NORTH KINGSTOWN – The medals adorning Marine Corporal Tyler Miller’s dress uniform glint in the noonday sun. They represent the survival of Parris Island’s notorious boot camp and two tours in Afghanistan.
The shiny gold discs displayed across the left breast are for combat action, overseas service medal with bronze star, the Navy-Marine achievement medal, the National Defense Medal for serving in wartime, an Afghanistan campaign medal with two deployment ribbons, the Global War on Terrorism medal and a NATO medal for serving and fighting while attached to the international security force.
Tyler, 22, and a 2007 graduate of North Kingstown High School, has less than six months left on his four-year enlistment and that will be spent at Marine Base Hawaii, the site of his first assignment with the 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines.
The son of retired State Police officer Donald Miller and Trish Nugent says, “I always wanted to be a Marine. I went to college for a semester but it really wasn’t my deal. I called the recruiter and signed up.
“My parents were supportive but unhappy; both wanted me to finish school.”
Now, says his dad, “I’m prouder than anyone could imagine. I’m thankful he’s home with a sound mind, sound body. He seems to be the same Tyler.” Laughing, he admits, “I tried to get him to wear the uniform just so I could walk around with him.”
Tyler’s introduction to the Marine Corps was 12 weeks in the relentlessly grueling boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.
“You can train for it, but it’s definitely a wake-up call – the physical challenges, the discipline,” Tyler reflects. “It was a complete change of lifestyle overnight. There was a lot of running.”
He was first deployed for six months to the Helmand province, Afghanistan, in the summer of 2009; the second tour to the same place lasted seven months, from winter 2010 through spring 2011.
Tyler saw a lot of combat including action during which his team leader lost both legs.
“It was pretty horrific,” he says, adding that his unit “started with 11, got down to 10 and another guy had to go home for family reasons. That left nine. There was a big push going on during my first deployment, a lot of fighting where I was then. There were no people [residents] where we were.”
During his second tour, Tyler says, “We were out in the community every single day. We did a lot of good over there. We brought medical supplies to a clinic, made school repairs; contracts for things like building bridges over canals gave the people work.”
The common perception that the uniforms and combat paraphernalia worn in the desert are almost unendurably heavy is wrong, he notes.
“It’s not as bad as people think. It’s the way the gear is designed: it’s made to be as comfortable as possible when you’re walking up mountains in [temperatures of] 120-degrees.”
During his second tour, his team patrolled in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored fighting vehicle (MRAP) which is, essentially, a monstrous impenetrable truck. It certainly protected him and his buddies during what Tyler describes as his “scariest” moment.
“We hit a really big IED [Improvised Explosive Device or roadside bomb]. Someone’s helmet-cam was on but we didn’t think he got anything.”
Incredibly, the camera survived the chaos and filmed the attack which his unit watched later. Nobody was injured.
Tyler especially wants people to know the vital work being performed by the four-legged troops – the bomb-sniffing dogs serving in the most treacherous situations.
“Our military working dogs are amazing,” he says. “They’re all Labs.”
Since he’s been back, Tyler has been kicking back at his folks’ place in Bonnet Shores and catching up with old friends. In fact, his cell phone stays so full of messages, it can’t accept any more. His announcement advises: “Don’t leave a message.”
“I missed my friends and family,” he reflects. “The great thing is having the freedom to wear regular clothes and hang out. My down time is spent sleeping and relaxing. I’ve been to one birthday party.”
When Tyler’s active duty ends in January 2012 he hopes to pursue a career in law enforcement.
“Hopefully, I’ll join the state police,” he says.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers and can be reached at mgs3dachs@ cox.net.