The harsh realities of urban life were always on display for Marva Burns and her son Marquis Butts during their time living in Chicago.
Burns yearned to move away from the cold, bleak, crime-ridden streets and in 2017 she and her son took the headlong leap and moved to Phoenix, searching for a new beginning.
Two years later, they both found one in a way they never expected – by enlisting in the U.S. Army simultaneously.
Both Burns and Butts stood together – mother and son, side-by-side – as they swore in at the Phoenix Military Entrance Processing Station, Oct. 8, preparing for the biggest adventure of their lives.
Burns, 38, said her decision to move to Phoenix was one she felt necessary for her and Butts in order to make better lives for themselves.
“The violence was getting really bad in Chicago, so I felt Arizona would be a lot safer and with better weather,” Burns said. “I had lived there my whole life and needed to make a change.”
After two years working in the medical field in Phoenix, Burns said she was eager to do something different, which ended up being influenced by Butts.
“I didn’t join the Army because I had a son. I joined the Army because of my son,” she said. “I had given Marquis three options after he graduated high school – start your own business, go to college, or join the military. He chose the military.”
“After myself and his father talking about the benefits of joining, it started sounding good to me too,” Burns continued. “It made me want to try it and see what happens. I went to the recruiting station in Tempe with my son and they said ‘you can be all you can be with us!’”
For Butts, 18, having his mother decide to enlist alongside him was something unexpected as he embarked on his own enlistment journey.
“I had a close friend whose father was in the Navy, so he would tell me about his experiences,” Butts said. “It started to sound good, so my mom got me in touch with an Army recruiter. It’s something I wanted to do … the traveling, adventure, benefits.”
Butts said his mother did a lot of the legwork for him with the recruiters, but in the process realized she wanted the challenge herself.
“She felt like she was doing the same thing, over and over every, day,” Butts said. “It was now or never for her, so she decided to join with me.”
Butts decided on becoming a cavalry scout, while his mother will attend basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to become a human resources specialist.
Burns said she feels apprehensive about her age, as she prepares to ship to basic training on Oct. 28, but otherwise feels in good mental and physical condition.
“It plays on my mind being yelled at by drill sergeants much younger than me, but I don’t feel like I’m nearly 40,” Burns said. “I’ve been working out as much as I can and I’m probably in better shape than kids half my age.”
Burns said enlisting with her son has given her the impetus to exert herself even harder.
“Doing this with my son, it’s almost like competing with him. I think it’s weirder for me than him,” she added. “He doesn’t seem to be bothered by this at all. Me on the other hand, it feels a little strange doing this with him.”
Butts said he’s proud of his mother and is ready to meet the challenges ahead together.
“I’m ready for the change, ready for something different … we both are,” he said. “I’ve been working out with my mom and she’s probably been more dedicated than me. I haven’t been working out as much as her.Mentally I feel ready … I’ve seen a lot of things in my life I probably shouldn’t have seen. I can’t wait to better myself and learn something new. I can see myself making a career out of this.”
Burns said taking the "Oath of Enlistment" was the icing on the cake.
“It felt great, I couldn’t have been prouder,” Burns said. “I know a mother and son swearing in together is something different, so being a part of that was amazing.”