Farm fresh Marine leaves Amish roots, finds new world in Corps
By Lance Cpl. Dorian Gardner
| | January 13, 2006
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO --
The Marine Corps is a cornucopia of people. It's an array of black, white, brown, red and yellow, and its varied folk practice a plethora of religions. In the last year, two recruits, who happen to be brothers, came separately from perhaps the Corps' most uncommon origin - the Amish Order.
"It's a very small world within the Amish community," said Pvt. Abner A. Miller, Platoon 1152. "Usually it's a 20-mile circle. We go as far as the horse and buggy take us."
Miller grew up in a sheltered environment. Born and raised on a farm in Maquoketa, Iowa, he lived a farmer's life.
"There was a lot of hard work, but it was a good life," said Miller. "(The Amish) abide by laws that regulate the way you dress and the way you work. I don't abide by that anymore."
Much like his brother, Roy A. Miller, who graduated with Company K last July, Abner Miller fell away from the traditions of his order and ventured into the world to see something beyond a farm.
Roy was the first of his family in at least 200 years to join the military. Abner would be number two.
"Basically, I got tired of the old tradition. I wanted something more," said Miller.
Working as a farmer until he was 21, Miller left the farm and took up a job in interior carpentry, building cabinets for two years before he became a truck driver.
Making enough money to live comfortably, Miller was doing what he wanted and buying what he wanted with no regulator forbidding it. Miller said he enjoyed his freedom to the point where he couldn't enjoy it anymore. Like his big brother, Miller found the roads of America unfulfilling.
During Miller's time as a trucker, his brother was training for his eagle, globe and anchor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
"(Roy's) letters made me want to be there and do the same thing he was doing," said Miller. "I always wanted to see far-away places.
"I was working a full-time job but it felt like I wasn't doing anything. I wanted to have more restrictions so I could appreciate the value of life a little more."
After a year of truck driving, Miller went through the stressful process of becoming a United States Marine. Because of the laws in place, the Amish order rejected Miller when he left them.
"The relationship between me and my parents hasn't changed a lot because we were already separated, but I feel that gap has grown because of my involvement in the military," said Miller. "I signed a five-year contract, and they know for at least five years, I can't go back."
Because his education was limited in his community, Miller was required to get a General Education Degree. A month later, he was enlisted and awaiting training.
Miller said the mental impact of early training on him seemed to outweigh the physical aspect.
"He was always asking why he was being addressed more than the other recruits," said Staff Sgt. Michael P. Baehr, Miller's senior drill instructor. "He had more trouble with drill than most."
Drill was one of many things Miller had trouble accepting. The new life boot camp brought on made Miller's life more difficult.
"Not being able to do things your own way ... " said Miller, when thinking back to the struggles of first phase. "It was mostly the food. The senior drill instructor wouldn't let us eat sweets anymore. That was just one of the things I remember. It stuck out more than most."
Little things like ice cream at the mess hall or candy in a recruit's Meal, Ready To Eat were small reminders of what they had before boot camp.
Before Miller left for training, his brother's letters shined light on what to expect. Miller said the letters gossip about the days at boot camp, but it was the combat training and weapons training that Miller couldn't wait to experience.
The second phase of training came in late November for Miller. During the first two weeks, marksmanship classes, rifle qualification and long hikes consumed the days.
"I liked second phase," said Miller. "Time went by faster because you were busier and there was less time to screw around. It wasn't all that hard, but yes, it was a challenge. I remember second phase as the best phase. I felt like we just got more things accomplished as far as training goes."
While boot camp is filled with images that recruits have never seen before, drill instructors had a way of standing out in Miller's mind. He relates drill instructors to machines and the way they operate on a daily basis. "On (hikes), we're humping along thinking we are tired, and they are running by like they have wings. I just have a whole lot of respect for them. They lead by example."
From first to third phase, Miller's progress showed, according to Baehr.
"He had a real drive to improve," said Baehr. "He put a lot of effort in on his own time to improve himself. He is going to be a good Marine. He has a true desire to help others."
Though his brother took a different direction in the Marines, serving in an air wing, Miller found an interest in security forces. Heading into the fleet, Miller said he anticipates the distant places that life in the infantry will take him.
From Amish life on the farm to becoming a Marine, Miller's transformation fullfilled his life in a way he never dreamed. The next stop on his journey is the Infantry Training Battalion.