Returning to the civilian world

By Paul Nasella
March 11, 2005

Robert Miller was unsure of his future when he graduated from Ridley High School in June of 2000. He knew higher education was an option but felt that he lacked the discipline for it after 2 months of schooling. Then one day when he was out shopping when the army stepped into his life. “I was walking into some store near the army recruiter and he came out and talked to me. It sounded like a pretty good idea, like there was nothing bad that could come out of it…there’s good benefits and [it] sounded like a lot of fun, ya know, a lot of adventure. So, I joined.”

Once enlisted, Miller, 23, didn’t know what to expect. “I was a little nervous. I think everybody is. I didn’t know what to expect cause no matter how many people you talk to who have been in the service, ya never really know until you’re there.”

Miller was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for basic training for nine weeks before being sent to Fort Mead, Maryland for Advanced Individual Training (AIT). He would finally be stationed at Fort Reilly, Kansas before being deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.

“I like training,” the former Sergeant E5 said. “A lot of people, they can’t stand it. But my mentality of the Army when I went in and the entire time I was there was that, the whole reason that we have a military is for national defense. Going to combat is the big dance, war is the big dance and when you’re actually doing training, you’re preparing for that and a lot of soldiers don’t understand that.”

Miller was deployed from Oct. 2002 to March 20, 2003 in Kuwait. On March 20, he moved north into Iraq. “March 20, which was the first day of the war, I moved forward into south Iraq with a unit from the British army.”

When he was told that he would have to go to Iraq and fight, Miller said, “the feelings you have, you’re very anxious, you’re nervous, and you’re excited.”

He also said that he was a little afraid after hearing the news, “You’re [also] a little scared because it’s the unknown. GI Joe said it best, ‘knowing’s half the battle’ and that’s the God’s honest truth because once you know, then you’re not really afraid anymore. But not knowing what you’re going into because it truly is like what you see on the movies [and] even on TV, but you’ll never understand what it is unless you’ve been there. Unless you’ve been to combat.”

And combat is something that Sergeant Miller knows all about. “I saw indirect fire, mortars, and seersucker missiles. There [was] always a lot of SCUDS, SCUD warnings, false alarms with gas, friendly artillery going right over your head. The direct fire things that I saw were snipers. I saw direct fire on reconnaissance and patrols and once, on a raid, from about 10 feet away, I was fired at [by an enemy] with an [AK-47].”

However, throughout his entire ordeal in the service Miller said that his family was always supportive of him despite his decision to join. “My parents did not want me to join the service,” he said, but, “my parents were always behind me, they were always very supportive. Whether they wanted me there or not.”

“I mean, I came from a pretty decent family. My dad would have paid for me to go to college. I had a scholarship to play soccer at Kutztown and I just…I always did what I wanted to do and they weren’t very happy when I left for the army. Of course, they never said that. They were just like, ‘we support you in whatever you want to do. If this is the decision you want to make.'”

Since being discharged in Dec. of 2003, Robert Miller has had a tough time readjusting to what he refers to as the “civilian-world.” “It’s been really difficult the last two months,” he said, “It’s been pretty hard on me. I miss a lot of my buddies. I miss the atmosphere…the brotherhood and the camaraderie there and that is what I miss the most.”

Miller said that he left the service on his own accord. “I chose to get out of the army because one of my goals is to finish college. I want to finish school and get my degree. I have other dreams that I’m chasing. The army would have been the most secure was for me to go through my life but I want to take those risks and find my own way in the civilian world. With all the tools that my family has given me in life and the army, I should not have a problem,” Miller said.

It is clear how the time Robert Miller spent in the service really effected him. As I spoke with him, I could hear it in somber tone of his voice and the seriousness in his bright blue eyes. What really struck me was the following statement, “I come back here and I don’t know what my problem is. I mean, I guess I felt like I had such a purpose in the army and I know that I’ll fall right back in here in a couple more months, fine, back in the civilian world. But I’m going to miss feeling that important probably for the rest of my life. Because I know how important I was.”

Looking back on his military career, Miller said, “I’m very very proud of what I did. I had a very successful first term as a United States soldier. I was promoted ahead of my peers. I received [a] fantastic non-commissioned officer evaluation report (NCOER). I did everything that I was supposed to do and still had fun doing it. I mean, I was a smart-aleck. I was always sarcastic. But my superiors, they knew that I would get the job done. So, that pride that they had in me was the same pride that I had in myself.”

“The army made me grow up about 10 years faster than I would have. Because you realize how silly little things are in life once you’ve seen the things I have. The level of responsibility that the army gives you at such a young age, it, I mean, you’re taking life and death in your hands of your subordinates and the men around you. So, there’s a huge…there’s a lot of things the army gives you that you can’t receive at 20, 25 years old. It’s incredible.”

One of the most poignant things he said during our interview was in response to a question about America’s reaction to the war. Miller said, “The soldiers today are very smart kids, they’re very smart men and they know that…they know what’s going on as much as you do. We’re all the same; we just do a different job as soldiers. So, you have all of these minds that know what’s going on and they’re like, “why are we here?” Some of them. Some soldiers say, “why are we here?” But at the same time they understand that “hey, this is my job. No matter what they send me to do.”

You’re just taking orders from the next guy up, ya know, that’s it, that’s your whole job and that’s what you signed up to do and you realize that you could lose your life and these guys they fight till the death whether they believe in the cause or not. I believe in everything I ever did. Whether it was a difficult for the country to make and stand behind. Everything I did, I believed in and I would not have changed it one bit. And the soldiers do want to fight, soldiers want to fight and they’re very willing and motivated people. Probably the rarest kind of man in the world is the United States soldier.

Posted to the web by Shane Evans

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Paul Nasella

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