COROZAL, Belize --
Born and raised in Belize City, Belize, Karen Burbank had it drilled into her mind by her mother that if she sticks with her education, she will succeed. Now a U.S. Army sergeant, Burbank has had five years of training and experience as a medic and recently deployed to Belize from the 349th Combat Support Hospital in Los Angeles.
From April 7-17, Burbank ensured proper care was provided to people from her home nation. Working in the triage section of the New Horizons Belize 2014 medical readiness training exercise, or MEDRETE, Burbank was responsible for obtaining blood pressure and pulse readings, as well as determining a patients' main reason for visiting the temporary clinic.
New Horizons is a multi-faceted exercise geared toward providing mutual medical and engineering training opportunities for Belize Defence Force, Canadian and U.S. military members. This is Burbank's first time supporting a New Horizons exercise in Belize.
"This is a real emotional and appreciative experience for me because I get to actually take care of my own," Burbank said. "I think it's a real good opportunity for us to learn, to build relationships with another country, and also for [Belizeans] to learn the things we can teach them.
"I'm just happy to be here and be a part of this mission supporting a place where I came from. I know how important it is," she added.
Belizean patients did not immediately recognize her accent as being from Belize, but once they did, their demeanor changed.
The people were really "stunned that I'm actually from Belize but in the U.S. military," Burbank said. "They're amazed. ... They're happy when they hear me speak the mix of English and Creole."
The path from Belize City to Los Angeles involved a determination to succeed and continuous encouragement from Burbank's mother to value education.
"I raised up with my mom being a single mother having four kids. What she always told us was school is very, very important. It's a way of a better opportunity. It's a way of getting out of poverty. ... She also used to tell us that nobody can take your education away," recalled Burbank, who is one of four children in her family. "We realized how hard it was for her taking care of all four of us, so we couldn't let her down. I realized that I had to focus."
In 1999, Burbank's mother passed away, leading to life in the U.S. and, eventually, a life in uniform.
"I decided to join the military because it's something that I thought was a very good opportunity for me and my family. That's how I ended up in the Army from Belize," Burbank explained. "It wasn't an easy path ... however, you have to be determined. You have to want it."
A student of Queen Square Anglican School and Wesley College, both in Belize City, Burbank then received training in the U.S. Army to become a Soldier and a medic. She is still continuing her education today, falling in line with her mother's words of wisdom.
"My daughter, right now, she looks at me as an example," Burbank noted. "If I didn't make that change for myself or if my mom didn't encourage me, it would have been the same pattern of not wanting more. Now my daughter can see, and she can use me as a positive role model.
"My mom is not here today, but I know if she was she would be very, very proud," Burbank said.
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter: