By A.J. Kaufman
Miles Burdine heads up the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce as its president and CEO, but the background that formed this leader began with his lengthy service in the U.S Marine Corps.
He served three active-duty deployments to war zones: Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91; the Iraq War during the toughest battles of 2005-06 as a colonel; and the early 1980s in Lebanon, while in his 20s. Each time he left his wife and one or more daughters back in Tennessee.
“Some people say, wow, you sacrificed; you’re brave. I wasn’t,” Burdine explained to the Business Journal. “I was doing what I wanted to do. I was experiencing battle, experiencing adventure and protecting. Every time that somebody thanks me for my service, I ask that they also thank my family.”
War in the Middle East often seems constant, as evidenced by the current battle between Israel and Hamas terrorists; lost in the shuffle, however, was the recent 40th remembrance of a deadly suicide bombing in Beirut, Lebanon. Islamic Jihadists perpetrated the Oct. 23 atrocity that killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors, three soldiers and 58 French military personnel. Casualties came from the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, which had been stationed in Lebanon for several months prior.
This tragedy marked the largest single-day loss of life for the Marine Corps since the gruesome Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
While Burdine was in Beirut during the barracks attack, he was not in the building when it was bombed — he was asleep several miles away protecting British/American embassy — although his commanding officer and friends were.
He had to identify the bodies and vividly remembers visiting 22-year-old Lance Corporal Terry Valore in the hospital, who he thought would die. Lying bloody in bed, Valore encouraged Burdine to find out what happened in the blast.
“He’s Caucasian, but his skin was black. His face was so swollen he couldn’t open his eyes,” Burdine recalled. “Every year on the 23 of October, he and I talk…He obviously has a lot of scars, both mentally physically, and we talk about those. But we spend most of the time talking about what happened and the Marines we lost.”
Burdine and others who survived have vowed to never forget those killed in the blast force equaling more than 12,000 tons of TNT and felt a mile away.
As they do every year, a commemoration ceremony occurred on Oct. 22 at the Beirut Memorial at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where many of the Marines killed in the attack were stationed. Valore was in attendance.
Sadly, the 40-year remembrance now sits against the backdrop of another conflict in the Middle East.
The United States has now redirected the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group to the Middle East to support our Israeli allies. President Ronald Reagan once described the Middle East as a “powder keg.” Now 40 years later, with a regional conflict against radicals that could pull the U.S. into a fight with proxies, the 40th president’s words ring true.
“People ask me what’s going to happen with Hamas and the Israelis,” Burdine said. “I have no doubt what’s going to happen. I just hope the Marine Corps gets to participate. There are Marines champing at the bit, and I’m one of them. I would crave the opportunity to go fight over there because it’s the same damn terrorists (from 1983).”
The Kingsport native joined the Chamber staff 30 years ago next summer and promoted to his current role in 1999. He notes the city’s strong dedication to military veterans and is especially proud of helping to raise money for the Kingsport Veterans Memorial near Dobyns-Bennett High School.
Burdine also cites the Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council and renowned James Quillen VA Medical Center in Johnson City as evidence of patriotism and solid support for veterans and their families across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.