Col. DeAnna Burt is focused on one thing: the well-being of the more than 8,000 airmen and civilians at Schriever Air Force Base.
Burt, wing commander at the base east of Colorado Springs, oversees its missions, active-duty military members and civilian workers. She’s on her third command and her second leadership role at Schriever.
Wing commander for a year, Burt has another year left on the job. But she isn’t looking ahead, not yet.
“My focus right now is the job I have,” she said. “The airmen need me to be singularly focused every single day.”
Recently, she talked with the Business Journal about her career, its challenges and its rewards.
Why did you join the Air Force?
I got an ROTC scholarship to college. No one in my family had been in the military — and I thought I would just do it for four years. I was an aerospace engineering major, so I got a job being a space operator and 24 years later, I still love it. I’ve had a great life, a great career. The military has been a family for me. I appreciate the high standards and the chance to make a difference to the nation, to come to work every day and know that you are standing in defense of your nation and performing a service. I love that part of it — and I guess that’s why it stuck.
So you’ve always worked in space?
I’ve always worked in space operations. This is my third time at Schriever, so it’s home for me. I’ve spent half my career in Colorado — 12 years here, Peterson and Buckley [Air Force bases]. I commanded the GPS squadron my first tour here. It’s a great place to command and lead. I consider Colorado home.
What are Schriever’s missions?
Our main mission is space and cyber. We have a mission of intelligence and reconnaissance — tracking the objects in space and what they are doing, where they’re from.
Everyone on the planet knows about the Global Positioning System, which is maintained and monitored from Schriever. Most people know they have a GPS that gets them where they’re going, the locator service. But they don’t realize the timing part of it. When a stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, GPS is used to mark the exact time of the purchase. When you swipe your credit card, GPS sends the exact time to the bank. It keeps the financial sector moving.
We also handle military satellite communications. We handle wide-band communications — think of UAV [unmanned aerial vehicles] video footage or television. But we deal with protected communications. Think about if we were in a nuclear environment. How would we talk to the president? To the submarines? To the ICBM force? All that is protected satellite communications.
And it all ties into the cybersecurity piece. Protecting our networks, defending them so we can do all the other missions, that’s vital.
Schriever also houses a lot of tenant agencies — the Missile Defense Agency is the most important. Those are the trigger pullers. If there’s a missile in our airspace, these people shoot it down.
What are some of the challenges of leading at Schriever?
I’m blessed to be in this mission. It’s quite a big deal to support the combat commands who are focused on a mission downrange and to know our support and assistance is vital to them.
It’s a curse because we are 12 miles from Colorado Springs. There are partnerships I’d love to have with companies, with other governments. But because we are so far away, it’s hard for businesses to see the benefit. They tend to forget we’re out here — and it makes it hard to take care of the airmen properly. If we were closer, I could pursue public-public and public-private partnerships to help them. So finding ways to best take care of the airmen, that’s a challenge.
The space business is also a blessing and a curse. We are very contractor heavy. That’s a good thing; it means a lot of jobs — good, high-paying, tech jobs in Colorado Springs. But it’s a curse because of the way the Air Force counts the labor force. They only count active duty. They don’t include civilian workers or contractors. But I still have to take care of those people — they’re still here on base. So we’re basically undermanned for the number of people we have working and living here.
What are some lessons learned during your career?
As a leader, you have to know that there are two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. As the commander here, I don’t always hear the good news — but I do hear the bad news. And if it gets to me, it’s very, very bad stuff. If it can be fixed at a lower level, it is. But if it has to come to me, it’s serious. So there’s never an amazingly obvious solution. You have to listen to both sides and try to find a compromise. You have to find the right decision that is best for the mission, is legal and ethical. And no matter what your best effort someone is going to be unhappy. That’s OK — as long as you make sure you’re doing what’s best, what’s legal and what’s ethical.
What’s the last book you read?
“It Worked for Me” by Colin Powell. It’s a great book about the lessons of leadership. It was interesting to read about the difference that he had to make in his style when he moved from a military career as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of State’s office. It was about how to tweak your style and still remain true to yourself.
What do you do for fun?
I’m married to a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and have a 12-year-old stepson. My stepson is one of those lucky military kids. He’s been at the same school throughout elementary and middle school. He’s in District 20 now, going to Timberview Middle School.
We have an RV and we love to get out and hike. We go to Eleven Mile Reservoir and just get away. Our annual Memorial Day trip will be to Estes Park. I love Eleven Mile because I get to be away — but still have cell phone coverage if there’s an emergency.
I live on base, all the leadership here does, and there are 242 families who also live here. We’re pretty social. We have barbecues and dinners, trivia nights.
There’s not a lot of time off in this job.