Colonel Todd “Freak” Miller installed as new 185th Operations Group Commander

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Colonel Todd “Freak” Miller formally accepted the Operations Group Commander position at the 185th Air Refueling Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard at a weekend ceremony in August.

At the event Miller described how a brush with death, while he was in his early 20’s, became a life defining and mission focusing moment for him, that also gave rise to his “Freak” call sign.

Miller explained that his path to becoming a fighter pilot, as well as his next 20 years in the Air Guard, were nearly stopped before they started because of tachycardia. He said it was the single experience that explains who he is and how he is driven to this day.

“I was pretty much on my death bead June 9th of 1998,” Miller said, recalling the specific date when, his heart began beating so rapidly that he had to be admitted to the emergency room for treatment.

“My heart was on its last beats, my lungs were full of fluid, and I was purple,” Miller remembered.

Miller went on to describe how the physicians eventually used a beta blocker to slow his heart rate which saved his life.

“When I woke up, I remember hearing, ‘it’s working,” Miller said.

At that point, while laying on a hospital bed, getting to officer training school and becoming a pilot was not at the forefront of his mind. Eventually however, Miller had to deal with the new reality of his military commitment.

Miller explained that at the time, he was at an in-between stage in his early military career. He had recently graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and was selected to become an F-16 fighter pilot in Des Moines but was waiting to go to officer training.

Miller said that the medical treatment for his tachycardia was limited to a single procedure but, a serious health condition is normally a showstopper for anyone aspiring to become an Air Force pilot.

Undeterred, Miller explained that he made his way to Brooks Army Medical Center for evaluation where he was told not to get his hopes up.

Miller recalled during the few weeks he was at Brooks Medical Center; he quickly developed a relationship with the head cardiologist. He said he played sports with the heart specialist with no ill effects and no signs of permanent heart damage. He was told however that waivers are “not done” for his medical condition, “but,” he was told, “yours is unique.”

With no signs of heart damage and no prescribe or continuing treatment, Miller was directed to get a second opinion from physicians at nearby Lackland Air Force Base.

After a thorough examination and no defect was found, Miller was determined to be a “Freak of nature.” He had gotten the ok from the physicians at Lackland and cleared to proceed with pilot training.

“Freak is kind of a unique name, but It means a lot,” said Miller “like I’m still here,” describing the trial that led to how “Freak” became as his call sign.

“I believe I have a purpose that somebody higher up is looking out for me,” Miller added.

A native of Eastern Iowa, Miller grew up on a farm near Waterloo where he said he intends to return after the Air Force.

Miller said he became interested in flying while still a student at Grinnell High School in the mid-1990s, after attending an older sibling’s graduation from pilot training. He said the event inspired him to pursue flying for the Air Force just like his older sister.

Miller had gotten to fly F-16 Fighters for more than a decade while assigned to the 132nd Fighter Wing in Des Moines. After the unit converted to flying remote aircraft, Miller eventually became the Vice Wing Commander before moving to Joint Forces Headquarters.

He said it is his connection to family and the family farm that has kept him in the Hawkeye state, even after the Iowa Air Guard lost their fighter jets nearly ten years ago.

At the August event in Sioux City, Miller took the opportunity to introduce himself and tell his story. He talked to members of the Operations Group about the ART or Accountability, Respect and Trust of his leadership style that was developed out of his experience.

“If you don’t have trust within an organization you’re not going to get where you want to go,” Miller said.
Miller added that he is humbled to have the opportunity to be a part of the 185th Operations Group and said he is looking forward to being a part of the team.

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