Welcome back, Mr. Miller!” read a yellow banner outside of Kaysville Junior High School on Nov. 11.
The school's former vice principal, Rick Miller, returned as keynote speaker for a special Veteran's Day assembly to talk about his recent six-month deployment to Sather Air Base, Iraq. There, the junior high school vice principal was not called "Mr. Miller," but was addressed as Senior Master Sgt. Rick Miller, Heavy Equipment Shop superintendent for the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron.
However, when Miller encountered former students at various deployed locations, the familiar "Mr. Miller" would replace the proper military address of "sergeant." That was fine for Miller.
"I ran into about four former students from Kaysville Junior High," he said.
Over the past 13 years that Miller worked at the junior high school, he has been deployed three times to Southeast Asia with the 151st Civil Engineering Squadron at the Utah Air National Guard. During this time, Miller has seen his students mature into capable Airmen, and he reminded the current Kaysville Junior High School students that the maturation process started where they are at now.
"They don't just walk into Iraq prepared," Miller told the gymnasium full of students. "It is the work they do in junior high and high school that helps prepare them."
One step towards preparation is learning, he said. "There are two ways people learn: reasoning and discomfort. We would like it if we could learn only by reasoning, but sometimes we must learn through discomfort."
He then gave an example of an overly-confident Airman in his shop who learned through discomfort, rather than the safer form of reasoning, the physics of load weight and balance on a bobcat tractor the Airman had toppled during an airstrip repair job.
"Some of these young men did not have enough fear of discomfort," he added.
When Miller opened the floor to questions from the assembly students, one asked him what his scariest moment was. "Being the vice principal at a junior high school," Miller joked.
Another student wanted to know what moments were the most fun for him.
"Once every month we would meet with local Iraqi families and give them supplies, like soap, and toys for their kids, like soccer balls.
"We would play soccer with the kids and they would beat us every time!"
Miller recalled the more somber moments at Sather AB when the bodies of fallen service members were transported out of the nearby Bagdad International Airport to be returned to their homes. He would attend the ceremonies that were held for each of the fallen service members.
"That is the primary reason we honor Veterans Day," Miller said. "You must realize there is more to life than eating lunch in the cafeteria with your friends. Today we recognize the sacrifices of all war veterans."
The assembly concluded with school administrators presenting Miller with a cased American flag that had been flown on Kaysville Junior High School's main flag pole since Miller left in December 2009.
A few hours prior to the Veteran's Day assembly, Boys Scout Troop No. 592 held a flag ceremony at the flag pole where they transferred the 11-month old flag to its case and replaced it with a U.S. flag that Miller took with him to Sather AB and had flown over the base while he was there.
After his return from Sather AB, Miller was assigned as Syracuse Junior High School's new assistant principal.
He has served with the UANG for 22 years and says he plans to serve for a few more years.