WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Like his father before him, Larry Burks, Sr. knew as a child he wanted a career in the military.
His father had served as a Senior NCO during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Inspired by his father’s service, Burks also hoped one day to join the Army and continue in his father’s footsteps. He spent his early childhood growing up in Germany on base, but when his father retired from the military, the family moved to Jackson, Mississippi.
Although Burks was a gifted student, his school wouldn’t integrate until his junior year in 1970. Despite the lack of an academic support system, Burks received a full academic scholarship to Jackson State University (where he majored in biology) and joined the school’s ROTC Program. Upon graduation, he received his Regular Army Commission as a Second Lieutenant.
After three years as an Armor Officer at Fort Riley (serving with the 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armor), Burks would transition to the branch of his choice: Transportation. The move proved pivotal for his role he would assume one day during Operation Desert Storm.
“I like trucks, I like movement controls kind of things, and I know, I understand that the mission for the military in a lot of things depend on things getting from Point A to Point B,” Burks said.
For several years leading up to the Gulf War, Burks would serve with the 46th Transportation Company, 69th Transportation Battalion in Korea.
“I was responsible for transporting cargo from the ports of Southern Korea all the way up the peninsula,” Burks said.
Burks would take what he learned in Korea back to Kansas. The then Major Burks was assigned again to Fort Riley, this time with the 701st Main Support Battalion.
“I did training with them in California, and that’s when the Persian Gulf War happened,” Burks said.
As the Battalion Executive officer, Burks was part of an advance deployment team. In that role, he was in charge of getting the division’s trucks, tanks and combat fighting vehicles from Kansas to cargo ships heading for the Port of Dharan in Saudi Arabia.
“We flew over after that, then we were able to conduct a download of the equipment off the ships, we staged it, got it prepared for the deploying units when they came over by air, we matched them up with their equipment, and they drove off into the desert, and we fought the war,” Burks said.
Burks was the second-in-command of port operations and in charge of 500 military personnel working to equip thousands of soldiers 24/7.
“The mission always was first because if we were not there to do the things that we did, the fighting forces could not do their thing,” Burks said.
Burks says the port was always on high alert and faced constant attacks—at one point, the port was under siege for ten days straight.
“They started bombing us with SCUD missiles, we had patriots that were there that, that took some of those out, but there was one instance where one SCUD missile hit one of the warehouses, there were about 27 people from a Pennsylvania National Guard unit that were killed, it was right near where our people were, and it was devastating,” Burks said.
After the off-loading process was complete, Burks would follow his battalion into Kuwait and continued to work logistics throughout the entire war.
“This is the Bronze Star that I earned for the Persian Gulf War, but I have two of these. One of these belongs to my father…this one’s mine, so I keep both of them together,” Burks said.
After the war, Burks received his next duty assignment to Bayonne, New Jersey, where he got to meet the man he calls his military mentor.
“I had the chance to meet Gen. Colin Powell when I was there. He is my idol. He’s a military man, as a minority, he really showed me that we have, in fact, a way to be able to be successful in the military with hard work, determination, and being the person that you know you need to be, being on pointe, and being focused, he was a prime example of that,” Burks said.
In 1993, Burks became a Lieutenant Colonel and the Garrison Commander for the Military Traffic Management Center at Bayonne. After his final assignment in Panama as the Logistical Support Operations Officer for U.S. Southern Command, Burkes retired and became a private contractor.
“I enjoyed immensely the time I shared and the time I was in the military, ‘cuz it was a great thing for me and my family,” Burks said.
Burks currently works as Wichita State University’s Director for Military and Veterans Services. He has worked in that role since 2018 and helps hundreds of veterans each year achieve their academic dreams.
If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at firstname.lastname@example.org.