The U.S. military is a melting pot of diversity. For some service members, joining the military is a pathway to school, citizenship, and other benefits; for others, it’s a lifelong calling to fulfil a family legacy or answer the call for patriotic duty; and for some, it’s a beacon to guide them toward a life of opportunity they may not otherwise have access to.
With every Soldier comes a different story and a career to match. Some complete a basic enlistment and move on while others, such as Clifton Miller, discover a career they never anticipated and, in the process, break barriers and become a positive role model for future Soldiers.
On Aug. 27, 2020, Miller pinned on the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 5 during a promotion ceremony at the Gov. William A. O’Neill Armory in Hartford, Conn. His promotion marks the first time a Jamaican-American achieved the highest echelon of the warrant officer corps in the Connecticut National Guard. While reaching this milestone is an impressive feat, it’s only the latest in his exceptional career.
Miller grew up in Jamaica. He lived in a community surrounded by family; his aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins all living within walking distance of one another. He was a student at the local community college, where he studied accounting, and served as a captain of the school’s soccer team. He had a plan for his future – goals he wanted to achieve – but none of those included a career with the United States military.
Life, however, seemed to be steering in a different direction for Miller. His mother left the small island nation to immigrate to the United States in order to live with her husband, leaving Miller to live with his extended family while he pursued his dream of a college education. But after filling his head with stories about her experiences living in the states, she finally asked her son to join her.
Uprooting your life and moving to another country would be a difficult transition for anyone. Throw in the fact he was in the middle of his college semester and the soccer season; the thought of moving was even harder. But family is one of the most important things in Miller’s life and he missed his mother, so he packed his bags, said goodbye to his friends and the rest of his family and left for the airport.
At the time, his family looked at America as a beacon of opportunity. When he arrived, he wanted to figure out a way to seize these opportunities for himself and decided the best way to do that was to start where he left off when he departed Jamaica. Unfortunately, the sticker shock of receiving a college education in the United States left Miller with an uncertain path ahead of him.
“I wanted to go back to school, but I didn’t know how,” said Miller. “I didn’t realize how costly it is to go to school because when I went to community college [in Jamaica], there was no cost to me.”
In a new country, without a steady income, the prospect of returning to college appeared to be slipping from reach. But before his dream slipped completely from his grasp, one of his cousins – who also lived in the United States – told Miller about the National Guard and how it could help him pay for school. Without delay, he visited his local recruiter.
In October 1983, Miller enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard as a member of A Battery, 192nd Field Artillery, 43rd Brigade, out of Brainard Field in Hartford. He was eager to get his basic training underway so he could begin using his education benefits, but when he was informed that it would take upwards of six months to ship out, he started looking for other options.
He was presented with two choices: wait the six months or reclassify his military occupational specialty to become a 75D – Personal Records Specialist – and join the 26th Adjutant General Detachment, also under the 43rd Brigade.
With a much shorter wait time to attend basic training, Miller jumped at the opportunity to switch jobs and units. In 1984, he graduated from Basic Training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
As a full-fledged member of the Connecticut National Guard, and his tuition taken care of, Miller reset his focus on school. But just as one roadblock was overcome, another presented itself.
“I love college and I thought I could integrate or transfer my studies to the American [education system], but that was a long ordeal because my transcripts had to be evaluated to see whether the studies in Jamaica are on par with the studies here,” said Miller.
“They wanted to send me to high school … until the review came back,” Miller added. After a long wait, it was determined the college he attended in Jamaica was accredited at a higher level than the schools in America.
Miller enrolled in college as an accounting major, since it was what he was familiar with, but around the same time, data processing and the computer sciences started to make their way into the mainstream. This evolving technology intrigued Miller and he kick-started the process to change his major.
For the next year, Miller attended school and his unit’s monthly drill weekends and two-week training event in the summer. He followed the path of many traditional guardsmen, but when he was offered a full-time position in the Federal Technician program, he realized the Guard could be more than just a free ticket to college.
From 1985 to 1989, as an enlisted Soldier, Miller worked in the United States Property and Fiscal Office Commercial Accounts Branch as a voucher examiner and, later, as a finance specialist. He also helped create the Personnel System Manager position in the Support Personnel Management Office – later reorganized as the Human Resources Office.
Over this span, he worked his way up the ranks, getting promoted as high as staff sergeant. At this time, his career started to plateau; there was little room for him to advance in his current MOS. Seeing his potential as a leader and with a desire to see their colleague succeed, several of Miller’s supervisors suggested he take a look at crossing over to the officer corps.
In 1992, Miller completed officer candidate school and branched into the signal corps. It was an ideal move for Miller as it allowed him to both grow as a Soldier and put the data processing skills he learned in college to practical use. Upon completion of OCS, he was assigned to the 280th Signal Battalion, based out of Niantic, Conn. as the Cable and Wire Platoon Leader.
It was as an officer that he started to make a bigger impact. He grew through the ranks of the unit, holding several leadership positions such as its executive officer and platoon leader for the Extension Node and Area Node Platoons. In 1999, Miller ascended to command, serving as the battalion’s first and only Jamaican-American commander.
Miller’s career was on an upward track. However, as a full-time Soldier and part-time student, he hit another administrative hurdle blocking him from advancing to the rank of captain.
Although stuck in a holding pattern, this setback provided Miller an opportunity to re-evaluate his goals. In the military, the higher rank an officer achieves, the more his focus shifts from the hands-on technical and tactical aspects of their job and shifts towards roles more defined by leadership. Although the prospect of gaining rank was something that intrigued Miller, his heart was in his work and he didn’t want to give that up.
So, once again he faced an option: he could remain a 1st Lieutenant until these hurdles were overcome and continue up the officer ranks, or he could make another significant change by switching to the warrant officer corps.
“What I ended up doing was, I evaluated the options that I had,” said Miller. “As a warrant officer, I could be more specific with what I was doing in data processing and that intrigued me more.”
In 2001, Miller made the leap to warrant officer career field, where his expertise and knowledge would allow him to continue working on computers and networks while also teaching and advising a new generation of Soldier. As a leading subject matter expert, he landed an overseas deployment in 2017 with the 143rd Combat sustainment Support Battalion as the sustainment automation support management officer in support of Operation Inherent Resolve throughout Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania.
Upon redeployment to the United States, he joined the Connecticut National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters in the Department of Information Management as the Network Manager and Senior Signal Warrant Officer where he has become the state’s senior subject matter expert on information technology.
It’s a fitting role for someone who has spent more than thirty-five years in the IT realm, having watched the evolution of computers and information technology in the military from the near-dawn of the personal computer to almost complete digital integration. And he’s excited to see where the future of technology will bring the military.
“The future is going to be more and more automated and what you’re going to find, I think, is that the Soldier will become more like an object to an automation in the bigger scheme of things,” said Miller. “Just like you have your mouse and you can click on this and click on that, the Soldier will be able to input information into a network – in real time – while in the field.”
As for himself, he looks to the future with the hopes of giving back to other Soldiers – both peers and subordinates alike – in the same way his mentors and predecessors helped provide him with the guidance he needed to succeed.
“I feel that I will be able to do these three key things: teach, advise, and educate my peers, my subordinates, and even my superiors on what I’ve learned throughout the years on how to continue to support the National Guard’s mission from the president, governor, and [adjutant general] down.”
The military may not have been on Miller’s career of choice growing up, but with the right mentorship, he has turned what was meant as a means to pay for college into something much, much more.
Every Soldier has a story. Regardless of whether he completes a basic enlistment and gets out or sticks around to make the military a career, somewhere along the line they’re introduced to someone like Miller: a person who puts service ahead of self and will tirelessly work to provide knowledge and opportunities for anyone willing.