By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — Wakefield veterans and their families have a strong new advocate.
Karen Burke took the position of Veterans Service Officer in December and the former Air Force flight nurse has hit the ground running in making sure that local veterans get the services they are entitled to.
Burke retired from the Air Force this past year after a 20-year career flying soldiers out of war-torn areas of Afghanistan and the Middle East. After taking a few months off, she accepted her current position as Wakefield VSO in order to continue to serve her fellow veterans.
One of her primary goals in her new position is to improve community outreach to make veterans aware of all the benefits to which they are entitled, both from the state and the federal government.
“We execute the benefits as part of our job and the other part is being a liaison for veterans and their spouses in the community,” Burke says. “And of course to help honor our veterans – not just on the holidays but all the time, and especially to make sure that part of the community spirit is honoring our veterans.”
She has already been impressed with the spirit of honoring veterans that she has seen in Wakefield.
Burke received her bachelor of science degree in Nursing from Villanova and a master’s degree in Emergency and Disaster Management from Trident University while she was serving in the military overseas.
As an Air Force flight nurse, Burke cared for patients on-board cargo planes as they were being transported from the battlefield in Afghanistan to Germany or from Germany back to the states. When injured soldiers need to be transported, medical care continues mid-flight. It’s the responsibility of Air Force flight nurses to provide them with lifesaving emergency and prehospital care.
In addition to flying in and out of Afghanistan, Burke also did a lot of related work such as regulating patients – essentially coordinating and matching patients to planes – while deployed in the Middle East.
But she says the highlight of her military nursing career was as a flight nurse flying missions in and out of combat areas in Afghanistan.
“When I was actually flying in the air were some of my best assignments,” she says, “where you’re actually up on the back of planes taking care of patients. The flight nursing in the wartime environment,” she says, were actually “some of the most memorable” experiences of her military career.
A native of the New Hampshire Seacoast area, she currently lives in Stoneham with her husband Brendan and her five-year-old son Bode who is in kindergarten.
“We retired and came back to this area to be closer to our families,” Burke says. “My husband’s family is from the Cape and my family is in New Hampshire so this is a good way to be close to both of our families.”
When she’s not working Burke loves to go skiing. “That’s a nice thing to be back in the northeast for,” she says. “We also like to go hiking. We’re outdoor people, so we like to be active.”
She and her family are big sports fans too, and enjoy supporting local teams like the Bruins, Patriots and Red Sox.
Burke really wants to raise the profile of the Wakefield Veterans Service Office and make sure people know it’s there and that they know what services are available to veterans and their families.
Her office is on the first floor of the John J. McCarthy Senior Center at 30 Converse St. She is normally in the office Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but is often there at other times as well. She says that people are always welcome to walk into her office, but may want to make an appointment to avoid waiting. Her office phone number is 781-246-6377. She can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Wakefield Veterans Services web site is mwsveteranservices.org/wakefield.html, where veterans can find valuable information and useful links to resources.
Burke says that she’s glad to be in Wakefield, a town with a reputation for honoring and respecting veterans.
“It’s nice to be part of the community,” she says. “I’ve been very impressed with the Wakefield community, so it’s nice to be a part of it.”