Chris Miller grew up in McGrew, Nebraska, but somehow he ended up spending a career in the Coast Guard.
“I am originally from McGrew and I graduated from Bayard High School,” he said. “I moved to San Diego after high school and I went to work for my brother in construction. I joined the Coast Guard in San Diego on Aug. 15, 1988.”
After Miller joined the Coast Guard, he relocated to the other side of the United States.
“I went to basic training in Cape May, New Jersey. Eight weeks, the longest eight weeks of my life. From there, I went to Cape Disappointment, Washington. The town was called Ilwaco, Washington. We called it Cape D. I went directly to work, instead of going to a school. I was basically a boatswain mate. I came in as a boat driver. I learned to drive surf boats at Cape Disappointment.”
Miller described how a surf boat is another name for a rescue boat.
“At that time, we had 44s and 41s (length in feet). The 44s were self bailing and self righting boats. It could actually flip over and reright itself. It actually happened while I was there. I was never on one when it did that and you don’t want that to happen because somebody always gets hurt.”
The boats do not go far from port as they are primarily used as coastal boats or bay boats.
“The 44’s can only do about 10 knots going down hill,” he said. “They always got you home. All of those boats are gone now and have been replaced.”
During his time serving in the Coast Guard, Miller had several fond memories of rescues.
“I had all kinds of exciting rescues, wonderful rescues, not just there but throughout the 10-15 years that was pretty much all I did — search and rescue. I enjoyed every bit of it.”
Rescuing people was not Miller’s only job.
“I did the Coast Guard version of special operations. I was part of tactical law enforcement teams. I was deployed all over the world. I did five tours in Iraq since the first Gulf War started. I did all kinds of counter drug operations down in South America. That was the bulk of it. I did all that prior to becoming an officer.”
Things changed a bit for Miller when he became an officer.
“I became a marine inspector and investigator for the Coast Guard.”
He added he was also “commissioned as a warrant officer and went into the marine safety field. I was in that field for 14 years until I retired. I would do port safety control exams. We boarded foreign vessels and ensured their compliance, not just with their regulations but with ours as well for coming into ports. We would do inspections for safety and security. We also did marine construction. In my field I worked in Nashville, Tennessee where we build chemical barges. They have to built to a standard, Coast Guard regulations, and federal regulations.”
According to Miller, the Coast Guard is likely the least known branch of the service.
He said, “Out of all the services, it is the least known and the smallest. We are one of the branches of the armed forces; however, we do not fall under the Department of Defense. We are part of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard is one of the nation’s oldest seagoing services. It has been around forever. We do everything as far as the security of the United States coastal areas. We also do the same thing for overseas. It is a great service. You can do everything from search and rescue to counter drug operations. We conduct inland river operations, we take care of ports and waterways safety. The sky’s the limit as far as what the Coast Guard is capable of doing.”
Miller described the inland waterways as any federally regulated waterway where the Coast Guard has a presence. The Missouri River is considered an inland waterway and there is a Coast Guard Cutter stationed in Omaha.
The cutter refers to any vessel in the Coast Guard over 65 feet in length. The word cutter comes from the revenue cutter service where the coast guard began. Shorter vessels are simply called boats.
Miller said one unique thing about the Coast Guard is “We have a peacetime mission, and the mission never changes, whether it is peacetime or wartime. It never changes. The Coast Guard is always active 24/7.”
Miller spent a lot of his career in the water.
“I did over ten years at sea on several Coast Guard cutters. After Cape Disappointment, I went to Fort Bragg, California, which is in northern California. I was assigned to an 80 foot patrol boat in what was called a substation. We also had a small station attached with us where we had 44s and rigid hull inflatable boats as part of that fleet.
From there, I got my first assignment with the Tactical Law Enforcement teams at San Diego. I was stationed on the Marine Corps depot at San Diego. That is where I first started counter drug operations. From there, I continued to advance and became the executive officer of the Cutter Point Heyer out of Morro Bay, California. I decommissioned boats that were past their life and we sold them to other countries.”
Miller’s next assignment stationed him on a larger boat.
“I got an 87-foot patrol boat that was built out of LaPorte, Louisiana, the Dorado. It was the sixth boat out of 87. I had the pleasure of taking that through the Panama Canal to Crescent City, California, where it was home ported. I then went to Monterey and was a Chief Operating Officer. I was at substation Santa Cruz as well. I did search and rescue and law enforcement.”
During his service, Miller made several trips through the Panama Canal.
“I went through the Panama Canal at least six times. It is extremely interesting. If you are coming from the gulf side, you are literally going uphill. You are climbing mountain ranges as you are going through the locks and dams. It is beautiful. I enjoyed it.”
His next journey in his career took him east to Florida.
“I then went to the Miami area and back to the tactical law enforcement team south. I did five years there in counter drug operations and I was deployed to the middle east several times. I assisted with training in other countries for law enforcement and coast guard.”
Upon his retirement, Miller remains involved with the Coast Guard as a marine consultant.
“I consult with other entities that want to build barges. I assist them in the building and construction of the barges.”
Reflecting on his time with the Coast Guard, Miller participated in several important missions and was also involved in a historical event.
“I responded to New York on September 12, 2001. The towers were still smoking when I arrived.”
Dedicating 30 years to the service influenced his life and he said, “I loved my time in the Coast Guard and wouldn’t trade it for anything.”