He has survived fire, plane wreckage and three tours of duty. According to his stylish wife of 28 years, he is a man who can do anything and will help anyone. He’s an awesome father to their five kids, and a great mate.
“I can’t say enough about my husband,” says Angelina Burgett, 48. “He makes me safe.”
Clearly, Brandon Burgett, 48, is a man of substance. Yet it’s been said he fell in love with a mini-skirt.
“I guess it’s kind of true,“ he says, remembering how he first saw his bride-to-be. “She had like the cutest mini-skirt, and the finest legs there is.”
Angelina had recently moved to the area, from south of Phoenix, so her mother could care for her mother, who lived on the San Carlos Reservation. Somewhat more of a city girl, Angelina entered Globe High School her senior year; she wondered how she would fit in.
Brandon, somewhat more of a nature guy, wondered who she might be. He was friends with everyone. Most of his classmates he’d known since first grade, and many of his friends were Apache. No one knew about the new girl. Brandon was on his own.
Some days he’d drive up beside her and rev his hotrod engine. She’d shy away in the cab of her mother’s truck. According to Angelina, all the girls were in love with Brandon. She thought he was the “cat’s meow,” but played down her interest.
“I had the biggest crush on him,” says Angelina.
“I didn’t know that,” Brandon replies.
Brandon invited Angelina to lunch. Expecting a ride in his sporty Nova, she was introduced to la bamba.
“I was testing the waters,” says Brandon.
Angelina was cool. She took a torn seat in his mother’s beat-up brown 1962 Impala, and happily rode with this handsome boy to Jack-in-the-Box for lunch.
The courtship, Brandon recalls, proceeded slowly.
“I was cautious,” Angelina says, reciting a warning from her grandmother. “Be aware of very handsome men because everybody wants them.”
For their first night out, they went to Dairy Queen and shared a Hawaiian Blizzard, Brandon’s favorite. Angelina tears up as she recalls the many firsts experienced with her husband. Skiing on Sunrise Mountain. Fishing at Lake Takalai. Her first fish. A big one.
“A 30-pound catfish,” Brandon says with pride.
He asked her mother’s permission to take her to the Grand Canyon for the first time, without the younger siblings and cousins that usually accompanied them.
“She really trusted Brandon,” says Angelina.
“And I fixed her car a couple of times.” Brandon laughs.
By their graduation in the spring of 1989, the couple was inseparable.
But Brandon had a prior commitment. In his junior year, he had signed up for four years of service with the U.S. Navy. In August, he departed for Virginia.
“It was the hardest thing we ever did,” says Angelina. So far.
“Brandon had huge plans,” says Angelina, “Huge!”
They would travel to the Amazon. They would hike and see the world. Angelina also had dreams—of the perfect wedding, in a beautiful white dress, her father walking her down the aisle, in a church.
“We eloped,” Angelina says, matter-of-factly.
In May 1992, dressed in white shorts and shirt, Angelina Miles was married to Brandon Burgett in Norfolk, Virginia, by a justice of the peace.
It was Brandon’s idea. In college, Angelina was struggling with debt, due to misuse of her credit cards. As a married serviceman, he could earn more money; by the time he was out of the navy, they’d be out of debt and back on plan.
Then, as Angelina puts in, “Life happened. The babies came.”
First, a son, in 1995. Twin boys in 1999, and only two years later, a fourth son.
Desperately wanting a daughter, Angelina accepted her fate as the only female in the family.
“Thank you for the beautiful boys,” she says out loud, “I am blessed.”
In 2005, their daughter Audra was born. When she finishes high school, the Burgetts might revisit the original plan. Given the impact of life on his body, Brandon says he’d now rather ride horseback than hike.
“We’re still young. We’re healthy. We have the promise of new life,” says Angelina. “We survived a fire.”
“I took my last breath,” Brandon recalls the night he was trapped in a flaming teepee. “I could not get out of it.”
He was saved by the reaching arm of his son, Cutter, who dragged him out, by an ankle, while his twin brother, Cody, held up the collapsed canvas. His eldest son, Tristen escaped on his own, though also in flames. A friend, Zack Andrade, drove them all out in the bed of his truck.
“The road was very rough,” Brandon recalls of the 15-mile ride. “That’s why we were there—to smooth it out.”
Angelina got the call. Go straight to the burn unit.
“No wife or mother would want to see what I had to see,” says Angelina.
Her husband and son were bandaged from the tops of their heads to the soles of their feet, each in a medically induced coma. Brandon was burned over 57% of his body. He endured eight surgical grafts. He almost lost his arm.
Both Brandon and his son exceeded all medical expectations. Released from the burn unit in six weeks, Brandon pushed himself to extremes in rehabilitation and regained 60 pounds of muscle mass.
“The doctors were amazed,” says Angelina.
Her efforts were also heroic. For six months Angelina showered the men, cleaned and bandaged their wounds, and dressed them.
“I knew I had to be strong,” she says, “I knew I was strong.”
The mother of five and one-time marathon runner attributes much of her strength to faith.
“She’s a holy roller!“ Brandon says, not dismissively.
Angelina recounts how the community came together in prayer for her family. Friends helped out with the kids while she drove the men to Mesa for rehab three days a week.
“I couldn’t let him down,” Angelina says.
The experience, Brandon says, shifted his perception of their relationship.
“I was more dependent on her than I thought,” he reflects.
Angelina gained something too, by living through it.
“I always know we’re going to be okay,” she says.
“I’m away two to three days a week, working,” says Brandon. “It’s nice to come home and see each other.”
For 16 years, the Burgetts have made their home on a ranch near Roosevelt Lake, one of four ranches Brandon manages on horseback. They have plans to purchase one of their own. He used to fly a paraplane in his operations, but abandoned the approach after a couple of “hard landings” left him with 13 screws in his ankle, and “a long walk home.”
“It’s hard being married to a workaholic, but you love them for who they are,“ she says, “and we balance each other out.”
Angelina conducts medical audits for dialysis patients on the Reservation. She covers the kids’ activities in town and attends most social functions and festivities without Brandon.
Brandon smoothly sidesteps the specifics of their marital challenges.
“If I’m not challenged,” he declares, “I’m not happy.”
The only vacation they’ve taken as a married couple was a one-week trip to Hawaii. Brandon braved the legendary surf of north shore, and found a found a funky little locals’ bar where they had lots of fun.
“He’s so adventurous,” says Angelina, “And so observant. He always has his eyes open.”
When the children were younger, Angelina worked on the Reservation, providing childcare. In 2015, she was Headstart Director. As they grew, the boys got into wrestling, Audra into dance. There were Boy Scouts and 4-H meetings, and sometimes after all that, 200 head of cattle to vaccinate.
“Our kids are our greatest accomplishments,“ Angelina proclaims.
Brandon laments what the kids have yet to learn. He receives the greatest gift in his wife’s everyday presence.
“Being such a good mother to all my kids,” he says. “Feeding me.”
She is enchanted by the “sweetest things,” he gives her—a night-blooming cactus, a saguaro sculpture, a home-cooked meal.
Brandon never did learn to spot a knock-off, so when it came to choosing jewelry for the 10-year renewal of their vows, Angelina picked out the ring. Brandon surprised her with it on Christmas, the day he first proposed with a quarter-carat stone.
“It’s been 28 years,” Brandon says, with wonder.
Angelina is full of advice about the course of marriage.
“Marriage is tough,” she says. “You have to work at it daily. It doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t get easier. Put God first. Be kind. Work hard. Be forgiving, but also be wise.”
Brandon simply cautions against seeking perfection.
“If you’re 80% happy and 20% miserable,” he says, “consider yourself happy.”
“We’re grandparents!” Angelina exclaims.
As a new generation of Burgetts is born, Angelina considers getting a business degree to support the family’s many endeavors.
“I would love to go back to school,” she says, “I need to grow.”
As for Brandon, he’s thinking about the water lines that need to be fixed. Part of the fallout from the crews that came to fight the Woodbury Fire that threatened his land and pushed him into action, hurrying the cows off of their property and helping their neighbor’s animals to safety. Angelina and the children stayed in town out of practical and emotional concerns.
“It was big,” Brandon says of the fifth largest wildfire in Arizona history. “But it was seven miles away, and it was not going to get us today.”
A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.