Posted April 20th, 2017
Lt. Col. Melaine J. Burja, DNP, RN, USAF, NC has been named the recipient of the 2017 Pleasant Valley Community School District Wall of Honor Award. The Wall of Honor Program was established in 1999 to recognize distinguished alumni who have graduated from Pleasant Valley High School.
Lt. Col. Burja graduated from PVHS in 1991 and has since spent her life serving her country on the front lines, in the classroom and in hospitals.
“In the academic setting, I am Dr. Burja. In the military setting, I’m Lt. Col. Burja. In the operating room, I’m just Melanie,” she said.
After she received a Bachelor of Arts from Wartburg College, graduating in just three years, she continued her education, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Creighton University in 1995, and entered the United States Air Force. While on active duty, she earned a Masters of Science in Nursing Anesthesia from Uniformed Services University in 2005 and a Doctor of Nursing from the University of Iowa in 2014.
Lt. Col. Burja’s career has taken her around the globe, including serving in Southern England right after 9/11. Upon returning to the States, she served as a Multi-Service staff nurse at Scott Air Force Base and as a staff nurse anesthetist at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. In 2008, she was selected to serve in rural Japan where she coordinated anesthesia services for all operating rooms and for 240 obstetrical deliveries each year. While in Japan, she was called on again to serve in the War on Terror in 2010, this time in Afghanistan.
“I supported a small medical facility at the front and a larger hospital with more extensive capabilities,” Lt. Col. Burja said. “Medics were good targets for the terrorists and by chance or coincidence we were victim to quite a few rocket attacks, one of which hit my quarters while I was at the mess hall.”
When she returned from Afghanistan, she was named Air Force CRNA of the Year. The next year tested Lt. Col. Burja again. Still serving in Japan, she and her family were living at the base closest to the epicenter of the earthquake that caused the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor. Her family was evacuated and she stayed to assist with recovery efforts with the distinct chance of being affected by radiation.
Next, the Burjas moved back to Iowa, where Lt. Col. Burja earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice from the University of Iowa. She now teaches the graduate program and coordinates clinical rotations for Nurse Anesthesia students on Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
“The military gave me many opportunities,” she said. “It’s great to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself.”
Lt. Col. Burja is looking forward to the next chapter in her life. She will retire from the Air Force in July and is accepting a position at a local children’s hospital where she will continue to work with anesthesia students and residents.
“Being active duty has meant that I have often had to choose the job over my family,” she said. “I plan to sit on the sidelines every Friday night during football season watching the marching band and cheering on my boys in whatever endeavors they pursue.”
Lt. Col. Burja is the daughter of Marie and Larry Randol, wife of Radu Burja and the mother of Nic and Luke.
Thank you to those who came to the Academic Awards Ceremony and reception in her honor.