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New commander addresses key aspects of his leadership style

Col. Patrick G. Miller, 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander, talks about his new role as commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio during an interview on June 19, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ty Greenlees)

Col. Patrick G. Miller, 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander, talks about his new role as commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio during an interview on June 19, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ty Greenlees)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - The new commander of the 88th Air Base Wing and the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base installation is a self-described reality TV “junkie,” acted as a grass-skirt-and-coconut-wearing Luther Billis in a production of “South Pacific” and isn’t one for standing still.

Col. Patrick G. Miller assumed his position as commander of the 88 ABW and the 30,000-personnel installation June 12. Miller previously served as vice commander of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

Skywrighter met with Miller June 19 to help the base community become better acquainted with the new commander.

 

What most excites you about returning to Wright-Patterson AFB?

Miller: As a civil engineer coming into the Air Force, my life’s goal was to be a squadron commander; when I got the opportunity to be a (mission support) group commander, I thought that was it. Being the commander of the 88 ABW and Wright-Patt is far more than we expected. We are excited to serve the men and women of the Mighty 88th, Team Wright-Patt and the surrounding communities.

Every day is a blessing to serve our nation. I don’t view myself as the top of this team — I’m at the bottom, leading, building the foundation, setting the climate and providing the direction, guidance and resources to enable the team to run. The team is far closer to customers than I am. It’s my job to arm and equip them so they can serve those customers.

 

When were you previously at 
Wright-Patt?

Miller: From 2003 to 2006 I had the privilege of being a course director and an instructor in what was then the Civil Engineer & Services School at the Air Force Institute of Technology. As an officer, there are few opportunities in your career where you are surrounded by a large group of peers. I learned more about the CE community and leadership as a whole during those three years than during any other time in my career. I was able to listen to senior leaders when they spoke with classes, and I observed different leadership styles and heard various perspectives. That was amazing.

I taught initial skills training to new CE officers. Being able to see young officers coming into our Air Force and set the foundation for them emphasized the importance for me of professional development. I’m a strong believer in professional development. We need to do that across the board for our Airmen — with a big A (military and civilian); we need to do deliberate development. I want to pay attention to and ensure we are mentoring and developing our force.

What was neat about that time is I was recognized as the Team Wright-Patt Company Grade Officer of the Year and have the award on my bookcase. At the time I thought that would be my Wright-Patt moment. Here, 14 years later, I’m sitting as the commander of the same wing that gave me that prestigious recognition. That’s pretty cool.

 

What are your initial priorities and goals as the new commander of the 88 ABW? How will the communities that surround the base factor in those?

Miller: Taking command under the current restrictions is tough. We have a large portion of the workforce teleworking. As I go through my initial immersions, I’m meeting a few people, but without being able to shake hands and look people in the eye and see their workspaces is tough. My No. 1 goal right now is to establish trust and build relationships. Trying to do that in this constrained environment is something we’re tackling. We had our first Town Hall online — communication for me is important.

We’re trying to learn the mission; learn our people and our culture; learn our mission partners and what they need from us; and build relationships with the community. I believe we are mission focused, people driven. Getting to know the team is vital.

 

How would you describe your leadership style? What do you expect from your leaders?

Miller: I’m a true believer in servant leadership. I read “The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership” by James C. Hunter before every assignment. While I’m in command, I read it again around the halfway point to re-center and remind me of the basic principles of servant leadership. It’s all about giving back to the team.

I’m also a huge fan of “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The book is about communication. As we know, communication is hard. This book provides some tips for making an idea resonate with the audience.

At the end of the day it’s my job to provide the leadership, mentorship and resources; set the climate; hold people accountable; provide recognition; and do all the things a commander is supposed to do. But I’m not the one with direct contact to our customer base. I’m not the one standing at the gate, fixing vehicles, responding to utility breaks, ensuring our network is up and running; caring for people in lodging, fitness or in our hospital. That’s the team.

Whenever I think of the hierarchy in a pyramid, that pyramid for me is flipped and I am the point at the bottom. For me it’s like a megaphone. People are feeding me stuff and I am shouting out to the team, “Team, go. Here’s the direction you need to head. I’m here to serve you every step of the way. Let me know what you need. Don’t focus on me — focus on the mission, our stakeholders and our team. I’ll be out front serving and leading.”

 

What does the community need to know about you?

Miller: I am very family focused. For me this is a family environment. My wife, Beth, and I grew up in a small town. What I love about this community is its neighborliness, get-togethers, people looking out for one other and festivals. There is always something going on that brings the community together. Those are our memories of this base and area.

We look forward to getting out when we can. Until then, we are focused on building relationships with our community partners and taking care of our families. The majority of the 30,000-plus folks who call Wright-Patterson home for work, live out in the community. I view our community as a mission partner. Without them, we can’t do what we need to do on this installation.

 

What is your favorite book?

Miller: I’m a voracious reader of all genres and balance between reading for pleasure and for professional development. I highlighted a few already. A few authors I enjoy reading include Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, John Maxwell, Malcolm Gladwell, Ed Catmull, Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

 

What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your 22-year Air Force career?

Miller: My career has intersected with a number of challenging opportunities. The highlight was responding to Tyndall AFB, Florida, in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in 2018. I led Task Force Phoenix, an all-engineer team focused on base recovery operations. I led a 412-person joint engineer team — Air Force, Army and Navy; 1,300 contractors; and various other entities. As an engineer, we train for recovery operations, but we seldom have the opportunity to put that training to action in such a dynamic environment.

What made it even better is we were able to do it for the home team. We typically deploy all over the world to take care of other nations and other people, but here we had the opportunity to recover an Air Force installation and take care of our fellow service members and their families. For me, that made the mission even more important — buying space and time for impacted families to take care of themselves while we took care of the installation.

 

What do you like to keep on your desk? What’s a memento that means a lot to you?

Miller: Center stage is a photo of my family. When things get tough, they remind me of why I serve. Right in front of their photo is a little sign that says, “I am THEY.” When you have frustrating moments, you typically say, “They don’t understand. Why are they doing this to me? I can’t believe they are making me do this. They never gave me feedback.” They, they, they. I am in a position, and have been for a while, of being the “they” to which folks are referring.

The sign reminds me that whenever I make a decision, whenever I’m struggling with something that is going to have an impact on the team or an individual, there is somebody else on the end of this decision who is going to say, “They don’t understand; they don’t get it.” I’m “they;” I’m the person making those decisions. It’s important for me to remember that.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your wife, Beth, and your two sons? How important is family to you?

Miller: Adam is 12 and going into the seventh grade, and Justin is 9 and going into the fourth grade. Beth and I have been married for 21 years and dated for five years before that. We’ve been together for this entire ride. She is all about supporting our Airmen. She’s been a key spouse before and volunteered across installations. She had her own career, but once we had children, she switched to an even harder job raising the boys through multiple deployments and TDYs (temporary duty). She’s played Mom; she’s played Dad; she’s played teacher. She’s a remarkable woman, and I could never thank her enough. She’s more than half of this equation. She is looking forward to taking care of our Airmen and our families and seeing what she can do for the community.

 

What do you like to do for PT (physical training)? When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?

Miller: The stairclimber with rolling steps is my favorite. I jump on that beast for an hour every day, followed by pushups and ab exercises. With the gyms restricted, I’m running every morning. PT is a great outlet for me, not just for my physical health, but for my mental health as well. I use that time to think, breathe and simply get lost in thoughts.

When we are not serving the team, we like to get out and adventure — with Boy Scouts, exploring the local lakes to do some fishing, miniature golf, trying different foods. We look forward to getting back to the local haunts we enjoyed the last time we were here — exposing the kids to the local ice cream options — Young’s Jersey Dairy, Graeter’s and Ritter’s.

 

Bonus question: What has been the greatest surprise since your arrival at Wright-Patterson AFB?

Miller: Although it’s not a surprise considering where we are, we certainly have been floored by the warm welcome. Gift baskets and notes, people stopping by, and lots of well wishes. We also love seeing families out walking, kids riding bikes and people walking their dogs around the neighborhood. Wright-Patt has a small-town feel, with a demanding, fast-paced mission and mission partners to support. We love it all, but most importantly, we love the a small-town, family vibe that reminds us of home.

 

Commander’s final comment:

I look forward to sharing more stories about us, our leadership philosophy and what we look forward to doing with the team during the next two years. I am very grateful to be here and serve the men and women of the 88th and Team Wright-Patt and the community at large. If you see us out and about, introduce yourself and your family. We want to get to know you. We’re looking for every avenue we can to get to know the team. Ultimately, I want to know what I can do for you.

 

 Six things you didn’t know about Col. Patrick Miller

1. When it comes to music, he refuses to listen to what others in his age group might listen to — he’s a total Top 40s, current hits kind of guy.

2. He loves hot, spicy food and says bring on Indian and Thai food. (Mrs. Miller, not so much.)

3. He’s a sports fanatic but in high school didn’t play anything. Instead, he acted in plays and musicals, taking on the roles of Kenickie Murdoch in “Grease” and Jeff Douglas in “Brigadoon.”

4. He runs so he can eat dark chocolate and sweets.

5. He used to play competitive volleyball on a Portuguese club team in the Azores. He also played for Wright-Patt’s team 14 years ago and coached a Greene County 18-and-younger girls team in Jamestown.

6. He was named the 2015 Federal Engineer of the Year by the National Society of Professional Engineers.