FBI agent wakes up Washburn

Alumnus' words of dedication Dave Burlew entertains Washburn alumni with stories of his years serving the FBI. Burlew is a Washburn alumnus and spoke at the Bradbury Thompson Alumni Center on Sept. 15.

Tanner Ballengee / Washburn Review

On the morning of Sept. 15, members of the Washburn Alumni Association as well as other guests from the Topeka community welcomed back an alum with a life straight out of “Law and Order.”

Over plates of bacon, eggs and coffee supplied by the Alumni Association, guests and Washburn alumni listened to a presentation given by FBI agent Dave Burlew, who has been serving the bureau for over 20 years and has been working as the training and national academy coordinator since 2008.

Burlew graduated from Washburn University in 1980, receiving a bachelor’s degree and playing baseball for four years. After graduation, Burlew served as a police officer of Olathe, Kan., for six years, before joining the FBI in 1988.

Success came swiftly for Burlew as an FBI agent; he received awards and recognition throughout his career, starting in 1996 with the recognition of his liaison work with agencies in Nebraska, then receiving the Meritorious Achievement Award in 1999 for his work in the drug and weapons busts known as “Operation Powerball,” and again in 2002 when he was given the Officer of the Year Award for law enforcement in Nebraska, or otherwise known as the “Top Dog” award.

In 2008, Burlew accepted the job of the training and national academy coordinator for the FBI in Kansas City. Since then, he has been training and recruiting potential FBI agents from the bureau’s National Academy, a university in Virginia where would-be agents endure 10 weeks of hands-on training and activity that ends with the completion of a final fitness test called “The Yellow Brick Road.”

The Yellow Brick Road, named after its yellow painted rocks that mark the trail, is the ultimate of all obstacle courses: a grueling stretch over six miles of woods, water, ropes, barbed wire, walls, trenches and much more. Those who do complete it are awarded a commemorative yellow brick upon graduation of the academy.

Burlew not only looks for graduates of the National Academy, or completers of The Yellow Brick Road, but he said he looks for the people of today’s generation that are driven, have the energy and real desire to become an agent for the FBI. Burlew also travels and speaks to different schools looking to recruit college students as well.

After roughly 23 years in service, Burlew says he’s in the twilight of his career, and that he has lived his dream, but his career has not been as glamorous as some movies and television shows portray it to be.

“I’ve lived in hell, and I’ve met the devil,” said Burlew in regards to his work against drugs, “That ruins peoples’ lives and careers. I did that for 13 years and I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody, because it is not a fun scene.”

During his talk Burlew told a couple “war stories,” as he calls them; some funny, like his tale about his prevention of a gas station robbery and an exhilarated clerk’s remark about him and his FBI crew (“Damn you guys are fast!”), and some not so funny, like his remembrance of the cocaine and heroin smuggler who pulled a gun on him.

“That’s not TV, folks,” said Burlew. “That’s real stuff, and it’s not fun.”

Whether good or bad, Burlew’s memories grabbed everyone’s attention, and his light-hearted words on his career as an FBI agent brought smiles to a room full of fellow Washburn alumni.

Dave Burlew thanked Washburn and his baseball coaches for the opportunities and experience they gave him, even recalling how crawling through the muddy water on the Yellow Brick Road reminded him of baseball practice.

“I was one of the 600 hired to be an FBI agent back in 1988,” said Burlew. “I’m proud to be an alumni of Washburn.”