Beacon of the day | Woman, born to teen mom in Jamaica, now holds highest enlisted rank in US army

Suzette Duncan-Burton is shown here in military uniform; her mom Pauline Johnson is pictured in plain clothes

Born to a teen mom in Jamaica, Suzette Duncan-Burton, 48, is now a highly decorated soldier in the United States army.

She has given yeoman service in various leadership positions – from squad leader to Sergeant Major (SGM), which is the highest enlisted rank.

Suzette worked on United States soil, as well as in Germany and Afghanistan.

She told The Beacon: “Sergeant Major is not an easy rank to attain – especially when you are a black female.”

Even after graduating from high school, Suzette didn’t mull becoming a soldier. She initially was comfortable being an elementary school teacher, a part-time store worker, and a young mother.

Regarding the twist of fate, she explained: “I, at 20 years old, was a young mother and I wanted to make a difference in my son’s life. I didn’t want to be just a mother.

“When I was in high school, they came there and asked who wanted to be a soldier. I didn’t think about it at the time. But, as the years go by, when I reached 27, I said: ‘OK, let me try this’. I never looked back since,” Suzette told The Beacon.

She enlisted in the United States army in March 1999 – entering as a Human Resource Specialist through the New York Military Entrance Processing Station.

As time progressed, Suzette earned numerous awards and accolades, and completed various levels of military training.

She, prior to joining the military, attended Prospect Heights High School, Borough of Manhattan Community College, and Excelsior College – all in the United States.

She holds a Bachelor of Science degree.

LEAVING JAMAICA

Suzette was eight years old when she left Jamaica to join her mother, Pauline Johnson, who migrated to the United States at age 22.

Before Suzette departed, she was enrolled at Iris Gelly Primary School in Kingston, and was living in the gritty Arnett Gardens community – also in the capital city.

She told The Beacon that her mother, over the years, ensures that the family remains connected to its Jamaican roots.

“Thanks to my mother, she always keeps us grounded,” Suzette said, adding that she frequently visits Jamaica.

She implores young people on the island to keep their eyes on the prize – just like she did.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t achieve something – no matter where you are from,” added Suzette, who is now married to Ian Burton. She has two sons – Jamall Duncan and Jayden Burton, and is bent on opening a daycare centre when she leaves the military.

MOTHER’S JOY

Meanwhile, Suzette has brought tremendous pride and joy to many people, including her biggest motivation and cheerleader – her mother, Pauline.

Pauline, a past student of Linstead Primary School and St. Jago High, became pregnant with Suzette at age 16 while living with her father at Bog Walk, St. Catherine.

She, while pregnant, relocated to Arnett Gardens to live with her mother.

Pauline, today, is proud of what her daughter has become.

“I am excited, but I expected that of Suzette,” she told The Beacon.

“I always tell my daughter that, whatever I didn’t get, I wanted her to get it, and I am going to support her in whatever she wanted to do,” the mother said.

She has stayed true to her word, and Suzette has rewarded her justly.

By Horace Mills, Journalist


We want to hear all success stories involving Jamaicans at home and abroad. Conditions may apply. WhatsApp or call 876-305-4574 or email us at jamaicabeaconnews@gmail.com.