Retiring coyote reflects on Vietnam experience; career

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Emily Alley
  • 190th ARW/Public Affairs

Several months before his 60th birthday, Master Sgt. Greg Burnetta tried to take one last tour of duty, as a tank commander in Iraq. Unfortunately the Air Force had other plans, and Burnetta accepted mandatory retirement. 

Burnetta, one of the last military members to have served in Vietnam, retired from the 190th ARW in April. Although he wasn't able to go to Iraq, his years of military experience are still impressive. Burnetta has served in the Army, Coast Guard and Air Force. He earned two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star for valor, a Bronze Star for meritorius service, the Army Commendation Medal, Air Medal, the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry Unit Award and many others. 

After enlisting in the Army in 1968 he was selected for NCO school. After a few months he earned the rank of sergeant, which ordinarily would have taken years. Burnetta was pushed through the ranks because he enlisted during wartime, and his first duty station was Vietnam. 

"I was one of the most decorated guys in my battalion," said Burnetta. "Because I survived it." 

Within four months of arriving in Vietnam, he had been wounded twice. As a member of the 101st Airborne, Burnetta fought at Hamburger Hill. Afterward, with a 78 percent casualty rate, he was one of three supervisors left in the company - one other NCO and one officer. Beforehand, there were 20. 

Several months later, in an effort to prompt South Vietnamese ownership of the conflict, the Vietnamese units became attached to American forces, with shared leadership. Burnetta became an acting second lieutenant for one month. Although he didn't receive the pay, he wore the insignia and commanded both U.S. and Vietnamese soldiers. 

When he returned to the United States in 1970, Burnetta attended advanced airborne school and became a certified parachute safety NCO. 

Once Burnetta's enlistment was over, he earned a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice Administration at Central Missouri State University, in Warrensburg, Mo. After graduating, he became a police officer in Johnson County, Ks. He retired from the police department in 1997, as a detective sergeant, and is currently a federal officer with the Federal Protective Service, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

In 1987, Burnetta decided to return to military service. Although most people are unaware of them, Kansas does have a United States Coast Guard Reserve unit in Leavenworth, Kansas. Burnetta became a petty officer. His responsibilities included supervising rivers and lakes, conducting safety inspections for lakes and inspecting river barges. 

After three years he returned to the Army, in the Kansas Army National Guard, when he joined the 35th Infantry Division in Fort Leavenworth and worked in the Military Intelligence Platoon. He served as a platoon sergeant for 11 years, until transferring to the 190th in 2001. 

During his last seven years as a coyote, Burnetta has kept a humble perspective on his accomplishments. 

"We have people in this unit who have been to Desert Shield and Desert Storm," said Burnetta. "I haven't made it to either one." 

Although Burnetta faced mandatory retirement in April, he plans to join the Civil Air Patrol because he enjoys serving in the military. 

Even though they never let him be a tank commander in Iraq.