There’s no place like home

Sgt. David Miller of Wilsonville is home from Afghanistan until August 13. Miller has served in the Alabama National Guard for 17 years. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

Sgt. David Miller of Wilsonville dreams of the aroma of the peach cobbler his wife, Donna, often makes for dessert this time of year.

He remembers the blackberry cobbler his mother makes for his birthday.

He said these recollections and his memories of spending quality time with his family are what sustain him during the 115-degree heat and dust storms of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, where he is serving with the Alabama Army National Guard.

Miller has been deployed in Afghanistan since Dec. 17, 2009, but was home in Shelby County this week for some rare “R&R” vacation leave. He arrived home on July 28 and returns to Afghanistan on Friday, Aug. 13. Miller has been spending time with his wife, Donna, and his son, Ryan, 18; step-daughter, Rachel, 17; and daughter, Laurel, 13.

No place like home

For Miller, there’s no place like home. “It’s so good to be home,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve seen grass in eight months. But in many ways, it’s been rougher on my wife and kids than it has been for me.”

Miller keeps in contact with his family through e-mails and infrequent cell phone calls. Because of the 13-hour time difference and sometimes-unreliable cell phone service, communication is often “hit or miss.”

Still, serving his country is a dream come true for him.

“I’m living my dream in many ways,” he said. “I would rather be home with my wife and kids, but we have a job to do and I’ll stay there while I’m needed.”

Miller comes from a family with a rich tradition of serving their country. Both grandfathers served in the Army — his mom’s father served in Okinawa during World War II and his father’s father served in Germany in World War I. His father served in the Army, too.

Miller, 47, has served in the Alabama National Guard for 17 years and has been deployed two other times — once in 2001 for a year at the Anniston Army Depot and once in 2005 to Germany, also for a year.

When at home, Miller enjoys talking to others, particularly youngsters and teens, about his work in the military. That’s how he met Columbiana’s Stacy Walkup, executive director of the South Shelby Chamber of Commerce.

“I knew Columbiana had Liberty Day every year and I called Mrs. Walkup and asked if I could bring a Humvee to display,” he said.

Walkup’s response was positive and enthusiastic, and since that initial call several years ago, Miller has brought a myriad of Army vehicles to display on Liberty Day. That is, until this year, when Miller spent Liberty Day in Afghanistan.

Miller and Walkup have kept in touch, and he has written her about his work and life in Afghanistan and his love for Wilsonville and Shelby County.

In a recent communication, all of which must be approved by Army personnel before being sent, Miller wrote to Walkup, “I thank God for living in a free land, a land paid for by those who have gone before me. I am glad to do my part so my children can lay down their head at night and rest in peace, and so my wife does not have to worry about the future.

“I am doing my duty to help keep our country secure — the freedom that we enjoy now, we can continue to enjoy. I missed my daughter and son’s graduation from high school, one of the biggest days in their lives, but they understand. I will come home in October 2010 and will be with my family once again. I will enjoy church service at Wilsonville Methodist Church, a barbecue sandwich, sweet tea and cool air conditioning in my home. At this point, it seems like a dream, but I know that soon it will be over and I will be back at home — in time to rake the autumn leaves and prepare for the winter months ahead, months I will enjoy with my family.”

Walkup can’t talk about Miller without tearing up.

“He thanks me for the opportunity to be a part of Liberty Day, but we are the ones who should thank him,” she said. “Just think about what he and his family are sacrificing for his country, for us.”

Walkup is displaying a big, yellow ribbon outside the South Shelby Chamber office in Columbiana, which she said won’t come down until Miller is back home, safe and sound.

The Golden Rule

“It’s very different there,” Miller said about Afghanistan. “I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my childhood, how I was raised and the respect my parents taught me to have for others.”

He said he treats the Afghan people he comes in contact with the way he would want to be treated.

Miller is a senior generator mechanic at the NATO base and does all of his work inside “the wire” that defines the Kandahar Airfield. He never leaves the base, he said.

Afghanistan workers come onto the base to work a variety of jobs, and part of Miller’s job there is supervising them. In addition, a number of Afghan residents have been allowed to set up shop on the base and sell their goods and services to military personnel.

He said he wants the people of Shelby County to know many others from right here at home who are serving with him in Afghanistan.

“There’s nothing special about me,” he said. “There are lots of us.”

Work in that desert nation is difficult at best.

“My work days are 12, 14, 16 hours long. There’s very little rain. Dust storms are so thick they block out the sun. I drink 8 to 10 bottles of water a day, easy. Hydration is very important. You can become a heat casualty without enough moisture in your body,” he said.

Miller wrote to Walkup, “As I look around this hot, dry and barren landscape, I can only wonder how it must have been thousands of years ago when Jesus Christ walked on earth.”

Miller also wrote about what he has learned to no longer take for granted, “like home-cooked meals, dining out with my wife and children from time to time, running water and a soft bed to lie in at the end of the day.”

Those who would like to write Miller as he serves our country can do so at:

David W. Miller

135th ESC

APOAE 09355