Most soldiers, when they return home from active duty, hang their uniforms in the closet and go back to school or civilian jobs. Some stay in the reserves; others join veterans organizations; still others make use of their military experience as volunteers in their communities and in company leadership positions.
Doug Miller, our 2016 Man of the Year, an Army captain and helicopter pilot in Vietnam who later retired as a major, has done all of that and keeps on serving.
"All of these activities and experiences are the miracles of life and the benefit of having been born in this great country," Miller said. "I am very grateful."
Miller is perhaps best known locally for his leadership efforts this year in planning and completing the Veterans Memorial that was dedicated Nov. 12 in Pioneer Cemetery.
He also is president of the local chapter of the Association of the United States Army, an organization that is focused on making life better for active duty military members and their families at Camp Parks in Dublin and the East Bay. For several years, he headed up the Army's Wounded Warrior program, also known as AW2, making sure that the 60 most severely wounded soldiers in his region received good care as they underwent rehabilitation.
He is also a lifetime member of the Vietnam Veterans of Diablo Valley, the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, Pleasanton Post 237 of the American Legion and Pleasanton Post 6298 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, where he has served as president. In addition, Miller is a former Alameda County Veterans Affairs Commissioner, was a director of East Bay Stand Down, a program that supports needy local veterans, and also helped establish a local Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation team in Pleasanton that provides mentorship and support to severely wounded soldiers.
In 1965, Miller received a bachelor's degree in economics and a U.S. Army commission from Norwich University, the military college of Vermont and a private university located in Northfield, Vt. It is the oldest private military college in the U.S. Later, he earned a Master of Science degree in systems management from the University of Southern California.
He served two tours in Vietnam as an Army helicopter pilot during his 10 years on active duty. When he stepped down from active duty in April 1977, he joined the Army Reserves where he served with the rank of major for another 10 years while also embarking on a civilian career that spanned the next 27 years. During that time, he held senior positions in sales and marketing, working primarily at Hitachi in Boston and the Bay Area and Sun Microsystems in Menlo Park before retiring in 2004.
Transferred here from Boston by Hitachi in 1991, Miller and his wife Janice moved to the Del Prado neighborhood, where they still live. Their three children -- Ashley, Jared and Reagan -- attended Donlon Elementary, Pleasanton Middle and Foothill High schools. Like their dad, they all have military and public service in their blood.
Ashley, the oldest, served for two years with Teach for America as a ninth-grade high school teacher at an inner city high school in Miami. Since 2006, she has worked for Symantec in the San Jose area.
Jared, like his dad, is an Army captain and helicopter pilot who completed two one-year tours in Afghanistan. He currently is an Army ROTC instructor at the University of North Carolina.
Their younger daughter Reagan works for the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. She spent one year in Iraq during the surge and more recently two years in Egypt.
Even though he had retired, Miller's compassion for everything military stayed on, leading to a call from the Army in 2008 asking if he would become a contractor for its Wounded Warrior program. He did that for the next three years.
"I took that job and found it to be the the most amazing experience I'd ever had," Miller said. "It's hard to imagine unless you have spent a lot of time with people in the condition these military men and women were. Even though faced with severe burns, lost limbs, brain injuries and more and they knew they were going to have a tough time for the rest of their lives, they were just amazing people as they came through their traumas."
"All they really wanted is for somebody to give them some help, lead them in the right direction, help them determine where they can go or what they could do given their new circumstances," he added. "It was the most uplifting, exhilarating experience of my life to work with these wounded warriors."
Pleasanton's historic cemeterywas acquired by the city when its owner and caretaker, the Pleasanton chapter of the International Order of Odd Fellows, could no longer handle the responsibility.
For the next few years, veterans and Rotary Club volunteers worked to clean up the cemetery grounds. Councilwoman Kathy Narum, when she first campaigned for election, heard from many constituents their pleas to improve the cemetery and to make it a city treasure.
In 2013, with Narum's and City Manager Nelson Fialho's urging, along with the support of businessman Frank Capilla's ad hoc cemetery improvement group, the City Council appointed a task force to come up with a plan.
Local art contributors Nancy and Gary Harrington offered to match $40,000 toward a design and construction of a veterans' memorial at the cemetery. The American Legion and VFW and other Pleasanton veterans joined in to raise funds, and the memorial got underway.
Miller's leadership skills paid off for Pleasanton, too, when he led the effort to build a Veterans Memorial in Pioneer Cemetery. That started when businessman Frank Capilla asked him to represent the veteran community in persuading the City Council to endorse the memorial plan.
"That action by the council in November 2015 launched the fundraising, and this November, just a year later, we dedicated the memorial," said Miller, who was both the leader of the effort and the dedication ceremony speaker.
In the end, the memorial cost $470,000, with the city agreeing to assume demolition costs for the old flag circle atop the cemetery and to install new roads and an irrigation system. Miller and his veterans organizations, along with the Harringtons, raised $320,000.
Miller will continue working with the veteran organizations and others to keep improving the cemetery. For now, though, his focus is the local Association of the United States Army that he heads to make life better for local military and their families.