Special to the Opelika Observer


Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta presided over a change of director ceremony at Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) headquarters in Washington, DC in July that was of more than passing interest to several Opelikans.

The outgoing director, Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, who also retired from the army after 38 years of service, is a native of Opelika, graduating from Opelika High School in 1970. He was commissioned in military intelligence through the Auburn University ROTC program in 1974 and held a variety of key command and staff positions, becoming the seventeenth director of DIA on March 18, 2009.

DIA, a Department of Defense combat support agency and an important member of the United States Intelligence Community, provides all-source defense intelligence to prevent strategic surprise and deliver a decision advantage to warfighters, defense planners, and policymakers.

Speaking as the current Secretary of Defense and a past CIA director, Panetta thanked Burgess for the significant role he played in integrating the intelligence community’s efforts: “Ron has helped bring about that fusion of military and intelligence capabilities that has really been the heart and soul of our intelligence effort in this country and throughout the world.”

During his 41 months as director, LTG (that’s a three-star general) Burgess led defense intelligence efforts supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Burgess also oversaw agency operations as DIA celebrated its fifty-year anniversary in October 2011, launched the Defense Clandestine Service in 2012 and published a dynamic and enduring DIA strategy for 2012-2017.

In an earlier farewell to the DIA workforce Burgess had remarked, “Our expertise, honed as a result of our close relationships with the combatant commands and combat commanders in the field, anchors our unique role as the functional intersection between military intelligence and national intelligence.”

Speaking to the large crowd assembled at DIA headquarters Burgess said, “As our nation’s intelligence professionals we have a non-negotiable obligation to the American people to call it the way we see it.” He added, “What guides this agency and its professionals every day is the understanding that while much of what we do is secret, our work is forever a public trust. And we must earn that trust anew every day.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper presented Burgess with the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of his contributions to the intelligence community.

Clapper praised Burgess to whom he referred as “a role model for leadership in the entire community.”

Clapper added, “DIA is a significant supporter of special operations, and was so in the [Usama bin Laden] takedown operation a year ago last May – something which I don’t think DIA ever really got appropriate credit for.”

On the occasion of Burgess’ retirement, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey told Burgess, “In the defense and national intelligence community, you have clearly been something I refer to as a leader of consequence and a champion of those whom we place in harm’s way around the globe.” Burgess also received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and a certificate of appreciation from President Obama.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh presented Mrs. Marta Burgess with a certificate of appreciation signed by Army chief of staff Gen. Raymond Odierno in recognition of her lifetime of service to the nation.

Several of Burgess’ local friends were able to attend all or part of the retirement/change of command ceremonies at DIA headquarters at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C.