled, honored, and surprised to be recognized in such fashion.

“My wife Valarie and I chuckled a bit in surprise and amazement when we first learned of my induction into the Irmo High Hall of Fame,” said Burks. “It’s a great honor to have the chance to represent my family, the Air Force, and other Irmo alums who have served in uniform as part of the inaugural class.”

Burks advises the Air Force Surgeon General on all aspects of planning, programming, budgeting and execution of a $42 billion health system, made up of 43,000 personnel and 76 hospitals and clinics. He also manages personnel policy, force development and staffing requirements for the AFMS, and is responsible for worldwide Air Force professional force development. Board certified in healthcare management, Burks also has served in several elected leadership positions in his professional healthcare association.

Reflecting on his time at Irmo High, Burks recalls being an “average” student who participated in several extracurricular activities. He played trumpet, to include two years in the marching band. He credits his 10th grade world history teacher, Ms. Terry Dozier (later the first classroom teacher to serve as an official adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Education) with helping prepare him for the rigors of his future education and career.

“I’d heard Ms. Dozier was tough, because you actually had to take notes in her class,” said Burks. “It was also the first time I had to take essay tests as well. As you get older, you realize that life is really a series of essay tests, and multiple choice is rarely an option.”

Burks grew up in Irmo, SC, and his parents, Ann and Jack, still live just a couple miles from Irmo High. He remembers the town fondly and visits often, although he notes there are many changes since he moved away after graduating high school.

“My parents moved to a new house right after I left for college,” said Burks. “It was out in the woods then, but since that time, the Columbia greater metropolitan area has grown and built up dramatically.”

During the induction ceremony, Burks gave the greatest credit to his wife of twenty-seven years, Valarie, whom he met while they were both students at Furman. “Everyone who knows Valarie understands clearly that she is the real Hall of Famer. She has made all our successes possible, and has been a remarkable partner in caring for our Airmen and their families!”

Burks found his way to the Air Force after college at Furman University, and graduate school at the University of South Carolina. He finds some important lessons for today’s Irmo High students based on his path through life. While visiting the high school, Burks reflected it was the first time he had been back on the campus in thirty-two years. In addressing the Air Force Junior ROTC cadets, he offered some words of encouragement. “If you don’t feel like you’ve hit your peak in high school, it’s okay. I wasn’t a star athlete, academic, or musician, and I definitely wasn’t the homecoming king,” said Burks. “High school is the beginning of your journey through life as an adult, and there’s a whole lot more ahead of you. Work hard, have fun, learn a lot and look for ways to reach out and serve others.”

Other inductees included Ms. Leeza Gibbons (class of 1975, Emmy winner and former host of Entertainment Tonight), B.J. McKie (class of 1995, all-time leading scorer in University of South Carolina basketball history), Courtney Shealy Hart (class of 1996, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer), and Mrs. Marty Suber (served 30 years as a Theater/Drama teacher at Irmo High School).

Burks noted, “I’m very grateful to the Irmo High School Education Foundation, the faculty, staff, and especially the students at Irmo High, for this honor.”