Life might have been different for Brig. Gen. Christine Burckle had she left the military and focused on her espresso bar in Murray.

It might have been more predictable, but it wouldn’t have been more rewarding. Or historic.

After the 9/11 attacks, Burckle stayed in the Utah Air National Guard and, in 2016, became the first woman to reach the rank of general in the Utah National Guard. Sunday, her retirement takes effect.

The 53-year-old Burckle enjoyed a send-off Thursday at Wright Air National Guard Base, where she received the Legion of Merit, the seventh-highest award in the U.S. Air Force. The air base is the same place she earned her star in 2016 and took command of the 1,400 airmen in the Utah Air National Guard. Mostly, the base consists of the 151st Air Refueling Wing.

Burckle received her commission in 1988 from the University of North Carolina. She spent much of her career as a navigator on air refueling jets. She deployed to the first Gulf War, Bosnia and Afghanistan.

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Danny Whitlock) The Utah National Guard, Assistant Adjutant General for Air Brig. Gen. Christine M. Burckle receives the Legion of Merit August 29, 2019 at Roland R. Wright Air National Guard Base. The Legion of Merit is awarded to those officers and enlisted of the armed forces who distinguish themselves by exceptional meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services.

She served eight years of active duty before joining the Utah Air National Guard in 1996. She also opened an espresso bar at Fashion Place mall in Murray.

While in the 151st, Burckle met her husband, George Burckle. He has since retired from the military and is a pilot for Delta Air Lines, though Christine Burkcle said he plans to retire soon.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Burckle said her immediate plans are to help her 17-year-old daughter apply to colleges.

“My family has had to make a ton of sacrifices,” she said. “I want to be there for them.”

As for being the first woman in the Utah National Guard with a star on her shoulders, Burckle called it an “important milestone.” She noted there are other high-ranking female officers in the Utah National Guard.

“I’m not going to be the last,” she said.

Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton, commander of the Utah National Guard’s Air Force and Army forces, said Utah has the lowest rate of female participation of any Guard in the United States. He hopes Burckle is an example to girls and women thinking about joining the Utah National Guard or who are already in it.

“This was kind of groundbreaking,” Burton said of Burckle’s ascent, “because it shows these young women, ‘You can achieve this.’”

But Burton emphasized he promoted Burckle three years ago because she was the best person for the job. She was competent, he said, good with facts and figures and a people person.

Burckle 151st photo (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Danny Whitlock) The Utah National Guard, Assistant Adjutant General for Air Brig. Gen. Christine M. Burckle receives the Legion of Merit August 29, 2019 at Roland R. Wright Air National Guard Base. Burckle also received the title of Honorary Chief from the Honorary Chief counsel which consists of all of the Chief Master Sergeants of the Utah Air National Guard.

Burckle’s daughter and husband were unable to attend Thursday, and so Burckle declined a full retirement ceremony with the pomp and circumstance that can accompany a general’s departure. In a more modest presentation, Burton pinned the Legion of Merit on Burckle. The two then exchanged salutes and a hug.

Occasionally wiping tears, Burckle told about 50 personnel in attendance that she looked forward to returning to Wright Air National Guard Base for visits and perhaps serving in some other capacity.

“I love you all,” she said. “I’ll miss you, but I will see you again soon wearing different clothes.”

Col. Daniel D. Boyack will be promoted to command the Utah Air National Guard. Boyack began his career with the Utah Air National Guard in 1994 and received his officer’s commission in 2000. Boyack is an airline pilot.