ORONO — There are 273 Army ROTC battalions in the United States, all led by experienced Army personnel who teach such courses such as military history and military science.
Each year, the U.S. Army Cadet Command — which oversees Army ROTC — names only one instructor from all those battalions as the Cadet Command Instructor of the Year.
For 2011, that outstanding recognition goes to Capt. Joseph Miller, assigned to the Black Bear Battalion at the University of Maine.
“He was recognized for his passion and his intelligence,” said Maj. Jim Karcanes, the battalion’s enrollment officer. “He brought his wartime experience to the classroom and taught our cadets what to expect” if they are sent overseas by the Army
Hailing from Warner Robins, Ga., Miller earned his officer’s commission through Army ROTC at North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega, Ga. After graduating in 2003, he joined the 82nd Airborne Division as an infantry officer, late becoming an Army Ranger and a jumpmaster.
Miller completed three tours — “two were short, one was a full year,” he said — in Iraq, where he experienced combat in different places. An IED exploded near his Humvee during one tour; “the explosion and concussion left my ears ringing,” he recalled.
On another day, Miller and other paratroopers searched a house. He was standing in a stairwell, looking out a window at the street, when an IED detonated. The concussion tossed the paratroopers around the stairs. “I hit my head relatively hard,” Miller said.
Unaware that he had suffered a traumatic brain injury, or post-concussive syndrome, Miller later deployed as an Iraqi army adviser “in East Baghdad during the surge. That was a full year.” When he returned to the United States, he underwent medical treatment for his brain injury at Veterans Affairs hospitals in the South.
Passionate about history, Miller left the Army to pursue a master’s degree in history at the UMaine. Still in the Army Reserve, he also joined the Black Bear Battalion as an instructor in 2008.
“Coming up here and interacting with the cadets was the best thing I could have done,” said Miller, who looks deceptively younger than his 30 years. “Being around young, positive kids who try hard helped me transition to life up here, which is about as far from the South as I could go.”
Starting with that year’s sophomore cadets, Miller taught military science. He has also taught military history, a course open to all UM, and served as coach for the Ranger Challenge team. He shared his combat knowledge with Army ROTC cadets for three years before stepping down in July.
“I believe I have been successful here. I owe that success to the students,” Miller said. “You have to have a certain kind of student … who is receptive to the knowledge.
“This is a life-or-death trade we are engaged in. The more you know about what it’s like, the more you will know in the field,” he said. “Sometimes you need to be blunt with [the cadets] about the challenges they face.”
Cadets responded enthusiastically to Miller’s classes. Noting that he “was tough with them when I had to be,” Miller said he believes his students paid close attention as he tied together classroom instruction with his own combat experiences.
Cadets “have to know [that] you have their best interests at heart. You have to be tough on them,” he said.
Earlier this year, Miller decided to leave the Black Bear Battalion. With his master’s thesis almost completed, he will apply for the doctoral program in history at UMaine. His goal is to become a history professor.
“It was a hard decision to leave the program this summer,” Miller said. “The program here is really good. I definitely miss the people involved in the attitude of service to their country.”
Engaged to another UMaine graduate student, Miller mentioned that he still receives treatment for his traumatic brain injury. “The VA’s helping a lot,” he said. “I am in the best health I could be.”
This fall, Miller will receive the Cadet Command Instructor of the Year award during a ceremony at UMaine.
“It is a prestigious award,” Karcanes said. “We have a big hole to fill, with Joe leaving. He was a young instructor with combat experience who could relate easily to the cadets. He did an outstanding job.”
For more information, visit http://umaine.edu/armyrotc/