Miller's Mission: 'To Help and Serve'
Lt. Col. David Miller is an admitted “Star Trek” buff who’s met every prominent actor in the iconic series except for William Shatner.
While Miller, a family practice physician, may never share the bridge of the Enterprise with Shatner as Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, he knows more than a little about compassion — the powerful medicine crafted of service, hands, heart, and mind.
It could be said that through his work in Civil Air Patrol and in medicine, Miller is helping others “live long and prosper.”
Miller, a 17-year CAP member and the 2021 Missouri Academy of Family Physicians Physician of the Year, also serves as the North Central Region director of public affairs, where he’s been honored for his work and as Missouri Senior Member of the Year and Public Affairs Officer of the Year.
A practicing family physician for more than 30 years, he sums up his mission simply.
“I’m a doctor,” he said. “I’m here to help and to serve.”
That heart for service was forged by his parents. His mother is Chinese. His father was born in America. Both were educators.
Early on, young Miller overcame the challenge of a childhood Chinese accent. “Now I sound like a midwestern DJ,” he says with a laugh.
Miller watched as his father overcame muscular dystrophy to earn a doctorate in education. He would often accompany him to the many doctors and specialists who treated his condition.
“It really showed me how much good you could do and how much work you could do as a physician,” he said.
And seeing his father “rise above his daily issues and problems to teach, to go mentor his students, to work at the university, to keep working for our family showed me you could rise above potentially devastating situations and continue to do good for others,” Miller said.
Despite having only a high school education, Miller’s mother participated in educating and serving the Chinese American and other ethnic communities in the St. Louis area.
“They instilled a sense of pride in community and a sense of worth in what you do for your community,” Miller said. “As a physician, that’s what I do every day.”
A half-day each week, he volunteers at a local free clinic.
“That sense of being a volunteer and helping others without any desire for recompense or recognition was instilled in me as a young teenager,” he said.
While Miller doesn’t seek the limelight, the graduate of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia has received honors too numerous to list for his work in CAP state and regional public affairs and as a medical officer.
A few examples:
- Thirty-seven Maj. Howell Balsem CAP Public Affairs Exceptional Achievement Awards, ranging from Best in Show to Honorable Mention. He’s earned the Best in Show designation twice.
- CAP Public Affairs Officer of the Year Award in 2011 and Missouri Wing Public Affairs Officer of the Year five times.
- More than 1,400 social media posts and nearly 350 photographs published.
In addition, as Missouri Wing medical officer he helped formulate CAP’s COVID-19 response.
Miller’s advice to CAP public affairs officers at every level?
“Don’t get complacent. Don’t write the same thing over and over again,” Miller said. “Challenge yourselves to go and cover a different event. Be that photographer way out in front where the action is.
“You may not be comfortable with that, but you’re going to get good shots. Go up and interview folks.”
He added, “Challenge yourself, because that’s really when you grow.”
Another pointer? Get the word out. That applies to everything from CAP’s award-winning aerospace education program to a recent well-publicized search for a missing horse by the South Dakota Wing, part of the North Central Region.
“Get the word out on everything your wing and region does,” Miller said. “You may reach someone or a group in a way you don’t even realize.”
Combing wing web and social media sites looking for news — “shaking the tree,” Miller calls it — also makes a difference.
“There’s very little we can do for our members other than recognition and handing out awards,” Miller said. “Publishing what they do is one of the best ways we can give recognition to individuals and also local units and the wing as a whole.”
Public affairs is a team approach. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Missouri Wing’s response differed according to the disease numbers in each county. Comprehensive planning helped squadrons across the state and region remobilize in a reasonable but safe manner.
“That required a lot of work, and we had an outstanding team,” Miller said.
Col. Jennifer Smith, now the Missouri Wing commander, led the team.
“During COVID, [Miller] was an exceptionally valuable resource,” she wrote in an email. “Our remobilization team consulted weekly on the current situation, trending spread, best practices, and recommendations for members.
“Lt. Col. Miller was a key player on the team and contributed to the safety of our members during that time.”
Of Miller’s seemingly boundless energy and heart for service, Smith wrote, “I don’t know where he finds the time as a physician, but he is continuously involved with CAP or other community giving.”
Miller deflects the credit for his medical and CAP work.
“You win by having a team,” he said. “As a physician, I call the shots, but I get input from my entire team, and that’s important to make sure we’re not missing something, and everyone can contribute.
“Same thing in Civil Air Patrol. Missions — whether they’re training or real-world — have a team.”
He recalls a Missouri Wing team’s successful efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in September to rescue a boater stranded in the Florida mangroves.
“Lives are at stake,” Miller said. “You cannot base what you do on the opinion of one individual. It has to be a team approach, considering all options.”
Miller the Trekkie draws from the example of Capt. Jean Luc Picard aboard the Enterprise.
“In ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’ Capt. Picard is always looking at options. He looks to his team,” Miller said. “[In CAP], you have an incident commander who’s looking for input from everybody. … The input of everybody is important, especially when you have the same goal in mind.”
Fittingly, Miller met DeForest Kelley and his wife at a science fiction conference. Kelley played Dr. Leonard “Bones,” McCoy, the Enterprise’s medical officer in the original “Star Trek” series and in six subsequent films and voiced his best-known character in an animated series.
“That’s when I found out Dr. McCoy smoked Marlboros,” Miller said. “[Kelley] turned to his wife and said, ‘He’s gonna give me a physical.’”
Miller pointed to the TV doctor’s cigarettes in his shirt pocket.
“We’re going to start with those,” he said.
How does Miller find the time to serve, between the demands of medicine, CAP, family, and other community work?
“You find time for what’s important,” he said. “Those things make me who I am.
“Service, it’s kind of an overused term. But it drives me. It challenges me. It makes for some long and difficult days.
“But I’m not sittin’ around watching television all day,” Miller said. “I usually have several projects going on at once, and that’s what keeps me going. Taking time away from medicine for things like CAP recharges my batteries.”
And despite his many personal accomplishments in medicine and in Civil Air Patrol, Miller says his story is grounded in one word: Team.
“Teamwork is the only way you get anything done in this world,” Miller said. “It’s pulling other people up. And doing that raises all of us up.”
This profile of Lt. Col. David Miller is 13th in a regular series of articles showcasing how CAP and its members make an impact throughout the nation.