They suggest—half laughing—that their story be titled “A tale of two Chris’s.”
The subtitle, then, should be “service above self” because the combat veterans with nearly 50 years’ military service between them—and same first name— continue to serve as civilian business owners.
Chris Miller and Chris Wood are the owners of Assault Gear and Choppers Ol’ School BBQ, respectively. The businesses are located side by side in the Donnell Shopping Center in Daleville.
The two combat veterans have been stationed together four times during their military careers.
Miller is a retired pilot who served as an enlisted solder before becoming a warrant officer. Wood is a retired Army first sergeant.
Both consider it second nature to donate their time and talent. “We don’t talk about it, we just do it,” Miller said with a smile and a shrug after being lauded for making equipment and uniform donations to the Daleville Police Academy cadets and the JROTCs at area high schools.
Wood is planning for the annual Thanksgiving meal that is available free to the public at his restaurant. Meals will also be brought to first responders on duty Thanksgiving day. “We’ve always taken care of the first responders in the towns around Fort Rucker as well as the Fort Rucker gate guards on duty that day,” he said. “Serving our brothers and sisters, helping others. That’s what it’s all about.
“When we were in the military we always had large Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to get the soldiers out of the barracks,” Wood said about the massive meal donation. “This just feels right.
“It’s a huge undertaking but it’s well worth it because we have folks that tell us that if we didn’t have this they wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving meal,” Wood added. “We ask people to join our family for Thanksgiving. Giving back, that’s what it is all about.”
Wood is growing his beard out in preparation for his role as Santa Claus next month. He is also a member of the new Daleville Boys & Girls Club board. “I’m their fund raiser so we’re going to be doing a lot of cooking,” he said with a smile. Wood also is a regular volunteer in the Boy Scout’s Camp Alaflo kitchen.
“It’s kind of my way to give back because I’m not from here and they have graciously allowed me to become part of their community,” Wood said. “I feel that I’m in a positon, with the restaurant, to give back to the community in different ways.”
Wood and Miller were stationed at Fort Rucker, Korea and Savanah, Ga. at the same time. They are also members of a combat veterans motorcycle association. “Chris and I get along so well because being in the Army there is so much common ground,” Miller said. “We feed off of each other in a positive way.”
Miller is a first generation immigrant. His mother was from Indonesia and his father from Prussian descent.
“My parents met at a USO in San Francisco,” he said. Miller’s father’s Marine Corp uniform is displayed in a shadow box hanging in a prominent place on the wall of his son’s military surplus store. “My parents were pretty cool. It was very interesting having a German and Indonesian background and growing up in the bay area of San Francisco,” Miller said.
Miller has been married to the former Tina Sue Varella for 26 years. The couple are the parents of Corra Miller and Brandon Miller. They have lived in Enterprise since 2006.
Miller joined the Army in February 1992 as a combat medic. “I joined because I wanted to get into the medical field. I had been a lifeguard and water safety instructor in high school,” Miller said. “A friend had joined and told me about the opportunities that the Army would give me.”
After joining the Army as a reservist in February 1992, Miller went to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. “Basic training wasn’t that hard for me because my father was a Marine Corp instructor,” he said.
After advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Miller went home and met and married his wife. Working three jobs with a baby on the way, the couple made the decision to go active Army.
His first active duty assignment was Fort Hood, Texas. “That was a culture shock because I came from the reserves,” Miller said. Also it was the first time the small family was away from their family.
Miller deployed to Kuwait for a training mission that turned into “Desert Strike” and then was assigned to Hawaii.
As an E-5 Miller became a flight medic in 2001. An Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and then an E-6, Miller became the Noncommissioned officer in charge of the Flight Medical Aid Course. “I got an offer to become an instructor at Fort Sam Houston, Texas,” Miller said. “They changed my orders to Fort Rucker when they found out that I was a flight medic.”
In September 2007 Miller was selected for warrant officer flight school and ultimately flew Blackhawks.
He credits the late Chief Warrant Officer Mike Novosel Sr. of Enterprise, a Medal of Honor recipient, with his decision to go to flight school. “Mr. Novosel is the G.O.A.T.—the Greatest of All Time—for us flight medics,” Miller said. “He asked me one day what my plans were and told me that I was meant for something more, something else besides being a flight medic.”
In Korea, Miller was the deputy commanding general’s pilot. “I hated that I was away from my family but I love the assignment,” he said.
In 2012 Miller flew medical evacuation flights in Savannah, Ga. It was there that he also gained job experience in supply. “That is sort of how all this came about,” he said surveying the military surplus store he now owns.
“The Army afforded me the chance to go to college. I just got inducted into the Delta Epsilon Tau academic honor society,” Miller, who has a 3.9 grade point average said. “I am continuing in my degree towards firearms technology.
“The Army teaches you that you have to be prepared for change,” Miller said. “You either learn to change or you fall to the wayside.”
A self-proclaimed “military brat,” Wood was familiar with the military lifestyle. When his father retired, the Wood family moved back to Pennsylvania. “So from seventh grade until I graduated, I was in Pennsylvania,” he said. “I met my wife, Kim, when I was in the seventh grade.
“I really had no plan to join the military. I was actually going to go to the state police academy in Maryland but that fell through because of budget cuts that year.”
Joining the Army in 1991, Wood went to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training and and Fort Eustis, Va., for advanced individual training which is, ironically, where he was born..
His first duty station was in Savannah, Ga. Next assigned to Hawaii, Wood was deployed to Haiti for “Operation Uphold Democracy.”
Then from Fort Bragg, N.C., Wood was deployed to Bosnia. “I came home on R&R and proposed to Kim and then went back and finished my tour,” Wood said about his wife of 23 years. “She’s put up with me for quite some time,” he added, shaking his head.
After being assigned to Fort Carson, Colo., for a year, Wood was again deployed to Bosnia. “I was up for reenlistment and that’s when we made the hard decision of what we were going to do,” he said.
Reenlisting, the Woods family was assigned to Japan. “We absolutely loved it,” he said.
Reassigned to Fort Campbell, Ky., Wood was deployed to Camp Taji, Iraq. “I felt like it was my turn for somebody else to come out of that (combat) rotation and for me to go into that rotation,” he said. “That was a tough year. I was a flight platoon sergeant for the first quarter of it because our first sergeant was injured,” he said. “It was rough. Not only were we deployed but I was a very young sergeant first class in a first sergeant position.
“I was baptized by fire without a doubt, being in Taji,” he added. “I was fortunate because I was surrounded by very, very supportive folks to mentor me in this new position.”
Another deployment for Wood was, this time, to Afghanistan.
An E-8, Wood was the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Directorate of Evaluation and Standardization at Fort Rucker when he retired after 24 years in the military. “It was a family decision,” he said, adding that his sons Bradley, Collin and Noah considered the area “home.
“They always tell you you’ll know when it’s time to retire and it was time,” Wood said. “We made the decision as a family and I didn’t look back.
Wood said he had no intention of opening a restaurant after retiring. “I actually wanted to open up a butcher shop and deli. I was a butcher before I came into the military,” he said.
“I was ready to take a little bit of a break so I did and I put a lot of miles on my motorcycle,” Wood said.
He also renewed his interest in barbecuing. At the Tri-State Barbecue in Dothan, Wood had the opportunity to meet Myron Mixon, known as the King of Barbecue. “We asked him to take a photo with us but he said he had to make it quick because he was recording an episode of ‘Pit Master.’” Wood said.
Mixon helped Wood get enrolled in a barbecue judging course. “He wanted to talk about our military service but we wanted to talk barbecue,” Wood remembered with a smile.
Wood ultimately purchased the barbecue restaurant in Donnell Plaza from a friend. “I knew Chris (Miller) was already established in that shopping center and I felt better because I knew somebody next door,” Wood said. “Even though both of our businesses are vastly different they still compliment each other because of the military connection that we have.”
Miller retired from the military in September 2015, one year after he opened his military surplus store.
Wood retired in May 2015. He bought the barbecue restaurant in 2016.
About his military career that spanned more than two decades, Wood said he would do it again. “I do not regret joining the military whatsoever,” he said. “There are some places I’ve been that I don’t wish on my worst enemy but I did it because I felt that it was my duty as an American. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Unequivocally yes,” is what Miller says when asked if he would do it all over again. “The people I have met, the relationships I’ve had have been exceptional,” Miller said. “You never meet a better group of people who never knew each other, never met, all working together so well.
“They can find a common ground very quickly and get a task accomplished and can’t replace that,” Miller added. “From the Bay area of California to traveling all over the world. I would have never had those opportunities.”