Yoga has always been a part of my life. My parents started practicing yoga in the 60s and introduced it to my sisters and me when we were children. It has helped all of us through difficult times in our lives.
My career in the military began in June 1992 when I enlisted in the North Carolina Army National Guard as a Broadcast Journalist assigned to the 382nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment in Raleigh. After completing Basic and Advanced Individual Training (AIT), I decided to enlist on active duty.
It was during this time that I came to the realization, while attending AIT, that I could no longer deny that I was gay. This began a difficult 19-year period of serving my country in silence under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. After enlisting, I attended airborne school and was assigned to the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg. During this assignment, I deployed to Guatemala, Ecuador, Panamá, Haití, Jordan, and the former Yugoslavia.
I saw many disturbing things during my last deployment in the former Yugoslavia. War and how people treated one another during this particular conflict was hard to witness. My meditation practice helped me cope and find ways to focus on the better parts of humanity.
It was during my deployment to the former Yugoslavia that I made the decision to make the Army a career, and pursue a commission as an Officer. In 1997, I went back to North Carolina State University on a Green to Gold scholarship, and in May 1999, I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication – Broadcast Journalism.
I commissioned on immediate active duty as an Aviation Second Lieutenant; and two weeks after graduation from college, I started the Aviation Officer Basic Course at Fort Rucker, Alabama. At the conclusion of my course of instruction, I was a fully qualified AH-64A Apache and AH-64D Apache Longbow aviator.
My first assignment as an aviator was with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas for a nine-month Unit Fielding and Train-up Program (UFTP) with 21st Air Cavalry Brigade in October 2000 and Camp Page, Korea from September 2001 to January 2003 where I served as the Bravo Company Attack Platoon Leader and the Class III/V Support Platoon Leader. In September 2001, all of the unit’s aircraft and equipment were loaded on a ship steaming for Korea. Of course the rumors were flying that we would be redirected to the Middle East but this did not come to fruition. This was due to the fact that we were only the third fielded AH-64D battalion and the Korean theater needed us there to fill the gap that was just created when another AH-64A battalion had just departed to go through UFTP.
Upon completion of my tour in Korea, I attended the Aviation Captain’s Career Course at Fort Rucker, AL; the Combined Arms and Services Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, KS; and the Joint Fire Power Controllers Course at Nellis Air Force Base, NV. I reported to Fort Bragg, NC in January 2004 were I was assigned to the 229th Attack Helicopter Regiment and served as the Regimental Chief of Plans. After six months, I was reassigned to the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 82nd Aviation Regiment and took command of Charlie Company in January 2005. In August, the battalion deployed to Fort Hood, TX to go through UFTP transitioning the unit from AH-64A Apaches to AH-64D Apache Longbows. Before we left for Fort Hood we were alerted that our battalion would be deploying to Iraq the following summer. Unfortunately, half way through UFTP I was informed that Human Resources Command needed me to PCS as soon as I had 18 months in command, the same month the battalion was scheduled to deploy to Iraq. Therefore, in order to meet the needs of the Army, I was unable to deploy with my battalion. During this time many of my brothers and sisters in arms were serving in combat while I remained safely at Fort Bragg. I, again, turned to my yoga practice to help me focus and stay positive.
In September 2006, I was assigned to the 189th Infantry Brigade, still on Fort Bragg and served as the Brigade Assistant Operations Officer with primary duties as the Counter-IED Master Trainer. This unit is an Active Component/Reserve Component (AC/RC) training brigade responsible for pre-deployment training of reserve component units. During this assignment I deployed to Afghanistan to serve as a Counter-IED team leader with TF Paladin. The primary purpose of this deployment was to gather current enemy TTPs to ensure we were providing the best training possible. In June 2008, I was assigned to the 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (Task Force Warrior) Headquarters at Fort Polk, LA and deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan from July 2008-September 2009, as the Chief of Plans and Future Operations. We were battlespace owners, responsible for Parwan, Kapisa, Panjshir, and Bamyan Provinces as well as running base operations at Bagram, Camp Eggers, FOBs Fenty, Sharana and Salerno, four of which were not in our battlespace. Our task organization was also a bit challenging. We had three Infantry Battalions from the U.S., France, and the UAE; one New Zealand and two U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Teams; and an Agribusiness Development Team. Even though I was gaining experience in a broad variety of missions, I was trailing behind my peers in flight hours and aviation experience because I had not had the opportunity to fly in combat.
In January 2010 I attended the Intermediate Level Education (ILE) Course at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS and the Australian Command and General Staff College in Canberra, AUS. Halfway through ILE, I met with my assignment manager and the only request I made of him was to send me to the next deploying aviation unit. After I made this request, and in the spirit of perfect Army timing, I reconnected with the love of my life, Denise.
Our new relationship began while facing an impending 12-month deployment. Upon completion of ILE, I was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters at Fort Hood, TX. I deployed to Afghanistan in April, and served as the CJTF-1, CJ3 Aviation, Deputy Director. Since DADT was still in effect, Denise had to see me off as if she were just a friend and know that even if something were to happen to me she would not be the first point of contact or be notified in any way by the unit. We were both diligent about remaining connected and keeping the beginning of this new relationship positive during this early separation. Although she has over a 20-year yoga practice, which helped deal with the emotions of this deployment; without the usual support structure most family members receive, she was flying blind and, frankly, not doing well. Fortunately, she discovered a group, the American Military Partner Association (AMPA). In AMPA, she found support, understanding, and a resounding, ‘We understand what you are going through.’ We did not fully realize the pressure her isolation from my military life was putting on our relationship until she found the AMPA community. One of the positive aspects of this deployment was that the Deputy Commanding General-Support, a fellow Apache aviator, allowed the aviators on division staff to fly. I took full advantage of this opportunity and was able to fly on many deliberate operations and as the Division QRF, accumulating over 250 combat hours. In September 2011 DADT was officially overturned and upon redeployment, Denise and I were married in Central Park, NYC, in May 2012.
From June 2012-July 2014, I served as the Battalion Executive Officer and Operations Officer for 4th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division and deployed to Kuwait as the Operations Officer in support of Operation Spartan Shield from August 2013-April 2014. Our mission was to partner with the Kuwaiti Apache battalions as well as conduct exercises with the UAE and Saudi Apache battalions in their respective countries. We also conducted joint training with the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force while staging from Navy vessels in the Arabian Gulf. My unit made efforts to include my wife and she actively participated as the unit FRG treasurer, but it would not be until September 2013 when my wife would receive full benefits as a military dependent. Denise and I were better prepared as a couple for this deployment due to our experience from my last deployment, the unit’s inclusiveness, and our shared yoga practice.
In July 2014 we were reassigned to Hawaii and I am currently serving as the SOJ52 Division Chief, Policy and Strategic Engagements at Special Operations Command, Pacific. Since we have been in Hawaii, we discovered Warriors at Ease and Denise completed her yoga teacher certification. My yoga and meditation practice has provided a useful path to deal with some of the challenges I have faced during my Army career. It has given me strength when I needed to draw upon something that would provide a healthy focus. I am a stronger Soldier for having yoga in my life while serving my country.
Lieutenant Colonel Mary Miller, United States Army