On a Mission to Always Be on a Mission

Marine Corps veteran Chris Miller tells the story of how his life has been shaped by his experience in the military at the Veterans Day ceremony at COD on Nov. 11.


Photo by Sarah Kueking

Sarah Kueking, Managing Editor

Right after Chris Miller got out of the Marine Corps and began attending Scottsdale Community College, he was featured in the college’s newspaper. As the days led up to him standing onstage at the Veterans Day ceremony at COD as the keynote speaker, he looked back on the challenges he faced during his own days at a community college.

“I remember sitting in those classes and trying to connect in a place where I didn’t have any friends, didn’t have any family,” Miller said. “How do I make friends? I’m out of the military. It’s time to live my life. I was a non-traditional student, I was four or five years older than everybody else.”

Veterans Day is when the U.S. celebrates the members of the military who serve our nation. In recognition of this day, COD hosted its first in-person Veterans Day ceremony since 2019 on Nov. 11. 

Miller joined the Marines in 2000. Given that he joined before 9/11, he didn’t know what to expect. He was just hoping to see the world, have fun, and see where that took him.

At first, Miller lived out his initial vision of being a Marine. He went to boot camp at Parris Island, was stationed in California, and he went on his first deployment to southeast Asia. However, when he returned from his first deployment, what being in the Marines meant to him suddenly shifted.

“I remember watching the events of 9/11 and thinking, ‘Oh, wow, things are getting real,’” Miller said. “‘It’s a different world.’”

Then, in 2003, Miller was part of the invasion into Iraq.

“A lot of crazy things [happened], a little too much combat for my liking,” Miller said. “But it was what it was. It was a good experience after everything ended, being able to help the people in Iraq and continue on that service-oriented part of the service I always enjoy.”

After Miller got out of the military, he attended Scottsdale Community College in Scottsdale, Ariz. where he tried to find a new sense of belonging in a town where he had no family or friends. 

“I ended up joining the newspaper staff at college, and that was one of the best things I ever did,” Miller said. “Instead of just going to school, and then going home every day or going to work, I had a mission and a purpose. In the military, you do what drives you forward every day, and without it [my world] was spinning, and it just, it wasn’t clicking. Once I started getting involved and doing more things, that was when I really noticed things in my life turned for the better.”

When Miller moved back home to Kentucky, he decided to go to culinary school, thinking that his mission could be to help people by cooking for them. His career in the culinary arts was what brought him to the Chicagoland area. However, even that wasn’t for him. After moving to DuPage County, Miller’s undiagnosed PTSD got the best of him, and he ended up in the hospital until he started getting his life back on track. 

Finally, about 10 years ago, Miller was approached by the executive director of the Road Home program, which helps other veterans by offering them mental health services. At the time it was just starting out. 

“We thought we would help 50 people on the west side of Chicago every year,” said Miller. “ In this new part of the program, we’ve helped thousands and thousands of veterans from all over the world. And never, never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be able to do something like that.”

Although Miller often gives advice to other veterans to improve themselves, he did not often take that advice himself until about a year ago, when he went through one of Road Home’s sister programs in Boston. 

“[I’m] looking forward to doing new things, being able to go out and find things that now help give me and fulfill that mission, purpose, that sense of service,” Miller said. “That’s what gets me out of bed every morning is that sense of service. And that’s what Veterans Day means. It’s honoring those people that serve, showing respect for people that gave something, that joined the military.”

Miller ended his talk with a message for all the students in the audience.

“Get active. Do something here at the school. Join the Veterans Services group. Write for the newspaper,” Miller said. “Find that sense of mission and purpose in your life and figure out what gets you out of bed.”