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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Veteran Wisdom

He was a warrior, lover, patriot, leader, American hero and Aggie. His name was Lt. Peter Burks, a 2nd Lt. in the Army.
A December 2003 graduate of A&M with a bachelor’s in international studies, Burks was involved in campus life as a sports desk writer for The Battalion and president of his fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi.
Upon graduation, Burks did many things. He worked as a tour guide in France before returning to his native city of Dallas and working for the Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Desperados and FC Dallas, the Frisco-based soccer team, in community relations and marketing.
But according to his fiancée, Missy Haddad, there was a calling in Burks’ life that needed fulfillment, and in 2006 he joined the United States Army.
“It was not a plan his whole life to go into the military. After Sept. 11 it started stirring him in that direction and he decided to enlist,” Haddad said. “Pete enlisted because he felt the need to serve his country.”
In October 2006 he was commissioned as an officer and assigned to the 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, Vilseck, Germany, and was deployed to Iraq in July 2007, where he was placed in charge of a 17-man unit. Haddad described Burks as a tremendous leader who respected and served his fellow soldiers.
“Pete was built for leadership and to serve others,” Haddad said. “The guys learned so much from him. I’ve spoken with most of the guys that served under him and they said he was a walking book. He basically learned Arabic on the way over there. The guys respected him because he was the perfect balance of everything.”
According to a Department of Defense news release, Burks was killed Nov. 14, 2007, in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device. The Dallas Morning News reported the incident happened just outside of the Green Zone, a government area of closed-off streets in Baghdad that is heavily guarded. Five of Burks’ men were also injured.
His last words were inquiring if his fellow soldiers were all OK.
Haddad said, “He was absolutely a spiritual leader and a passionate person. His smile was contagious and he was brave and courageous. He was an absolutely dedicated and selfless person. He was the most beautiful person ever.”
After Burks’ death, a large array of people reached out to Haddad and Burks’ family, often asking if there was anything that could be done to help. This prompted Haddad, and Burks’ father Allen Burks, to start a memorial fund in his honor – The Unsung Hero Fund.
“Instead of asking for donations, we asked for people to put money into that account,” Haddad said. “Pete had an outstanding fan base. People came to us after everything happened, and Pete’s dad and I elected to find a way to help Pete’s soldiers that were still over there.”
An American Airlines press release said the fund was named for an award that Burks received from his high school football team, Unsung Hero, for selfless play and unwavering support of his teammates.
“The “Unsung Hero” represents Pete’s ambitions and those of the thousands like him that serve our country. They don’t look for glory, it finds them,” the press release stated.
The Unsung Hero Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to sending supplies to Iraq in support of the soldiers in combat and the Iraqi children who are struggling for a better education.
Allen Burks, cofounder of the organization said, “We are carrying on the legacy that Pete started before he was killed. Pete realized that he was supported by his friends and family and that a lot of other guys in the military are not that lucky. Pete always asked for us to send extra stuff to him in Iraq so that he could distribute it to his soldiers there.”
On April 9, Allen Burks and Burks’ younger brother Zac departed for Iraq in conjunction with American Airlines and Operation Iraqi Children. The effort is the largest one-time shipment in Operation Iraqi Children’s history, with 20 tons of cargo and supplies to be distributed throughout Iraq over the course of several days.
According to Haddad, the Unsung Hero Fund is credited with donating 5,600 pounds of supplies for the trip including 6,500 pairs of Crocs shoes and 10,000 school-supply kits that will reach Iraqi school children.
“The soldiers over there are responsible for establishing a better school system, and they give school supplies to the students that need it,” Haddad said.
OIC is an organization founded in early 2004 by actor Gary Sinise of “Forrest Gump,” “Apollo 13” and “CSI: NY” and author Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” according to the American Airlines Press release.
American Airlines donated a Boeing 767 jet to OIC for the trip, and contacted Allen Burks to see if the Unsung Hero Fund would also like to participate.
The Unsung Hero Fund started with simple intentions and has since grown to a much larger scale. To date, it is responsible for having shipped more than six tons of supplies to the U.S. Military in Iraq.
“We just wanted to take care of Pete’s 17 guys, and that was as far as we could see. The response has been overwhelming with all of the people that have wanted to help out,” Allen Burks said. “We never would have dreamed of a day like this. This is like Christmas morning.
In addition to handing out school supply kits to Iraqi children, the Burkses will visit several military bases and deliver supplies to soldiers. Allen Burks said the supplies include items such as beef jerky, gummy bears, sunflower seeds, books, video games, powder Gatorade and other commodities that soldiers would not have access to otherwise.
“We will be visiting several bases in Iraq, and we just want to pat them on the back and wish them Godspeed and to get home safe,” Allen Burks said.
Burks’ legacy will be continued through the Unsung Hero Fund, but Pete’s fraternity brothers are preserving it at A&M.
On March 28, Pi Kappa Phi hosted a golf tournament that raised donations in Pete’s honor.
“This year we decided that the alumni association and the alumni scholarship would be endowed in Pete’s name. At the golf tournament the actives and alumni brought items to support the work that the foundation is trying to accomplish; mainly items to support school children in Iraq,” said Bryan Pownall, sophomore petroleum engineering major, and president of Pi Kappa Phi.
Pownall said the alumni foundation changed its name to the Peter Burks Foundation, and will award scholarships to Pi Kapp’s that exhibit the qualities Burks shared.
The award recipient must “excel in school, must be a future leader in the chapter and the classroom and excel in working well with others and ha[ve] the respect of others. They must show the character of a Texas A&M Pi Kapp – a man of class,” Pownall said.
Burks served as president of Pi Kappa Phi in 2002, and Pownall said there are pictures in his remembrance throughout the fraternity house.
“We have a lot of respect for him in that he went over to fight in Iraq,” Pownall said.
Burks’ legacy will remain intact both at A&M and abroad, but it was his words in a letter he wrote to his fiancée the night before he died that will preserve his legacy.
“He wrote a letter to me the night before he was killed about how proud he was to be an American soldier, and it was such a blessing,” Haddad said. “He had such a sense of pride in being over there with his guys and knowing that he had that kind of attitude the night before he died is amazing.”
DonationsDonations can be made in Burks’ honor at www.unsungherofund.org.

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