Veteran Showcase: Jeff Miller has wrench, will travel

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U.S. Air Force veteran Jeff Miller, left, best known in Anza for his mechanic skills, enjoys fellowship at a church event. Anza Valley Outlook/Courtesy photo

Best known around the Valley as a willing and able traveling “wrench,” as he likes to call himself, nine-year Anza resident Jeff Miller is also a U.S. Air Force veteran.

Miller served from 1978 through 1982, and was trained as a general-purpose vehicle mechanic specialist. He performed vehicle maintenance activities on military and commercial design general and special purpose, base maintenance, aircraft and equipment towing vehicles and vehicular equipment. He inspected, performed diagnostics, repaired and the rebuilt components and assemblies.

His boot camp, or as he said, “Intro to the Air Force,” was at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Bexar County, Texas, which is the only basic training base for the Air Force.

Following his basic training, he was enrolled into mechanic training school at Chanute Air Force Base near Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

“My introduction to Illinois was in February, and my plastic garment bag shattered when unloaded into the cold air,” Miller said. “I was in the band – we called ourselves the Beaters and Tweeters – a drum and bugle corps. I played my trumpet in a couple churches on base.”

He excelled at the school and graduated with a 96% on his final exam. After completing the school, Miller was sent to Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field in Arizona.

“I melted there until I finished my tour,” he said, jokingly.

Miller shared plenty of stories about his time at the base.

“I saw an F15 crash. I was on the outside upstairs landing painting the door, when all of a sudden security police ran out of their meeting screaming ‘IN-FLIGHT!’ This meant a plane was in distress. I looked toward airstrip and saw two F15 fighter jets, the back one giving an eyeball to the front jet that was in hydraulic failure. The F15 nosed into the desert in a fireball. The pilot ejected and landed nearby with the security police in hot pursuit.”

One afternoon he said he saw an F15 make a combat takeoff. The pilot was in afterburner mode and the tires locked. There was lots of smoke, flame and burning rubber from the tires dragging on the runway. Miller said the pilot released the brakes and the jet jumped forward. The pilot pulled the stick back and took off, straight up, he said.

“It gained speed, going straight up,” Miller said. “Flamed up to about 30,000 feet and leveled off upside-down to look for aircraft below him.”

While fixing explosive ordinance disposal vehicles on the bombing range, he accidently broke a part on a truck. Miller called the range officer and asked, “I need to steal a part off a target truck, is the range closed?”

“Yes!” boomed the officer over the radio, and Miller said he went to the target truck and was removing the part when a flight of three A-10 attack aircraft made a strafing run on the truck he was working on.

“They did not fire, but I was scared to death,” Miller said. “I got on the radio and yelled at the range officer, and he replied, ‘Don’t use language like that on the radio.’”

After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Miller attended the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, completing auto mechanic classes. He accepted a mechanic job before graduation.

“Been slinging wrenches ever since,” he said.

Miller said he learned a lot in the Air Force and would not have traded the experience for anything.

“It made me a man and trained me to fix vehicles of all kinds,” he said.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.