SOUTHWEST ASIA - Currently deployed as the first sergeant for the 380th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron, Senior Master Sgt. Mark Miller takes the core value of "service before self" very seriously.
"I have a great pride in our country," said Miller, who is deployed from the Iowa Air National Guard's 133rd Test Squadron at Fort Dodge, Iowa -- a geographically-separated unit of the 185th Air Refueling Wing at Sioux City, Iowa.
Miller, who has been a member of the Iowa Department of Public Safety since July 1989, serves as an assistant district commander for the state police at District 7 in north central Iowa.
Now that he is deployed, the 23-year military veteran said he is appreciative of the working relationship he has with his state employers.
"My department has supported me 100 percent in all of my endeavors with the Air National Guard," Miller said. "My duties as a sergeant in the state patrol are very similar to the duties of a first sergeant. My main purpose in both jobs is to ensure my commander has a mission ready force."
Miller said first sergeants "manage people" and provide the behind the scenes support that benefits many Airmen.
"We deal with health and morale issues," he said. "We take care of things like setting up emergency leave, overseeing physical fitness programs, enforcing community standards, organizing commander's calls and coordinating awards and promotion ceremonies. We are available to listen to people and assist them in both work and personal problems. We also give the commanders advice on discipline and morale."
He said first sergeants can also support Airmen on a personal level.
"First sergeants are very important to our Air Force in so many ways," Miller said. "People need to know they have someone to go to if they are having problems within their chain of command, fellow workers or personal issues. We are also a neutral voice for the commanders to listen to and see things from a different perspective. We also tend to get this done in the background."
In the Air Force, first sergeant duty is special duty.
Miller said his time as a "first shirt" has been some of the best.
"I am at that point in my career where it is about the Airmen," he said. "Without the Airmen, we would not succeed in our mission today and we would not have a future. I deployed to be available for the Airman, the young man or woman who is away from home for perhaps the first time. Maybe they need some advice or just someone to listen to them. Many times they just need a different perspective on things to make whatever deployed problem they have a little easier to deal with.
"I just enjoy working with people," Miller added. "I spent 14 years in munitions, three in security forces and my last six as a first sergeant. This has by far been the most rewarding six years of my career."
Though this is possibly his last deployment, Miller explained that he will never forget the support from his family and that after serving as a first sergeant, he too may have made a difference to someone.
"When an Air National Guard shirt volunteers to deploy, it comes out as a request for volunteers," said Miller, who currently resides in Humboldt, Iowa, and whose hometown is Sioux City, Iowa. "When I told my wife I wanted to volunteer for this deployment, she asked me why. I told her that I was close to retirement, I would be taking off my first sergeant diamond in June and I had one last chance to make a difference in an Airman's life. Maybe, I thought, I could help someone who was having a hard time coping in a deployed environment. (My family has) supported me ever since and I'm glad I was able to do this one more time."