By Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone May 7, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- In the jungles of Vietnam, through the challenges of leading Soldiers as a top noncommissioned officer in the 1970s, '80s and early '90s, and as a counselor to today's veterans, Charlie Miller continues to wear the shield of God.
Miller is a retired command sergeant major of the former Ordnance Munitions and Electronics Maintenance School at Redstone Arsenal and a member of the Army's Ordnance Hall of Fame. He is known in the local veterans community for his deep faith in God, his care and concern for those suffering from the long-lasting effects of post traumatic stress disorder and other war-related conditions, and his ministry to the community's veterans, homeless and youth.
"I am so blessed. Of all those years of traveling to dangerous countries and villages and into the jungle with the Army, I'm OK without a scratch," Miller said.
"In 1985, my wife Ann and I committed to serving the Lord and mankind for the rest of our lives. There's nothing else beyond helping others. I see a lot of hurt and, by the grace of God, that hurt could have been me. But it wasn't, and I am working with veterans and counseling veterans, and telling them we serve a forgiving God."
For his work in the local community, Miller was recognized during the third annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans ceremony March 29 with the first Tech Sgt. E.A. Phillips Humanitarian Award. The recognition was especially poignant for Miller, who served in a covert operation in Laos much like Phillips was doing in August 1968 when he was declared missing in action.
Besides his work with the homeless and as a life deacon, director of men's ministries and youth volunteer at Lakewood Baptist Church, Miller also serves as the chaplain for VVA Chapter 1067, providing counseling for veterans and their families, visiting veterans in the hospital, praying with veterans and providing other ministerial duties, including conducting funerals. But his heart is in the one-on-one time he spends with veterans who are trying to overcome the war experiences that haunt them.
"It's a calling to give spiritual guidance to military veterans," he said.
"There are so many of them -- particularly from Vietnam -- who are unchurched, and who suffer with PTSD and other things that affect them emotionally and mentally. Spiritual healing is important to helping them overcome what they've been through. Spiritual healing helps them to come to grips with the things they did in combat. From a spiritual side, I help them learn to forgive themselves and to accept forgiveness."
For Miller, God has been his shield and strength since he was a teenager.
"I met Jesus for the first time when I was 15 years old," Miller said. "He's never left me. My deep faith has sustained me. That's why I'm so blessed. So many of us didn't come back from Vietnam or we came back with physical and mental scars. I wonder if I didn't come back with problems because God had a calling for me to be a chaplain, and identify with veterans and the homeless."
Miller's military career began in 1961 when he joined the Army.
"I'm from a very small place in Florida near Tallahassee. There wasn't a lot of work there and all it had was a bus stop. But I was a good athlete, especially in basketball. My coach sent a letter to a college in Texas to see if he could get me a basketball scholarship. He put in the letter than I was 6-foot-2 and I wasn't anywhere near that tall," Miller recalled.
"At about the same time, I was talking to a Navy recruiter who said I needed to try the military. So, I went to the Navy recruiting office. I don't know how I ended up on the Army side. But the rest is history."
After four years of service as a military police officer, Miller changed his military occupational specialty to ammunition specialist and came to Redstone Arsenal to work for the Ordnance Munitions and Electronics Maintenance School. He instructed Soldiers on receiving, storing, maintaining and distributing ammunition.
"This is how blessed I am. I came over here and 90 days later I made E-5 (sergeant) and six months I made staff sergeant and then, after a year in Korea, I came back to Redstone in 1968 and made sergeant first class as an instructor," he said.
In 1969, Miller served as a platoon sergeant in the 70th Ordnance Battalion, responsible for
maintaining the 5th Infantry Division's basic load of ammunition. And in 1970, he made the tough decision to leave his wife and 3-year-old son Eric to volunteer for service in Vietnam.
"I could have gone to Germany. But all my peers had gone to Vietnam. I wanted to stay on a fast track to promotion, so I went to Vietnam," he said.
Miller was assigned to the 1st Aviation Brigade at Da Nang, where he was charged with refueling and rearming Huey helicopters, also known as "Gunships."
"We were at a fire base. I didn't go out in the jungle, but I got to see what came back from the field. I saw the injured and the dead that came back," Miller said. "The smells of formaldehyde, bombing fluid and JP-4 (gasoline) stayed with me long after I came back.
"No base was safe in Vietnam. The front line was everywhere. We always had incoming. We were high profile because of our helicopters. We did a lot of running to bunkers."
Despite what he saw and experienced, Miller is not a Vietnam veteran who is affected by haunting memories of the war.
"I've overcome. With God's help, I've overcome. It just didn't affect me. I saw a whole lot of bad stuff," he said. "I remember praying, 'Lord, just get me out of here.' Then, I realized there were more ways to get out of there than on your own two feet."
After a year of war, Miller returned to Redstone. During a subsequent assignment in Thailand, he was chosen by the Defense Attaché in Laos to plan a new ammunition supply point at Long Theing and to supervise its stockage.
"I was actually in the jungles there. I went as a civilian and worked with the CIA for six months on and off," Miller said.
"There are jobs you need to have to get to the top of your profession. For me, it was Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and, later, Germany."
In 1975, Miller was again at OMEMS at Redstone, where he prepared the lesson plans for the Ammunition and Stock Control and Accountability Specialist Course. He was then selected to be the senior cadre platoon sergeant, and operations and training noncommissioned officer responsible for the reception and in-processing of officers, warrant officers and noncommissioned officers reporting to OMEMS for schooling.
Then came his assignment in Germany, from 1978-82, where he served as the first sergeant of the 636th Ordnance Company and, after promotion and attendance at the Sergeants Major Academy, as command sergeant major of the 72nd Ordnance Battalion. The units were charged with the sensitive mission of storing and maintaining special munitions.
Although his family, which now included daughter Tara, was with him in Germany, he didn't see them very often.
"It was a tough assignment with a tough outfit," Miller said. "The work we did was highly classified. We protected the U.S. inventory of mustard gas, nerve gas and other chemicals. The Soldiers had a hard time with the stressful assignment and there were a lot of Soldier issues I had to deal with."
He served in various other assignments in Germany, which involved a lot of community activities and included off time for his family. In 1983, he became a command sergeant major for the 3rd Infantry Division.
"To work for a general officer is the goal of every command sergeant major," Miller said. "My wife and I both interviewed to make sure we were the right fit for the community."
In all, Miller and his family spent 11 years in Germany. In 1987, they returned to Redstone, where Miller became the Redstone Arsenal Support Activity (the forerunner to the Garrison) command sergeant major and then the OMEMS command sergeant major.
Among the activities he led with Soldiers while in the Army, Miller especially enjoyed organizing and conducting a sergeants major choir at the old Post Chapel at Redstone. And he had fun with the competitive sport club he organized between the Stars and Stripes (command sergeants major and staff sergeants) and the Eagles and Leaves (colonels and lieutenant colonels), and that was enjoyed as entertainment by enlisted Soldiers at Redstone. Miller, who was an avid runner during his Army career, was known for participating in running club events and marathons.
Miller retired at Redstone in 1991, with 30 years of service. Looking back, he hopes he led his Soldiers in a way that helped them be better people and that kept them from slipping into the destructive actions that marred the lives of many Soldiers following the Vietnam War.
"I was determined to be the kind of leader who led by example," he said. "I always worked with good leadership and we worked together to help our Soldiers. I led from the front. If I wanted my Soldiers to go on a five-mile run, I was at the front right there with them. I challenged my bosses to do the same."
Today, the 70-year-old Miller, who is also retired from a civilian career, enjoys walking and playing golf when he's not ministering to veterans. He is also a board member of Redstone Federal Credit Union, where he represents military retirees, and is an active supporter of the Rose of Sharon Soup Kitchen. He and his wife enjoy time together, and with their two children and granddaughter, who live in Atlanta.
"There's good stuff in the end if you stay on track," he said. "When life is bad, suck it up and surround yourself with good people.
"I feel a calling to talk with veterans about God. I know beyond this life there's another life for us with God. But how will veterans, the homeless and other people know if they're not told? I hope I give veterans hope and the knowledge that everyone can give back something and that God's forgiveness is for everyone. Our slogan in VVA Chapter 1067 is 'Leave no man behind' and we all stand by that."