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From Uzbekistan to America: One Airman's Tale

Tech. Sgt. Dmitriy Burshteyn, a field test team noncommissioned officer in charge with the Air Force Technical Applications Center, uses a remote firing device to detonate explosives while field testing new infrasound equipment at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Matthew S. Jurgens)

Tech. Sgt. Dmitriy Burshteyn, a field test team noncommissioned officer in charge with the Air Force Technical Applications Center, uses a remote firing device to detonate explosives while field testing new infrasound equipment at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Matthew S. Jurgens)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Bukhara is a centuries-old, culturally-rich city in the Asian country of Uzbekistan. Located on the historic Silk Road (a network of ancient trade routes that connected the East to the West), it has long been an epicenter of exports, scholarship, language and religion.

For one U.S. Air Force Airman assigned to the Air Force Technical Applications Center here, it’s the city he lists as his place of birth.

Born in 1988, Tech. Sgt. Dmitriy Burshteyn is the son of a Russian Air Force major who worked as a logistics officer for the Soviet military. Like most military brats, Burshteyn and his family moved frequently. When Dmitriy was four years old, his father received orders to Minsk, Belarus where the Burshteyns lived for a few years before relocating to Tashkent, the capital city in then-Soviet Uzbekistan. After the collapse of the USSR, those remaining in countries without delineated Russian borders were left to integrate into the respective host nation’s military.

Unfortunately for Major Burshteyn, many of those countries wanted to rid themselves of all Soviet influences.

Since Dmitriy’s father was considered a product of the Soviet regime, he was told he’d be working for a lieutenant of Uzbek descent – an insult for a major to work for a junior ranking officer. “It didn’t help that my father was Jewish in a Muslim state,” Dmitriy said, “so my family made the decision to immigrate to the United States and seek asylum.”

It wasn’t an easy process, though.

“I remember making lots of trips to the consulate in Moscow in order to get all the paperwork accomplished,” Dmitriy said. “I think it took an entire year to get everything finalized, and we finally moved to Oakland, Calif. To this day, we still consider Dec. 5, 1997 a family holiday.”

When the Burshteyn clan arrived in the U.S., they lived in a one-bedroom apartment for about a year.

“My grandparents joined us, so there were six of us living in very close quarters,” he explained. “After about a year, my grandfather was able to find an apartment they could afford. My father worked two to three different jobs at a time and went to night school for computer sciences, which ultimately led to him becoming a quality assurance engineer.”

They eventually settled in Walnut Creek, Calif., where Dmitriy graduated from Ygnacio Valley High School. A solid B-student, he played soccer and held down a part-time job from the age of 16.

“I was really more concerned about making money than making straight As,” he said. “I did have recruiters from the Navy, Army and Marines contact me about joining, but the Air Force never called. I took that as a ‘What, they think I’m not good enough or something?’ So I ended up calling the Air Force recruiter myself, scheduled the entrance exam, and got a ship-out date within six months. The rest is history.”

In December 2006, Dmitriy, a naturalized American citizen, left California for Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland AFB, Texas. Unsure of what his future held but confident about what was on the horizon, he embraced the challenges that came with joining the military.

“I made the decision to enlist for a few reasons,” he explained. “I don’t come from money, but my parents busted their humps since coming America to provide for my brother, my sister and me, and I didn’t want to burden them with the high cost of college. I also wanted to keep the tradition of being a military family since my father served, and of course I wanted something larger out of life than just living in a small town.”

The latter reason seemed to resonate most with Dmitriy when he made his first visit home after a few years on active duty.

“My first trip back made me realize I made the right decision to join the Air Force,” he said. “When I came home, all my friends were literally doing the same thing they were doing three or four years earlier. Some attempted to go to college, but ended up dropping out. A few moved away, but most of them were just stuck in the same rut as before – dead-end jobs with no prospects. I, on the other hand, had gotten to travel the world to some amazing and not-so-amazing places and each was an incredible learning experience.”

And travel he has. His assignments have included Italy, Germany, England, California, Texas and Florida, with deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar, and a few temporary duty assignments sandwiched in between.

Fluent in Russian, he jokes that his accent has become “Americanized.”

“Once a week I Skype with my parents, and they poke fun at me about my accent,” he said. “Even though Russian is my native language, I don’t get to practice it much, so it’s easy to get rusty when you don’t use it every day.”

He added, “I’m often asked why I didn’t become a linguist when I joined the Air Force, but it just doesn’t appeal to me. All I really wanted to do was vehicle maintenance and that’s what I told my recruiter.”

When Burshteyn was stationed at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, he crossed paths with someone who would ultimately become an influential mentor.

“If there was a photo I could put in the dictionary to define what a leader is, it would be a picture of Senior Master Sgt. Adam J. Morrison,” Dmitriy said. “This was a guy who was not all caught up in his rank or position. On the contrary, he not only looked out for all of us who worked for him, but he also stuck his neck out for us on many occasions. A lot of people don’t want to ruffle feathers up the chain, but Sergeant Morrison wasn’t afraid to walk the walk. He is one hundred percent who I aspire to emulate as I progress in rank, and to date he’s the only leader who has actually made me want to study for promotion.”

Burshteyn began his Air Force career as a vehicle maintainer, but now works as a field test team noncommissioned officer for AFTAC since his arrival at the nuclear treaty monitoring center in November 2017. He is responsible for operating AFTAC’s mobile laboratories and collecting sensor data that’s used by the center and its multiple interagency partners for research and development purposes.

“I really enjoy being a 9S100,” he said. “The best part of my job, aside from the extensive travel, is I get to learn something new almost daily from people who have been doing this job and mission for many years. Some have been involved in treaty monitoring for longer than I have been alive, so I consider it a privilege to sit down with them and just listen to them talk about their experiences. It’s really an incredible wealth of knowledge here.”

Burshteyn hopes for orders to one of AFTAC’s detachments someday.

“My ideal assignment would be at one of our overseas dets,” he said. “I love working in small, tight-knit groups and since most of our detachments are ‘hands-on’ jobs with very few people assigned, it would be just the type of atmosphere I enjoy.”

When he’s not focused on his day job, the noncommissioned officer enjoys spending time with his wife Casandra, and their two children, Travis and Adrienne. “I got married when I was just 19 years old, so it’s not impossible for people to stay married when they get married young. It just takes loads of work and open communication. I still consider myself lucky to come home to my beautiful wife and amazing kids every day.”

Asked if he’s visited his birthplace since emigrating, he said, “I’ve not been back to Uzbekistan, and while part of me wants to go to see it from an ‘adult perspective,’ especially the old Bukhara, I really have no reason to go there because I honestly feel I’d be disappointed. But never say never – maybe someday my Air Force travels will take me there!”