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By Lt. Col. Bradford Leighton
Chief Master Sergeant Marlon Burton of Park Forest, the senior enlisted leader of the 182nd Mission Support Group based in Peoria and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Illinois State Director of the Veterans’ Employment Training Service (VETS), has been selected as the next Illinois Air National Guard State Command Chief Master Sergeant.
Burton replaces State Command Chief Master Sergeant Jennifer Aurora of Bloomington, who retired March 1 from the U.S. Air Force after more than 34 years of service. Aurora had been the Illinois Air National Guard’s senior enlisted leader since July 2020.
“State Command Chief Master Sergeant Aurora has done an outstanding job leading the enlisted force and addressing the concerns of Airmen during one of the most challenging periods in the history of the Illinois Air National Guard,” said Brig. Gen. Dan McDonough, the Assistant Adjutant General – Air of the Illinois National Guard and Commander of the Illinois Air National Guard. “Chief Master Sergeant Burton has dedicated his life to helping and mentoring others and will continue Chief Master Sergeant Aurora’s legacy of excellence in all we do.”
Burton said he was grateful for Aurora’s mentorship. “She has been an inspiration. She’s a kind spirit with great communication skills who is always helping others.”
“Chief Burton has a unique presence when he walks into the room that puts the Airmen at ease and fosters an immediate feeling of trust. His passion for mentorship will support Airmen and the State of Illinois in achieving their best,” Aurora said.
As Illinois State Director of VETS, Burton directs many diverse programs for service members and veterans throughout the state including the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and the Hire Vets Medallion Program (HVMP) and works with other state and federal agencies to advance resources for service members and veterans.
In addition, he runs a consulting business with his wife of 20 years, Jenna, that assists companies with leadership, staff development, team building, communication and offers courses on diversity, equity, inclusion, and access, unconscious bias, micro-aggressions, goal mapping, emotional intelligence, and coaching.
Burton said there is great crossover between his civilian work and his military job, which includes mentoring Airmen and advising commanders on all enlisted matters. Among the first things he plans to do as the State Command Chief Master Sergeant is “get out to each of the units,” he said. “I want to let the Airmen know that I’m here for them. I’m here to help them achieve their goals, whether those are civilian or military.”
He also said he plans to reach out to the family readiness groups across the Illinois Air National Guard and listen to family concerns and aspirations. As the Command Chief Master Sergeant of the 182nd Mission Support Group, Burton established a great relationship with the unit’s family readiness leader, Kim Crouch. He aims to establish similar relationships across the Air National Guard. “Military life can be challenging for families. It is important to recognize those challenges and the resources that are out there that can help,” he said.
Military life has its challenges including deployments, he said. Burton has deployed to Germany, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. But military service also offers opportunities and resources for Airmen and their families. “The majority of our Airmen are traditional, serving one weekend a month and two weeks each year. Many are just starting out in civilian careers as well as their military careers. Leaders can help them navigate their lives – help them see who they are and where they want to be.”
Service in the Illinois Air National Guard can often enhance civilian careers, he added. “It can really catapult any career.”
Burton, who grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, has a passion for mentoring and helping others. In the military, he started in security forces then transitioning to safety and then human resources. On the civilian side, he served as an Illinois Department of Corrections senior parole agent in the Chicago area for 10 years, managing a caseload of about 150 parolees, referring them to addiction and mental health treatment and trying to chart a productive path forward. As a parole officer, he learned to focus on those he did help and not to give up on those who fell into the traps of a rough environment. “There can be burn out because of the challenges in the community and the high recidivism, with many sad outcomes. But you learn to keep trying, to keep helping and you think about those individuals who were able to find success despite the adversity.”
After his service as a parole officer, Burton worked for 10 years with the U.S. Marshals Service before starting his job with the U.S. Department of Labor in July 2020. All of his civilian careers have involved working in the communities, something that helps him do his part in drawing people into military service. “My goal is to get out into the community – to be a representative of the Illinois Air National Guard.”
He said retention is as important as recruiting. “I tell people that are thinking of ending military service to take a pause and look at all your options. To maybe look at other jobs in the military or even other services. There are a lot of benefits to staying with us.”
Burton said he learned to be resilient by balancing careers, family concerns and prioritizing responsibilities for over 25 years. He and Jenna raised four children; Alexa, now a kindergarten teacher; Anthony, a police officer; Amari, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign and a member of the 182nd Airlift Wing; and 16-year-old Aubrey, a junior at Southland College Prep Charter High School in Richton Park.