TAJI, Iraq – Captain Matthew Miller always knew he wanted to be in medicine. Even as a young man, entering into college as a pre-med and biology major, Miller, from 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, had aspirations to go to medical school.
Knowing he would need additional money during college, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1989.
When he arrived at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Chicago, his mind was made up – he wanted to enlist as a combat medic. Once at MEPS however, with his physical completed and test scores approved, the career counselors told him there was no medic slot available.
“I left,” said Miller who calls South Bend, Ind. home. “I had to ride two hours on a bus, sleep in a hotel and get up at 4 a.m. to go to the MEPS station, and I left. I wanted to be a medic, and that was it.”
Two weeks later, his career counselor found a slot that was anticipated to open at a local Army Reserve military police unit. He enlisted and spent two and a half years as a combat medic with the 428th Military Police Company in South Bend.
Soon, the burden of being a full-time student and working to pay for college and other obligations overwhelmed him, he said.
He decided to enter into active duty to earn additional money to pay for college.
“For my first assignment, I served as a combat medic with 6th Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment in Camp Essayons, Korea,” he said. “I met a man named (Chief Warrant Officer 3) Benjamin Taylor. He was the physician’s assistant and senior medical officer assigned to our unit. He took all the medics under his wing by teaching us physical exams and advanced our medical knowledge far past what a medic is expected to know. The impact that … Taylor had on me changed my life, and I knew I wanted to be a physician’s assistant. As a (private) in Korea, I knew I wanted to spend 20 years in the Army and one day give back to medics like Taylor gave to me.”
Miller went to Fort Bliss, Texas, and served from 1993-1997 with 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment as a medic and became a medical noncommissioned officer.
Not losing sight of his goal, he worked at college courses to finish the prerequisites for the Army physician’s assistant program. He applied for the program in 1996 and, to his disappointment, was not selected. He then set his sights on a new immediate goal while waiting to resubmit his packet; he transferred to Fort Riley, Kan. and became a flight medic with the 82nd Medical Company (Air Ambulance).
He said he fell in love with aviation and vowed to eventually become a flight PA.
“I feel that flight medics are the tip of the spear in a career as an Army medical specialist,” he said. “I wanted an opportunity to work with aviation again on a higher level and train those guys one day.”
In 1998, Miller reapplied to the PA Program, and disappointment attempted to set in once again as he was selected as an alternate – able to attend only if someone else couldn’t attend the course, he said.
Although his name was at the bottom of the list, “I did not have alternate faith. I knew that being a PA was a part of what God created me to do,” he said. “Some way, somehow, I had to get picked up.”
On the last class of that year, the PA branch called him to take a slot in the program. He said he vowed to give it his best effort and to make the most of the opportunity given him. Starting PA school in 1999, he graduated and passed the national PA board exam in 2001.
The dream became reality as he began to teach and mentor young medics of Company C, 101st Forward Support Battalion, at Fort Riley.
After a 1st Infantry Division brigade surgeon saw his passion for mentoring Soldiers, he was offered a senior captain’s position in an infantry battalion as a second lieutenant.
He completed one previous tour in Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, where the skills he passed down to his 40 medics helped to save the lives of dozens of wounded Soldiers, Marines and Iraqis.
“We lost ten brothers and our unit had the highest number of purple hearts in 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division,” Miller said. “Every time a Soldier was injured or killed, one of my medics or I was right there on the scene. They saved a lot of people out there, but we lost some, too.
“The losses are always hard, but I told my guys that as long as you take the job seriously and you did everything you possibly could to save lives, you can sleep in peace. You’re still ‘Doc.’”