By Jody Fuller
Lt. Gen. Ron Burgess had a distinguished and remarkable career as an Intelligence Officer in the United States Army.
Per Wikipedia, Burgess Jr., is a retired United States Army lieutenant general. His last military assignment was as the 17th Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and Commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (JFCC-ISR). Prior to that, he was Director of the Intelligence Staff in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Before all of that, he was just a kid who graduated from Opelika High School in 1970.
The Burgess family moved from Jacksonville, N.C., to Opelika in the summer of 1969. Their home was on Preston Street. Burgess’ father became a postal inspector whose first job was in Opelika, covering east Alabama and parts of Georgia. His mom worked at Ampex.
Burgess’ first job in Opelika was working in the kitchen at Shoney’s. “I worked there for two weeks and realized I was not a cook,” he said. From there he went on to perform manual labor at Castone. He also worked at Opelika Foundry and said he remembers it being very hot.
The summer of 1969 was the summer before his senior year. Although his tenure in Opelika was brief, he said he has nothing but fond memories.
“I formed some great friendships,” he recalls. “My graduating class was full of great guys like Crawford Melton, Charlie Jernigan and Ike Scott. Even though I was the new kid, they were very welcoming and accommodating.”
Although they were accommodating, Burgess said he feels that those who move around a lot have a role to play, too. “You have to make the best out of the circumstances,” he says. “It really surprised me and amazed me when I was voted the friendliest in my senior class. You have to be friendly unless you want to be by yourself, and your senior year is not the time for that.”
While at Opelika High, he played baseball, basketball and football.
“I played on the Opelika football team that fall. We won one game that year,” he said. “It was, I think, Coach Larry Gore’s first year. We beat Alex City but lost to Auburn something like 6-0. I’ve now been stationed in Alaska and places like that, but that was the coldest I have ever been in my life.”
While at Opelika, he became friends with Jim Bruce and Rudy Hampton. He remains close with them today. “We spent a lot of time together playing sports, double dating and such,” he said.
After graduating from high school, he immediately enrolled at Auburn University. He was offered scholarships by both the Air Force and the Army. He accepted the Army scholarship, and the rest is history.
Throughout college, he worked at X+1 Stereo Shop on Opelika Road. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Auburn in 1974. A year later, he married Marta, who would be by his side throughout his illustrious 38-year military career.
Early on in his career, he served as company commander in a Military Intelligence battalion of the 24th Infantry Division. His commanding general was Norman Schwarzkopf. Throughout his career, he would continue to cross paths with high profile military officers and civilians.
No matter where he went, the Opelika-Auburn area was always on his mind. In spite of pressure from senior ranking Army officers, he chose to attend Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base over the Army’ War College at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania so he could attend Auburn football games. He quickly rose up the ranks, but his goal was to always remain with troops, which he did for as long as he could. After leaving brigade command in Panama, he held joint assignments and never returned to a pure Army unit.
His follow-on positions included Assistant Executive Officer to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence; Director of Intelligence, J-2, Joint Special Operations Command; Director of Intelligence, J-2, U.S. Southern Command; and Director for Intelligence, J-2, the Joint Staff during the first two years of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Every morning, I briefed Gen. Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Every morning, I briefed the office of the Secretary of Defense, and, once a week, I briefed Secretary Rumsfeld himself,” Burgess said.
Soon thereafter, Burgess assumed duty as the Deputy Director of National Intelligence, where he briefed the president and vice president two to three times a week before assuming the position as the director of the DIA.
“I worked so much those last few years that even when I was home, my wife said that I really wasn’t there with her and the family. I tried, but that resonated with me,” he said. “After retiring, my friends thought I’d stay in Washington and work for one of the large military industrial complex organizations. I enjoyed what I did for 38 years. Marta was super supportive. She gets a vote at this phase of life.”
“Opelika-Auburn or Washington, D.C. It was a no-brainer. I love Auburn University. We found a place with a little bit of elbow room out in the county. After spending so much time in Washington, I sometimes feel like the guy from Green Acres,” he chuckled.
In December of 2012 Burgess joined Auburn University as Senior Counsel for National Security Programs, Cyber Programs, and Military Affairs. “I stay just as busy as I did in Washington, but I don’t have nearly the level of responsibility. At one time as Director of the DIA, I had over 1200 soldiers and civilians deployed,” he said.
“I am living proof that the Lord has a sense of humor,” Burgess continued. “I know it means an awful lot to a lot of people that I’m a retired a three-star general, but I didn’t get there based on my own qualities. I was fortunate enough to work with a lot of great soldiers and civilians,” he said with pride.
Burgess and his wife Marta have five children – Lee, Regina, Julia, Mary and John – and eight grandchildren.