QALAT, AFGHANISTAN — Staff Sgt. Chris Miller smiles when he says he and his wife, Sarah, “bucked the trend” and kept their relationship together through four deployments in the past 10 years.
They’re in the midst of another year apart. This time, Miller is hopping around American forward bases in southern Afghanistan keeping communications equipment running.
Their children are changing Miller’s perspectives on his job in ways he didn’t experience on two tours as an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division in 2002-03 and in 2003-04. His third took place with Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in Iraq in 2009-10. He’s back overseas now with the same brigade.
“It’s more difficult,” said Miller, 29. “I’m constantly worrying about my kids, my kids’ safety. Are they missing daddy being gone?”
Miller loves the Army as his second family and credits his wife with giving him patience in learning how to cope with feelings from his early infantry deployments. He’s not sure he wants to serve the 20 years required to earn a full Army retirement because of his growing family, but he says he wouldn’t trade his time deployed for a safer life at home.
“We all know what we’re getting into” when soldiers enlist, Miller said.
He met Sarah in high school in Garden Grove, Calif. He was a senior, she was a freshman, and they dated for a while before getting really serious after he finished basic training.
He deployed to Afghanistan as their relationship solidified, and deployed to Iraq in 2003 two weeks after he and Sarah married.
She left California at 18 and moved to Miller’s home station of Fort Bragg, N.C., while he fought in Iraq with the airborne division.
Miller struggled at home for the first year or so after his Iraq deployment. He did not want to talk to Sarah about his experiences because she had not shared in them. He said he was distant, quiet and sometimes angry for no reason.
But they were patient with each other.
“I loved her and she loved me,” he said. “Even if we weren’t talking to each other, we still loved each other.”
The Millers aren’t exactly joiners. He’s not the kind who seeks help from officers, chaplains or therapists. He knew something was wrong, and he felt he had to bridge gaps with his wife.
She was ready to listen.
“One of the best ways to cope is just being able to talk,” he said.
William was born in 2007, and he gave Miller a new perspective.
“It took the birth of my son to take everything out of me,” he said. “You can’t go around yelling at your son. You made him. He was the best treatment for everything I ever had in my life – my daughter, too. He started it.”
The Millers now know how to get through a year apart from each other. They talk almost daily. Miller doesn’t tell Sarah about risky assignments until after he finishes them.
“She’s got two kids at home, she’s got me over here. The last thing she needs to worry about is me doing something weird,” he said.