On wingmanship: Tech. Sgt. Yuri Miller

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Duncan McElroy
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

(This story is part 1 of a 5 part series of features and commentaries about wingmanship throughout November 2015.)

Being a wingman means making yourself available to those around you. These people are coworkers, subordinates, friends and family.

In certain lines of work though, being a wingman is more than just being there for someone. In Tech. Sgt. Yuri Miller’s line of work, being a wingman is integral to the success of the mission and the lives of his teammates.

Miller, a 334th Training Squadron instructor supervisor, grooms the next generation of combat controllers in the ways of fitness and effectiveness during their four-month stint at Keesler on their two-and-a-half year journey to becoming special tactics airmen.

“Training is an ever-evolving process,” he said. “There’s no cookie cutter method, it’s built on combat experience. It’s unconventional warfare. We teach these guys to be smart, strong and to do your best. Eighty percent isn’t good enough here.”

More soft-spoken in nature than some may expect from one of the Air Force’s elite operators, the Bronze Star with Valor recipient is the quiet and confident type. While sitting in his clean, organized office adorned with mementos from special operations teams of deployments past, Miller thinks back.

The memories are there, and there are lots of them. Ten-hour long firefights, three-day missions and losing friends to shooters they can’t see – but what’s a good example of wingmanship in a career that’s been all about being there for each other?

“You get attached to a different team every time you deploy, and each time you have to prove yourself,” he explained of the team dynamic. “But you’re the only one that can do your job – so you need to be really smart and strong, both physically and mentally. You have to be tough. Once you’re in though, you’re in. Then you’re brothers.”

Maybe reading over some notes would help. Miller pulls out a small, green notebook from his desk and reads off some notes he jotted down after a mission.

“We landed at 1:45 a.m., assessed the situation and moved west to the village,” he read. “I had 10 or so aircraft at my disposal; a B-1 bomber, MQ-9, AC-130 gunship, medevac HH-60 and a few more. We hit daybreak and started doing callouts, looking for civilians while I also talked to the pilots in the sky. We didn’t find any people, but did find marijuana, opium and IED material. Soon we encountered machine gun fire and took a friendly casualty immediately – later on that day he died. Our medic went to treat the casualty and he got hit too. I used the F-15s to search for the enemy position while also coordinating a suitable landing zone for the medevac chopper. I coordinated machine gun fire from the F-15s and was able to get approval to drop a 500-pound laser-guided bomb from an MQ-9. We took another casualty and pulled back south. Things were quiet for a while, then we got some small sporadic fire.

“I think I dropped a few more 500-pound bombs . . . That was a daily, typical mission for us,” he said.

Wingmanship can be pronounced or subtle. Throughout Miller’s multiple deployments and 100-plus missions of dropping bombs, coordinating fire and ensuring the safety of his team, every day was an exercise in testing and reinforcing the bonds within his team. While some may consider the extreme situations those special operators faced to be the definition of wingmanship, another instance comes to Miller’s mind – a quieter one.

A simple text message.

“I was flying in country on a C-17, thinking about different skills I’ve learned from combat – booby trapped doors, how to deal with taking lives, just anything that stuck out,” he said. “[I] ended up taking three pages of notes and gave it to one of the guys that was on his first deployment. The place he was going was pretty hot; he was definitely going to run into action there. So I gave him the notes, gave him a hug and said good luck. That was the last time I’d see him for a while.”

After his deployments, Miller changed duty stations to Keesler.

“About two years later I received a text from that same guy, with a picture of the notes I gave him,” Miller said. “He said he was on his third deployment, he still uses them and they saved his butt a few times. That was a really awesome feeling.”

Out of the blue, a humble ‘thank you’ text exemplified what Miller thinks of wingmanship – doing your best to help your fellow Airman.

“Wingmanship is in everything we do,” Miller explained. “Something I teach the new Airmen coming through is the reason special tactics airmen are so squared away is because we look over each other. There isn’t a day I leave, whether it’s here in my blues or downrange before a mission, that I don’t have someone look me over. That’s wingmanship. Being there for each other and looking after each other to ensure we can be the best at what we do.”

Miller finds his views on wingmanship easy to relate to bigger Air Force concepts.

“It always brings me back to the core values of integrity, service and excellence,” he said. “I always tell these guys to do the best they can do no matter what the task is. So you complete the task, then you have your buddy look it over to make sure you’re squared away. That goes pretty far.”

Though combat controllers may not be as well-known as other branches’ special operations units, they will always be attached to those units, and their commitment to being team players is second-to-none.

“I’ll always have your back, no matter what branch you’re in,” he stressed. “That’s just how it is. What we do is real; it’s serious business and people die. But I will always protect you.”