Most city interns are fresh-faced college kids straight out of a dorm room.
Kyle Burns is a decorated war hero.
The 38-year-old Army captain was recently appointed an intern for the Overland Park City Manager’s Office.
Burns — who lives at Fort Leavenworth with his family — has spent the past few weeks working on community projects and getting to know city staff.
“This position seems a good fit for me because I like the challenge of trying to better a community,” Burns said. “I like working for the citizens. I find it gratifying.”
Twenty years ago, Burns never would have dreamed he would be pursuing a career in city government.
The upstate New York native joined the Army right after graduating high school in 1993. His grandfather was a World War II veteran and his father had served in Vietnam. The Army seemed like a perfect fit.
“I felt a calling to the career — I loved the adventure, the patriotism of it,” he said. “I had no desire to do anything else. It seemed like a good life.”
He was stationed in North Carolina, before being transferred to Georgia in 1999.
He worked his way up the ranks and eventually attended officer candidate school. In June 2005 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and in February of the next year, Burns was deployed to Afghanistan as a platoon leader in charge of 45 soldiers.
But fate had other plans for him, when a Taliban roadside ambush came out of nowhere. As a result of the attack, Burns suffered serious neck and back injuries.
He was brought back to the United States the following September.
“There was a time when it was extremely difficult to accept how life was going to change for me,” Burns said. “I truly believe it is the hardest thing someone has to go through. Once I accepted it, I was able to move forward and focus on the future. I feel like I’m a better person now because I don’t take things for granted anymore.”
Burns was awarded the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest award given for valor. The citation says he earned the award “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action.” With the back injury he suffered in the attack, he led his nine-man team to a rooftop, where they fought against 75 to 100 Taliban soldiers. “Over five hours, Lieutenant Burns’ element destroyed an estimated 35 enemy fighters. His leadership enabled his men to inflict significant casualties against the enemy and sustained only one friendly casualty,” the citation says, according to the Military Times website.
And while he’s incredibly honored, Burns says he doesn’t feel like a hero. The award represents his team of soldiers, rather than his own accomplishments, he said.
“To this day, I don’t feel like I did anything special,” he said. “I reacted as anyone else would have in that position. That award represents the men who fought alongside me and I just happened to be the guy in charge.”
The next few years were frustrating for Burns.
Physically unable to serve in combat anymore, he was unsure where his career was heading. He was in agonizing physical pain.
He credits his wife, Jennifer, for being the unsung hero behind his recovery process. She helped not only lift his spirits, but fought for him to receive the medical attention he desperately needed.
During his struggles, Burns discovered a military program that allowed soldiers to pursue their graduate degree.
Burns — who already had a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice — chose to study public administration and was sent to KU.
He started his internship with Overland Park last month.
City Manager Bill Ebel, who is also an Army veteran, couldn’t be more pleased.
“With his military background and work discipline, there is no challenge Kyle hasn’t accomplished well,” Ebel said. “He’s also a very personable guy and gets along great with everyone.”
Currently, Burns is chairing the 9/11 memorial committee, among other things.
“For the next month, our goal is for Kyle to meet with each department and show him how a city operates,” Ebel said. “He’s going to have a lot of responsibilities and work on some great projects. I want him to jump right in with both feet because that’s the only way he’s going to learn.”
Burns is looking forward to spending the next several months in his new position. He also plans to move his family out to Overland Park after he graduates from KU and retires from the Army next spring.
“There comes a time in a soldier’s life when you need to hang up your boots and move on to something else,” Burns said. “That time has come for me and I’m looking forward to the challenge of starting a second career. Being able to settle down in a nice town and spend time with my family is going to be my new adventure, and I’m very excited.”