With winds in excess of 150 mph, Hurricane Laura left behind a path of tremendous destruction in the state of Louisiana. Recovery may take years for some locations, and many are still displaced. In the immediate aftermath, with residents still reeling, a surge of assistance began flooding into the region. Among those arriving to help was United States Army Colonel Zach Miller. This is a homecoming of sorts for Col. Miller, who grew up in Baton Rouge and graduated from Episcopal in 1993.
Col. Miller is not from a military family, and he was not one of those kids who always knew what he wanted to be when he grew up either. At Episcopal, he excelled academically, and he was a key member of the Knights cross country and track teams. He also enjoyed playing trumpet in the school’s band. It wasn’t until his junior year, when he started exploring college options, that he considered the military. He was presented an offer to continue running at West Point, and after a campus visit and an honest discussion with Coach Dupe about what the opportunity could mean for his life, he accepted. After two decades of service, he can’t imagine a more fitting career.
Col. Miller’s career trajectory is remarkable. He deployed five times to Iraq or Afghanistan, served as an officer at the Pentagon and has earned numerous honors including the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart. Currently, he is the Commander of the Memphis District of the Army Corps of Engineers. In this role, he is the lead military officer tasked with the management of the Mississippi River between Illinois and Vicksburg. From his office in Memphis, Col. Miller looks out over the river that for him represents the U.S. economy. He points to the enormity of the amount of commerce that travels this artery on a daily basis. “It’s a heavy responsibility to ensure reliable navigation on the Nation’s waterways while protecting the population from flooding,” he says. “It’s an incredible job to be selected for.” Col. Miller says he was ready for the responsibility because of the military’s phenomenal ability to prepare people. He also credits his early days at Episcopal with preparing him for a life of service.
“I couldn’t have been more prepared for West Point,” says Col. Miller. “The faculty treated students as individuals.” When he thinks back on his Episcopal experience, he remembers the energy of former Band Director Paul Taranto. While Col. Miller didn’t play an instrument, that didn’t stop him from learning. Inspired by Taranto, Col. Miller took trumpet lessons and joined the school band. Ultimately, the experience taught him that when it comes to performing, you can’t hide. “You have to struggle until you find a stride,” he says. Col. Miller also found his stride as a member of the cross country and track teams. “It’s not like other sports,” he says. “You’re exposed.” That sense of exposure requires cross country athletes to be physically and mentally prepared, and Col. Miller felt that Coach Dupe prepared his athletes for the challenge. In addition, Col. Miller remembers former Upper School Division Head Anne Kornegay. “She helped me be a better person,” he says. As is often the case, Col. Miller says some of what he gained from his time at Episcopal wasn’t realized until later in life as he reflected back on his time at the school.
After serving his country for so long, Col. Miller is now pleased to be in a position to offer the same mentorship and guidance to others. He says he’s at a point in his career, where he is looking for ways to give back and help others be “better than I am.” His current role with the Army Corps is allowing him to do that right here in his home state. “It’s incredible to be in Louisiana doing this,” he says. “I wish it wasn’t under these circumstances though.”
Col. Miller is part of a cavalry of volunteers in Louisiana working hard to make storm-impacted regions habitable once again. He oversees efforts to establish temporary power in areas that could be without reliable utilities for months. He is assisting with the Blue Roof Project that will install 10,000 temporary roofs to homes that sustained roof damage but are otherwise ok. On any given day, Col. Miller works with city and parish leaders to identify what help is needed. As a Louisiana native, the experience is unique for Col. Miller, allowing him to relate to residents and find common ground as he meets with everyone from homeowners to Governor John Bel Edwards. Col. Miller is in awe of the volunteers who have shown up to be a part of the efforts, and he points out that most of them, like him, have a day job.
After unexpectedly finding a rewarding career in a place he never thought to look, Col. Miller has this advice for today’s students, “Don’t presuppose that you know where your life is going from here.” He says many of the people who are most fulfilled in their life got there because a door opened, and they walked through it. As for his own opportunities, Col. Miller has spent every day since graduation serving in the U.S. military, and even though he could retire he loves the “fulfilling and challenging” work he has found. “It defines who I am, but the rooting was the education before then,” he says with appreciation for the teachers, coaches, classmates and academics that inspired and challenged him to succeed.
Col. Miller is a Knight on a mission to serve his country and his fellow citizens. We thank him for that commitment and congratulate him on his success.
The Episcopal Community Provides Hurricane Laura Assistance
Members of the Episcopal community are doing their part to help our neighbors impacted by Hurricane Laura. A special thank you to National Guardsman Jehu Poitier, who is the father of Lower School students Emily and Laila. Poitier is currently deployed to the impacted region. Thank you also to everyone who supported Episcopal’s Hurricane Laura Relief Drive. The school partnered with St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church and Day School to help residents in Lake Charles.