Master Chief (retired) John Burlage

Master Chief Journalist John Burlage is considered the father of the current Navy Mass Communication Specialist rating. He reported to Recruit Training Command San Diego in the summer of 1959 and started telling the Navy story, documenting life at sea throughout the Fleet for nearly 45 years.

His amazing capability to humanize major stories through his writing and photography was his strength. His commitment to leadership and the professional development of everyone he touched saw him rise through the ranks, making a lasting, substantive impact along the way, both as a Sailor and later a civilian journalist. Among his most noted work, John documented the July 29, 1967, explosion aboard USS Forrestal (CVA 59) in the Gulf of Tonkin. The massive fire killed 134 Sailors and injured another 161; the worst loss of life on a U.S. Navy ship since World War II.

In 1983, Master Chief Burlage deployed to Beirut in support of the Navy Broadcasting Service Mobile Detachment One. He ran the station and told the stories of Sailors and Marines in Lebanon after two truck bombs struck the Marine barracks, killing 307 people. For his actions in Beirut, he was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon.

JOCM Burlage was selected to serve as the Chief of Information’s senior enlisted advisor. He dedicated his final years in uniform to building a lasting professional development framework for the journalist rating. He initiated a continued professional dialogue about whether the term “journalist” really captured the current and future work of his contemporaries. His efforts helped lead to the rating merger of Navy journalists, photographers, lithographers and draftsmen into the Mass Communication Specialist rating the Navy has today.

Throughout his time in uniform, he spent a considerable amount of time at sea, including significant stints aboard the Pickaway, Saint Paul, USS Ranger (CV-61), and USS Kearsarge (CVS-33). John also served at Naval Aviation News, Pacific Fleet Headquarters, Navy Broadcasting Services, and the Navy’s Office of Information before retiring in 1984.

John’s commitment to service, Sailors and journalism continued for the remainder of his life. Upon his retirement from active service, he immediately began reporting for Navy Times, where he worked tirelessly on behalf of Sailors, informing them about pay, benefits, advancement opportunities, and training. Following retirement from Navy Times in 2002, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark honored John with the Superior Public Service Award, the Navy’s second highest civilian award, for his continued contributions to the Navy and Marine Corps team.

In addition to graduating from the Defense Information School in Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, Journalist “B” School in Great Lakes, Illinois, and Syracuse University’s Military Photojournalism program, John earned an Associate’s in Applied Science from Del Mar College, and a Bachelor’s from the State University of New York. 

Master Chief Journalist John Burlage passed away July 23, 2020.