Wednesday, May 7, 2008

3 for 3: Grads to become officers

Wood River Valley youths extend status in military

Express Staff Writer

Following graduation this spring, three of the Wood River Valley's young adults will begin to serve their country.

Scott Sanders, Amy Alexander and Duane "Duey" Miller, all 2004 high school graduates, will move up in the ranks as they graduate from the Virginia Military Institute, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, respectively.

Founded in 1839 and located in Lexington, the Virginia Military Institute is the nation's first state military college. It has a long tradition in the hero department. Among its alumni are Gen. Stonewall Jackson and Gen. George C. Marshall. Scott Sanders, of Ketchum, may yet join their ranks.

Scott Sanders will graduate from the Virginia Military Institute.
Sanders, a business major, will receive his commission on May 15 as a second lieutenant, and graduate the following day. While VMI encourages service to country, and all cadets must participate in an ROTC program of their choice, it doesn't require commissioning. Sanders chose to go into the infantry. He will report to the Marine Corps Base at Quantico for basic training and officer training school.

During his four years at VMI, Sanders was on the dean's list every semester, among the top three cadets in the school's business department, and finished in the top 10 percent in the country in the Business Major Field Test. For the past three years he was honored during VMI's honor week. And this past year he became Alpha Company commander.

But his academics and leadership abilities were not the only things that set him apart. Sanders, who had been on the Sun Valley Freestyle Team, started VMI's first ski team with other cadets. An early member of the fledgling Wood River High School Golf team, he continued competing for VMI.

His persistence has been a mild surprise to his parents, Jodi and Sandy Sanders.

"He was a difficult student, very bright but he challenged his teachers here. He has a strong personality," Jodi said, and then laughed. "We don't know where our kids came from We are not a military family."

On the other hand, Drs. Herb and Charlotte Alexander are a military family. Both are also orthopedic surgeons in the Wood River Valley. A retired captain, Herb Alexander spent 28 years in the Navy, which he joined while in medical school. Their daughter Amy Alexander will graduate with distinction with a bachelor of science degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on May 23. She will be commissioned as an ensign.

Her father is currently a Blue & Gold officer of the U.S. Naval Academy, which is an admissions officer. He said he was surprised when she brought home information on the academy while in high school.

"I had nothing to do with it," Alexander said. "She's always been driven and goal oriented. She's a phenomenal person."

Amy Alexander runs in a recent triathlon.

Amy will continue her education at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, where she will focus on orthopedic surgery.

At the medical school "everyone will be in uniform every day and do military stuff, but like a real person with freedoms and responsibilities," Amy said during a telephone interview. "I'll be working with, for and on military personnel. And I'll also work at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. It's where everyone comes to—all the wounded soldiers.

"At the academy you're in a fish bowl you can't really see out of it. We focus on (the war) and it's important but people aren't political. I interned at Bethesda last summer. It was a really sobering experience. I've seen guys coming in with the most intense trauma."

Amy said this kind of training is a rare opportunity.

"It's sick irony because I want to be a trauma surgeon, but everyone wants to get out of Iraq," she said. "By the time I'm a third-year medical student I don't know what it will be. Even level 1 trauma centers don't see this kind of trauma. Your patients have different needs than in the civilian world. There are psychological issues. There are different considerations. It's really about taking care of your people in a big way."

Amy's experience at the Naval Academy is revealing. She said it's a lot less glamorous than photos and brochures portray.

"As a cadet you have no responsibility," she said. "Your life is planned out. But being a naval officer is about working together. You're motivating, leading, supervising. You have to make it happen and get together on the same mission."

After graduation, she will return to Annapolis on temporary assignment at the Naval Academy's Physical Education Program for incoming plebes while they go through their early physical paces.

"I'll be in the tent treating injuries and other medical needs," she said. "I'm looking forward to it. I hate when anyone gets out of stuff. I'm not cutting any slack."

Amy was active in many sports growing up in the Wood River Valley and over the last four years has competed as a triathlete. Biking is her strength. Her recent victories include winning her age division at the Annapolis Marathon, the National Triathlon in Washington, D.C., and the Lonestar Quarter Iron Triathlon in Galveston, Texas. In April she placed fourth in the female undergraduate division in the U.S. National Collegiate Triathlon Championship in Tuscaloosa, Ala. In two weeks she'll compete in her first open division in Colombia, Md.

As an athlete, Amy's plans extend beyond triathlons and medical school. After her residency, she wants to do a six-week general medical officer tour in Groton, Conn., to train as a dive physician assigned to ships and squadrons of the surface fleet. And this summer she hopes to become certified in sky diving at the U.S. Airborne School, which would be intertwined with the dive school certification, she said.

"I'm already certified in fast roping and rappel from the Air Assault School. I try to keep it interesting," she said.

Duane Miller is preparing to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Duane "Duey" Miller, of Bellevue, also graduated in 2004 from the Wood River High School, where he excelled at wrestling.

He will receive his bachelor of science degree and be commissioned as a second lieutenant on May 28. President Bush will speak at the graduation.

"That's his boss," his mother Barbara Miller said. "He was going to go into medicine but now he wants to be a pilot. He likes the Air Force and he knows what it has gotten him—a great education. He really put all his eggs into that basket."

He will have 60 days leave before reporting to Pensacola for about a year of "casual time," where he is expected to do a variety of jobs. Afterwards he will start pilot training. One reason there will be a year before he can start training is ironically the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"He won't be deployed," his father, Don Miller, said. "Their whole purpose for him is to fly."

Incoming cadets for pilot training are backed up at least six months to a year due to lack of instructors and planes, Don said.

"I'm so proud of him. I can believe what he's gone through," Barbara said. "He wrestled Division 1 the whole time—four years on varsity. Wrestling saved his butt. He had an outlet."

His eight best friends are from wrestling—they have matching tattoos—and she thinks they will be "tight for life."

Like many parents, the Millers have worked hard for their family. Duey's younger brother, Murdock, graduated in 2007 in American Falls. Barbara moved there with him so he could wrestle at the high school. His team won state finals last year and he now attends Stanford University. Their daughter Madeline is at San Diego State, and graduated from Wood River in 2005.

"I've had no life for awhile but I have great kids and I'm so proud of them," Barbara said.

Don agreed.

"It's been a long journey and it's not the kind of thing that was meant for everyone. He's accomplished something not a lot of people do. For the rigorous course he was on we couldn't be any more proud."

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