Montana native comes full circle-Career military officer to start civilian life as a professor
Release Number: 200872
Published December 01, 2008
Arnold Engineering Development Center's (AEDC) 718th Test Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Dan Miller is looking forward to a major career change as he prepares to transition from active duty to the world of academia as an associate professor of engineering mechanics at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont.
As the commander of the 718th Test Squadron, the Libby, Mont., native is responsible for managing Arnold's space and missile ground testing facilities which assesses and validates hypersonic propulsion, high-altitude rocket engines, spacecraft systems, missile signatures, ballistics, and aero-thermal systems. He oversees a squadron with more than 200 military, civilian and contractor personnel.
After the change of command ceremony in June, Colonel Miller will be trading his military uniform for a professor's robe, concluding a distinguished Air Force career spanning more than 20 years. His title will then change from colonel to doctor, as in PhD, as he assumes his teaching position with the same university where he earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering in 1987 and a doctorate in engineering and applied mechanics in 2002.
AEDC Commander Col. Art Huber said both the Air Force and the civilian sector benefit from professionals like Colonel Miller.
"Dan's record really speaks for itself, but speaking from personal experience, I have found Dan to be one very sharp individual, in the realms of aeronautical engineering, technology and science as well as his innate ability to manage complex technical systems and the infrastructure that supports them," Colonel Huber said.
"However, the thing thatreally makes him stand out from the crowd is the seemingly effortless and effective way he works with upper level management, peers and the general work force.
"He communicates in a way that has everyone on the same page, regardless of their level of expertise and background. He just gets things done and includes everyone in the process - someone who earns the respect and cooperation of others. His enthusiasm for things technical really comes through, but never does it outshine his concern and appreciation for people. Our universities need more people like him, people who bring such a breadth of technical and practical experience into the classroom."
Colonel Miller acknowledged he has some mixed feelings about leaving the Air Force at this point in his career.
"All I've done my entire adult life is wear this uniform," he said. "I wasn't planning to retire, but I got an opportunity to go teach at a college back in my home state."
Although he never joined the Air Force with the intention of going into academia, Colonel Miller said he gained some valuable experience in that arena twice in his career.
"I was working at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Kirtland Air Force Base and had a couple of bosses who had taught at the academy and they said, "You should go up there and apply,'" he recalled. "I did and it just fit me. They sent me back to get a doctorate and altogether I taught seven years at the Air Force Academy between two tours."
Colonel Miller, who came to AEDC from the Air Force Academy in 2006, said he had always known about Arnold, but only in general terms.
"In the Air Force, people who know about AEDC say it's the best kept secret in the Air Force," he said. "I knew that it was a ground test center, but didn't know the details and I sure didn't know to level at which we support the war fighter - how really big and important it is."
Colonel Miller said the timing of his assignment to AEDC had provided both a unique opportunity and some serious challenges.
"Since the Air Force Materiel Command had reorganized into squadrons I was the first 718th squadron commander at AEDC," he said. "I've tried to give the center a greater appreciation for where the Air Force is going in space and how important it is.
We do a lot of the air side work at Arnold, but for the Air Force, cyberspace and space are both huge growth areas too. We've got three test squadrons here, like three legs of a tripod, and space is one of those legs.
I've also tried to bring more of a structured military organization to the squadron - possibly more than they've had here before."
Regarding the most significant hurdle he has faced while at AEDC, he said, "The biggest challenge is continuing to do the mission in declining budgets. Well, how does one do that? You prioritize what you're going to do and you work to get a consensus from leadership for doing the right thing."
Colonel Miller said the way to get everyone on the same page can be summed up with two words - strategic vision.
"You really need a strategic vision that fits within our fiscal constraints so that we can execute what's important in the things we can do," he said.
Another, more systemic challenge faced by AEDC, is the decline in the number of engineers, scientists and technicians.
"This decline in the technical work force is not unique to AEDC, in fact, it's a national problem now, it's one of the reasons I'm excited about going back and teaching engineering again," Colonel Miller said.
"We need to show people where they can make a difference in the technical career fields. Looking back a little more than 50 years ago on what was going on in aeronautics and space - Sputnik had launched and the entire nation rallied behind U.S. preeminence in technical fields.
Whether it had something to do with aviation or space, it was popular then.
The fervor seems to have waned. I think we need something for the nation to rally around, get young people excited about technical career fields again, because other countries like China are out-pacing us."
He said Col. Huber is attempting to mitigate the decline in the technical work force as much as possible at the center by initiating a technical work force revitalization program. The problem has also been acknowledged at a higher level.
"When the Secretary of the Air Force was here last November, he voiced the same concerns about the Air Force," Colonel Miller said.
"We have a lot of impressive machinery on this base, but it's nothing without the people, it's just a bunch of steel and really nothing without them. We tend to focus a lot on the hardware and I think right now we're starting to focus on the software, the people. I believe we are and that's a good thing."
Colonel Miller said an affinity for math naturally led him to pursue engineering and when Air Force recruiters approached him about considering the officer corps and a career, he liked what he saw.
"They came and talked to me and I liked what the Air Force stood for," he said. "They offered me a scholarship and I was largely putting myself through college and that helped.
I just like what they stood for, in fact, when I applied for this job, I said this might sound corny, but here are the core values of the Air Force and I actually really believe in them, whether I'm in the military or not."
Colonel Miller was commissioned through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corp in 1987. He graduated with academic honors in mechanical engineering from Montana State University.
Before his tour at AEDC, Colonel Miller has served as an instructor, lab director, division chief, and deputy in the Department of Astronautics at the Air Force Academy.
Colonel Miller's major awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal (two oak leaf clusters), The Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal (one oak leaf cluster), an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, Air Force Organizational Excellence Award (two oak leaf clusters), Air Force Recognition Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terror Service Medal.
Colonel Miller is looking forward to some down time in July to enjoy one of his favorite off-duty pastimes, fishing.
"I do a lot of backpacking, hiking, hunting and lots of fishing - anything outdoors," he said.
His oldest son, Chris, is graduating from Tullahoma High School in Tennessee on the same day his father is retiring. Chris has set his sights on studying electrical engineering at college.
Colonel Miller and his wife, Theresa, will relocate to Montana over the summer with their other sons, Andrew, 14, and Mathew, 13.
Arnold Engineering Development Center is the nation's largest complex of flight simulation test facilities. The center was dedicated in June 1951 by President Harry Truman and named after 5-star General of the Air Force Henry 'Hap' Arnold, visionary leader of the Army Air Forces in World War II and the only airman to hold 5-Star rank. Today, this $7.8 billion complex has some 58 aerospace test facilities located at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., and the center's two remote operating locations - the Hypervelocity Tunnel 9 in White Oak, Md., and the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex (NFAC) located on NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. The Tunnel 9 test facilities simulate flight from subsonic to hypersonic speeds at altitudes from sea level to space while NFAC provides a critical capability for aeronautics research, particularly rotorcraft research. Virtually every high performance flight system in use by the Department of Defense today and all NASA manned spacecraft have been tested in AEDC's facilities. Today the center is testing the next generation of aircraft and space systems. For more information on AEDC visit the center's Web site at www.arnold.af.mil.