Never settled: Iowa man forsakes sheltered Amish ways to see world
By Cpl. Edward R. Guevara Jr.
| | July 08, 2005
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
At 18 years old, a timid Amish boy packed up a cardboard box with his coonhound puppy, Lucy, and trinkets from his childhood. Wearing his long-sleeved, teal green shirt, blue jeans, dark-leather work shoes and a straw hat, he walked to his cousin's farm a couple of miles away, where he was picked up by a friend and driven south to a small town in Iowa. Roy A. Miller was trading in his homemade ensemble for a trucker's license and an 18-wheeler, embarking on an adventure to see the rest of the country. Seven years after breaking through the invisible boundaries surrounding his Old Order Amish community, and driving through all 48 of the continental United States, he said he still felt closed in by the limits of the coast. He wanted to see the world.Miller chose to see it through the eyes of the Marine Corps, attributing his decision to Marines of the past. "A (75-year-old) friend of mine in Las Vegas was a warrant officer in the Marine Corps," said Miller, one of Company K's newest privates from Platoon 3086. "Men 10 years younger visited him. I listened to their stories, and told myself, 'That's a group I want to be a part of.'" Each life-changing leap Miller took stands out in his mind."Leaving my home and family, and what's going on (globally) right now are the two most important things that have happened to me," he said.It is customary for those who leave the Amish community to be shunned or excommunicated. His father, Atlee Y. Miller, is a bishop in the Old Order Amish community and did not agree with his son's actions, but did not keep Miller away from his family."With our different opinions, we get along as best we can," said Miller.Although his family knows he enlisted in the Marine Corps, they don't fully understand what it is, according to Miller. Amish communities shelter themselves from the rest of the world as a way of life, to keep things simple and abide by the teachings of their forefathers. They are slow to make changes. There are different rules within each community that govern the level of outside accessibility."I am the first in my family in at least the last 200 years to join the military," he said.Miller's upbringing on the farm helped him overcome the physical aspects of boot camp with ease."Putting up loose hay in the middle of summer is harder than anything that they came up with here," he said. His senior drill instructor Staff Sgt. Hector M. Flores agreed that Miller was an above average recruit. Miller believes he had the mental toughness to complete boot camp because of the way his father raised him. Because Miller was brought up in a small, sheltered community, he was not self-confident when he arrived. He was still timid and trying to learn how things worked. It seems Miller has had to grow up and take charge of his life on multiple occasions."When I was a kid, I had a terrible attitude problem," he said. "Around 17 and 18 I realized I better straighten up."At home and in boot camp here, he said he had to go from the comfort of his parents and drill instructors taking care of him, to waking up one day and realizing he has to take care of himself.Early on in training, Miller also had to learn to work with a team. "During the second week (here), I was swabbing the head and asked myself why I was picking up everything," said Miller. "I am not used to dealing with 50 other people this close. I never played high school sports like most of these other guys."The Amish generally have one schoolhouse for a three to five-mile radius, with only one room and eight grade levels. This education barrier hindered Miller's attempts to join the Marine Corps. He had to obtain his general equivalency diploma before his recruiter from Recruiting Station Des Moines, Iowa, Sgt. Tobin J. Eckstine, could work on his contract."In order to enlist with a GED, an applicant must have completed the 10th grade," said Chief Warrant Officer Robert W. Laverty, assistant operations officer, Western Recruiting Region. "However, it is waiverable." After Miller earned the GED, Eckstine gave him a sample aptitude test. Miller scored high enough that Eckstine submitted for an education waiver to his chain of command."He's the kind of Marine you want in the Corps," said Eckstine. "He's more medically fit than anyone else I have seen. He is polite and knowledgeable, and knows a lot about life."Eckstine agreed with Miller that his primary reasons for joining the Corps were the intangibles offered by the Marine Corps, such as camaraderie, adventure, and self-confidence.Beyond being a basic rifleman, Miller joined as an aviation mechanic. The field is broad and he does not know what specific job he will have yet, but he knows he wants to be near airplanes. Flying is his newest passion."I am about 10 hours away from my private pilot license," he said. "I plan to get a few hours in while I am on leave after boot camp."From walking, to driving, to flying, Miller is breaking all the boundaries he sees.