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Weathering the years

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Stephanie Morris
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
Three days before Christmas, in 1966, a 17-year-old boy began a journey that would last 22 years and take him around the world. Approximately 40 years after Miller was stationed at Minot, and 26 years after retirement, he returned to the base to take a tour through the weather flight's new facility and see the technology being used today.

Dennis Miller was joining the United States Air Force and heading to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

"Basic lasted six months," Miller said. "After that I went to tech. school for nine months to learn weather equipment maintenance and become a 302X0."

Fresh from technical training, Miller was sent to Korat Air Base, Thailand where he began installing electrical equipment to aid with the war in Vietnam.

Miller spent a year working on everything from telephones to navigation equipment as a member of the 483rd General Electronics Engineering Installation Agency. He also assisted with the installation of a CPS9 long pause weather radar in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, to monitor the weather over Hanoi, Vietnam.

"If there was cloud cover, the aircraft couldn't drop their ordinance," Miller said. "That meant that they would have to turn back and try to land a plane with armed weapons."

Miller explained this made the radar project in Nakhon Phanom a top priority for the military at the time. During the installation process, he had free reign at the site and a Jolly Green Giant HH-53 helicopter at his disposal, even though he was only an Airman 1st Class.

A year after he began his work in Thailand, Miller was once again on the move. First to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, maintaining runway weather equipment, and then Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois, where he began a nine month class working toward his upgrade to seven-level.

Three years after Hurricane Camille made landfall in 1969, Miller was stationed at Keesler AFB. Shortly thereafter, he relocated to Wiesbaden Army Airfield located southeast of Wiesbaden, in Hesse, Germany. While there, Miller performed intermediate maintenance on weather equipment for all of Europe as President Richard Nixon announced the beginning of a massive bombing campaign in North Vietnam.

"While in Germany, I got to go on a lot of TDYs and experience a lot of new places," Miller said.

In preparation for a special duty assignment to Puerto Rico, Miller volunteered to be stationed at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

"I'm originally from North Dakota," Miller said. "During my tour at Minot I went to training for advanced solar optical and radio telescopes."

Once Miller arrived in Puerto Rico he took charge of Operating Location Alpha. At this point he had begun monitoring solar activity to protect assets in space, such as the NASA Space Shuttle. Miller was part of the effort to ensure that Department of Defense communications, such as high frequency radio and satellites, remained operational.

"We were able to turn off satellites during solar flare events," Miller explained. "Turning them off kept them from getting what is called a 'space charge' and destroying their internal components."

The headquarters for Air Force Communications Command at Scott AFB, Illinois, was the next stop in Millers career. At Scott he became a program manager charged with finding new technology for weather equipment, training Airmen on its use, organizing logistics, and field testing. He also managed the world-wide solar maintenance program.

After Scott, Miller maintained equipment at sites in Australia, Italy, Hawaii, New Mexico, Puerto Rico and Massachusetts.

The final stop of his 22 years in the Air Force was McClellan AFB, California. As a member of the Sacramento Air Logistics Center he worked as a liaison for AFCC, overseeing $40 billion worth of communications equipment utilized by the Air Force.

"After retiring, I went to work for a company called Fujitsu," Miller said. "I started as a tech. writer and became the first product manager for high-speed fiber-optic transmission equipment in the United States."

Miller was excited to return to Minot for a visit, and Senior Airman Scott Hilde, 5th Operations Support Squadron weather forecaster, conducted the tour.

"Dennis taught me a lot about previous radars we used, which showed how far we have advanced since Doppler radar," Hilde said. "The programs we have now have clearly made it much easier to obtain weather data and switch between radar sites."

Miller was able to see the variety of radar programs used by the unit, tour their office space at the new base operations building and talk to the Airmen about things he had learned during his many projects in the Air Force.

Hilde explained being able to meet with someone who had retired from his career field was very enlightening, and it was fun to compare what the weather flight does now, to what they did then. Hearing Miller's stories brought to light the vast improvements the weather career field has overcome during the past decades.

"I enjoyed hearing about the mission they had during the Vietnam War and how important the 'weather man' was at that time," Hilde said. "I really liked showing him the new equipment and the advancements in technology we have come to."