U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class (Ret.) John Miller served 20 years and 13 days in the military. He was taken all over the world, which he said was a “blessing” for a guy from Athens, Ga.
“Looking back on my Army career, there’s nothing I would change,” Miller said. “I’ve been very blessed to go almost all over the world—Central, (and) South America, Europe, western Asia, north Africa. You know a little country boy from Georgia probably wouldn’t have gotten out of the Southeast if it wasn’t for that.”
Miller joined the Army in 1986 after he figured that college wasn’t exactly for him.
“I had planned on going to college—you know that was the thing that everybody was doing,” Miller said. “But as it got close for me to actually go to college, I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m quite ready for it.’ My dad was in the military and I have relatives that have been in every battle since the (American) Revolution including The Revolution. So I’m thinking, ‘I need to go join the Army.’
When I first joined the Army, I can remember it clearly—like it was yesterday—walking into the living room and telling my parents I was joining the military. My dad—of course—was in Vietnam and he was happy and my mom—typical mom—she started crying.”
He said that he initially joined for two years to get more money for college, but it ended up becoming a 20-year career.
Miller was sent to basic training at Fort Benning.
“It was a wake up call,” Miller said. “Once I got to basic training, I realized I had been very sheltered growing up and it opened my eyes. Truly basic training helped me become a man that I probably wouldn’t have matured into until much later if I hadn’t done that.”
His first assignment after was an infantry unit in Germany in charge of guarding Pershing missiles.
“Here I was 18 years old in Germany,” Miller said. “Now you have all the other influences that affected it from there. I never would have thought growing up that I would be in Germany after high school, but there I was.”
Miller said he did have fun in Germany but that this was also near the end of the Cold War so there were some scary times as well.
In 1989, he returned to Fort Benning as part of the 197th Infantry Brigade.
“Not long after I got there we went to Honduras for six months,” Miller said. “Came back from that and about a month later we went to Arkansas for about a month. Then about two weeks later, Sadam (Hussein) invaded (Kuwait).”
Miller was part of both Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm and discussed what the wait between the two was like.
“We sat in Saudi Arabia for about five months before we actually invaded Iraq and I was part of that initial invasion,” Miller said. “We didn’t really think about anything but getting back home and we knew to get back home we would have to go into Iraq. It was rather unnerving but the men I had on each side of me, I trusted fully.”
Miller, as part of the 24th Infantry Division 197th Infantry Brigade, would be part of the left flank of the invasion, taking M113 armored personnel carriers into the desert. Their mission was to come into Iraq and then come back to prevent the enemy from retreating into Baghdad. Miller said that the invasion led to some conflicts against the Hammurabi Republican guard.
“We went up—it was 26 hours—going through Iraq and the first contact came the next day,” Miller said. “We got hit as we were coming through. We all did our job and what we were supposed to do. We—I don’t know what you’d call it—settled that conflict.
“The next morning we were dealing with everything that had happened. Two of our guys died that were in my unit. One of them I knew fairly well and that was the real wake up call that we were actually there and this was real world. That was first time I had known someone who died directly in combat.”
He said that about five or six hours after his brothers-in-arms had passed that Army General Norman Schwarzkopf announced an end to hostilities. He said the next month was spent trying to get back home.
“During this time—especially as the war had ended until we were headed back home—the skies were black with the oil fields burning,” Miller said. “You could smell that. Plus there was the other smell of what the Air Force had done and the Apaches had done along the road where you had literally thousands of bodies. For a young man, it was a reality check.”
After he came back, Miller decided to attend jump school and then spent three years as part of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“It was great,” Miller said.
After his time at Fort Bragg he put in to become a drill sergeant but was stationed in East Lansing, Mich.
“Recruiting—to be perfectly honest—was probably the hardest time I had in the Army because I’m so used to being out in the field and doing those things and then you’re behind a desk,” Miller said. “But the great thing about that is you’re representing the Army to people that may never see any of that.”
Miller received his Gold Badge in recruiting. His time in Michigan was extended involuntarily by nine months before he received new orders and was stationed in Hawaii as part of the 121st Infantry Regiment known as the Gimlets.
While stationed at Hawaii, Miller became part of a Multination Peace Keeping Force which sent him to Egypt for seven and a half months.
“I was able to go to Jordan and go to see Israel and see some of the Biblical sites I might not have ever had the chance to go to,” Miller said.
Miller left Hawaii in 2002 and returned to Fort Benning, again. In 2003, his unit was chosen to be part of Operation Fervent Archer where he would go to Bosnia for 10 months.
“Operation Fervent Archer was a protection detail that was in Bosnia,” Miller said. “We were there to help with that effort (protecting the Muslim population). Our missions were following the genocide that happened years earlier where the Serbians and the Muslims were clashing and the Serbians had killed thousands and thousands of the Muslim people in Bosnia.”
Miller attended EMT school in 2006 before retiring from the Army that same year. He was a paramedic and paramedic instructor in Columbus, Ga., until 2017 when he moved with his wife.
He is now the youth pastor at Lee Street Baptist Church.
“I always knew God had other plans for me,” Miller said. “And then after that last job in 2017, I felt him calling me into ministry and I had already been children’s pastor in Phenix City where we lived so here I became the student pastor at Lee Street (Baptist Church). I’m also a substance abuse counselor with New Life Recovery here in town as well.”
He said that during his time in the military, he always knew God was with him.
“There was never a time—even when I wasn’t living right—where I did not feel God’s protection over me,” Miller said. “I think that led me to counseling now and a student pastor.”
Miller said that when he sits back and reflects on his career as a whole, it’s the people that he served with that he will always remember and always be “blessed” to have known.
“The thing I look back on the most are the people that were around me,” Miller said. “The men I served with were some of the best people in the world. You take people like I was—little farm boy from Georgia—and you put them in with these city guys from Chicago or these guys from California and you all blend into one. That’s your platoon and I’ve been very blessed to serve with some great guys.”