LeAnne Pittman Burch expected to be an elementary school teacher like her mother and grandmother so that she could work with children, but her love for a man led her on a different path, a path to a distinguished military career as a Judge Advocate, highlighted by her recent selection for promotion to the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Army.
“I went into the military because Bobby Burch was going into the military,” Burch said. “Dr. Burch (Bobby’s father) had been in the Army Dental Corps and had always encouraged Bobby to go into the military, as it was a great way to sharpen your skills after you get out of dental school. You have mentors all around, you work with the newest equipment, and you can learn to be a better dentist so that when you leave the military, you have a base of knowledge stronger than what you would have if you went straight from dental school into private practice. Bobby was very interested in doing that, so I could either follow him and join the military or not work in the practice of law because I wouldn’t be licensed in each place we’d be assigned.”
The couple married in 1983, and LeAnne moved to Memphis to finish law school where Bobby was a dental student. Upon graduation from their respective professional schools in 1985, Bobby accepted a commission in the Army Dental Corps and LeAnne accepted a commission in the following year when the Army found a place where they could be stationed together: Baumholder, Germany.
The Army needed both dentists and lawyers in Baumholder, because a large number of soldiers were there with the 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized), Burch explained.
So, they packed up and moved to Germany where both of their children were born. Their oldest, Trey, now a third year medical student at UAMS, is following his parents’ path to the military. He’s a 2nd Lieutenant in the Individual Readiness Reserve and will serve on active duty when he graduates. Their daughter, Katie, now in law school in Little Rock, is following her mother’s path, pursuing a career in law.
While in Baumholder, Burch experienced an event celebrated around the world: the fall of the Berlin Wall. “It was an incredible and exciting time to be there,” she said. “We were actually in Berlin visiting friends the weekend before the fall happened.”
The next month, in December 1989, the Burches returned to the United States. While at Fort Hood, Texas, Burch worked in the legal assistance office where she helped take care of soldiers’ and family members’ general legal needs, including wills and powers of attorney, contract reviews, and concerns about financial documents such as rental agreements, and mortgages and the legal impacts of deployments on these. Desert Storm brought a great deal of stress on soldiers and their families.
After two and a half years at Fort Hood, Burch went to Fort Bragg where she was involved with tort litigation and claims and risk management involving military medicine at Womack Army Medical Center. “I enjoyed that kind of work and it also gave me the opportunity to work with medical and dental personnel,” Burch said. “It was especially great for me because I worked in an area in which Bobby also had an interest. I enjoyed working with many of his senior leaders and commanders on legal issues.”
In January 1993, Bobby was deployed on a 7-month tour to Somalia. “The day after he left, our dog had 10 puppies, and I had a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old and a full-time army job,” Burch said. “It was a really dynamic time and God could not have put us in a better place because we had many good friends that were already stationed there, ones from Baumholder and then others came that we had known in Texas. Plus we made wonderful new friends. The Army has such an incredible support system of people.”
Burch was serving in the XVIIIth Airborne Corps Staff Judge Advocate’s office when she was deployed to Bosnia in January 1998. She worked on the legal advisory staff at a NATO base near Sarajevo. While there, Bobby, who was still at Fort Bragg in a dental residency program, received word that his father was terminally ill.
In the next few months, they were both honorably discharged from the active Army and returned to Monticello. Bobby took over his father’s dental practice and LeAnne went to work for Monticello attorney Jim Ross and joined the Army Reserves.
Her desire to help children, however, ultimately led her to the Arkansas Department of Human Services where she is an attorney with the Office of Chief Counsel, based in the Drew County office.
In 2004, as an army reservist, Burch and many in her New Orleans-based unit were mobilized to Fort Hood, where the unit helped keep the legal operations in the III Corps office operational while most of the active duty Judge Advocates that were stationed there had been deployed to Iraq.
“This is where I began to appreciate the incredible nature of being a Citizen Soldier,” Burch said, referring to the support she received from friends, family, and the Monticello community when she left her husband and two children for 15 months.
“My kids had this incredible extended family while I was mobilized. Plus, there is so much military pride in this community.”
In 2008, Burch deployed to Afghanistan for a year. While there, she was the senior legal mentor for the Afghan National Army and the legal department of the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
“Mentors were assigned to help Afghans look differently at their roles in the developing government. Learning how to use the rule of law to better protect Afghan citizens is an important challenge that so many are working toward, “Burch explained. “We learned that many of the persons working in the legal field in the Army and the Ministry were eager to learn and could benefit from a formalized basic course of legal knowledge, so we helped them develop courses and teaching methods that they can continue to use and work with as their justice system continues to develop.
While in Afghanistan, Burch communicated with family and friends via Facebook and Skype.
“They Skyped me on Christmas and had the whole family there,” Burch said. “All the while you are talking to them it is wonderful, but when you hang up it can be very hard and very quiet.”
That was her last deployment. “I was fortunate to be selected to command the 22nd Legal Support Organization when I returned stateside,” she said.
She relinquished that command in April to serve as a deputy for the US Army Reserve Legal Command, but before she was settled, she was selected for promotion to brigadier general and an assignment to the US Army Legal Services Agency as the Chief Judge, Individual Mobilization Augmentee, Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
Burch’s “pinning ceremony” will take place on August 18 at the Arkansas Supreme Court Building in Little Rock. The Judge Advocate General of the Army, Lieutenant General (LTG) Dana Chipman, will preside over the ceremony.
“It is a very special honor for LTG Chipman to take the time to come to Arkansas for this promotion ceremony,” Burch said. “He could have insisted the promotion be in D.C.”
Explaining that she has received incredible support from her family in Arkansas and also the Monticello community while serving in the military, Burch said she told “TJAG” that she would love for her family and her community to be able to share and participate in this special event.
“His decision to perform the pinning ceremony in Arkansas reminds me that the Active Duty leadership in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps truly values the families and communities that support all our military reservists,” Burch said.
Burch, while modest about her accomplishments and quick to give credit to others, says she hopes that she can inspire others to break barriers and have the courage to step outside their comfort zone.
“When you get on that plane to go serve away from home and leave your comfort zone – that’s when you grow,” she said.