Miller, Smith to lead local heroes in parade

Published 1:49 am Sunday, July 1, 2012

In deciding its annual parade theme, the American Legion Post 24 has designated this Fourth of July as a day to Salute Our Local Heroes.

While the honorees will certainly include members of law enforcement and emergency crews, and special people from all walks of life, two extraordinary individuals have been chosen to act as the major parade marshals.

One is a decorated military man, the other is a courageous child.

The first is Capt. Andrew P. Miller who entered the U.S. Army in December 2004. He commissioned as an Infantry officer through the ROTC program at Louisiana State University where he attained his bachelor’s degree in business administration. After completion of the Infantry Officers’ Basic Course at Fort Benning, Ga., he was assigned to Bravo Company 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry in Camp Casey, Korea. There he served as a Mechanized Platoon Leader and Company Executive Officer.

In November 2006, Miller volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan as a member of an Embedded Training Team. In March of 2007, after training at Fort Riley, Kansas, he deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and performed combat operations as a primary company mentor to the Afghan National Army. In March 2008 he redeployed and attended the maneuver Captain’s Career Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky. After completion of training, he was assigned to Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center, serving as the assistant operations officer of Task Force Three. After nine JRTC rotations he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, 2nd Battalion, 30th infantry Regiment where he took command of Alpha Company 2-30.

As Alpha Company Commander, Miller led the company through training in Camp Gurnsey, Wyoming and a Mission Readiness Exercise at JRTC. He deployed with the Company to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom X-XI and conducted combat operations in Northern Wardak Province. Miller served as the commander of Alpha Company for 30 months and later served as the 4th Brigade Planner charged with planning and synchronizing all operations.

Miller’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal w/1OLC, Army Achievement Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (third award) and the NATO Medal. He has been awarded the Ranger Tab, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge and the Parachutist Badge.

The decorated soldier will be joined by 11-year-old James Alton Smith Jr., who was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth and suffered a mild stroke during heart surgery at eight weeks of age.

A stent put in after a femoral artery “blew out” during that same surgery caused Smith’s left leg to grow more slowly than the right, and the child went through a series of bracing and stretching for a year before surgery enabled his left foot to drop and his legs to become even in length.

Smith spent 2003 to 2006 in and out of hospitals in Louisiana and Texas for pulmonary issues. In 2006 it was also determined that he had a compromised immune system for which he was treated on Christmas Day.

At that time the boy was additionally found to have clogged branches in one lung due to an inability to fight off viruses and infections such as pneumonia. He is now homebound during flu season and continues on medications and with regular blood checks.

In 2008 Smith was treated in the hospital for orthopedic issues. The following January he had a complete hip replacement and was told he would never walk. But by that year’s end Smith was getting around with a walker and by August 2010 he was walking on his own.

With determined perseverance the child refused to be held back and now he’s a Special Olympian with gold medals in softball throw and 25 meter assisted walk. Next year he plans to further his accomplishments by participating in the 50 meter unassisted walk, and bocce ball as well as softball throw.

Smith was honored as the 2008 TARC poster child, and he threw out the first pitch for the LSU baseball team in 2011.

Smith and Miller demonstrate that heroes come in many forms. Some wear uniforms and risk their lives in the service of their country. Other wear innocent smiles and show all who notice how to take joy in whatever life offers. All of them provide lessons for the masses and all deserve recognition as heroes.