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Air National Guard senior NCO breaks barriers

Oregon Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. Kristen Miller pauses for a photograph next to a display of weapons in her work area at the 142nd Fighter Wing, Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore., May 7, 2017. Miller recently was appointed as the first female Chief Master Sergeant Munitions System Specialist Superintendent in the Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel)

Oregon Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. Kristen Miller pauses for a photograph next to a display of weapons in her work area at the 142nd Fighter Wing, Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore., May 7, 2017. Miller recently was appointed as the first female Chief Master Sergeant Munitions System Specialist Superintendent in the Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. John Hughel)

PORTLAND AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ore. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

With multiple deployments and unique assignments during her 29 plus years of military experience as a munitions system specialist, Chief Master Sgt. Kristen Miller has broken a few barriers along the way.

Her resume speaks for itself, as does her caring dedication to helping shape those in the career field.

And yet, with her recent job promotion, Miller has broken another barrier in the military, becoming the first female chief master sergeant munitions system specialist superintendent in the Air National Guard.

Her go-getter drive and determined personality started long before she joined the military. A natural and competitive athlete, she played NCAA softball at the University of Oregon in her hometown of Eugene until an extreme ankle injury ended her collegiate sporting career.

“I worked really hard and took pride in being a collegiate athlete, but I didn’t want that disappointment to define me or be the end of something,” she said.

Undeterred and looking for new challenges Miller found her way to the Air Force and the munitions career field with a long term assignment at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. After serving on active duty, she returned home and eventually joined the Air National Guard in 1990.

For nearly 16 years she worked a variety of civilian jobs while maintaining her role as a traditional guardsman. In 2006 she was hired full-time as a federal technician and has meticulously gaining a reputation as a skilled expert and leader in the field.

In the past 18 months alone, Chief Miller has taken on four unique and diversified assignments around the world. It began with a 6-month deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where she was in charge of the entire stockpile of munitions used for both aircraft and security forces.

When she returned to the 142nd Fighter Wing, she was appointed to head the Maintenance Operations Flight.

Still unpacking boxes from these two assignments, Miller was hand selected for her next assignment in Washington, D.C. working as the special assistant to the senior enlisted advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“The assignment allowed me to see the big picture. It was fascinating to see how decisions made at the top could impact not just one particular unit, but how resources across the Department of Defense are managed and dispersed,” she said.

Though the tour was cut short to address family concerns at home, it allowed Miller the perfect opportunity to step into the ammo assignment.

“We were looking for stability and a proven leader when Chief Miller was selected for the job,” said Col. Chris Lantagne, the 142nd Fighter Wing Maintenance Group commander.

Her ability to lead people stems from her authentic and thoughtful approach to the mission and mentoring members along the way.

“Competency in the profession has always been one of her strongest assets,” said Lantagne. “Yet it’s her attitude that makes her the right person for the job.”

Munitions is a career field dominated in numbers by men as the physical constrains of moving and maintaining the explosive assets for combat can be tough. The ratio of men to women in the munitions flight is in excess of 20-1, making Miller’s accomplishment even that much more impressive.

Aside from the physical demands there are all the meticulous necessary routines of accountability, storage, document control, not to mention all the moving pieces, from maintaining the support equipment to transport the munitions, scheduling repairs and ordering replacement of defective or missing parts.

“Humble, approachable and credible,” said Lt. Col. Todd Hofford, the 142nd Fighter Wing Maintenance Squadron commander, summarizing the traits that make her such an effective leader.

Hofford has seen her take on each new challenge and invest in herself along the way.

Highlighting her extra dedication, Hofford noted that Miller is recognized nationally in the community by helping build up the Air National Guard Ammo members and leadership through site visits representing ANG Readiness Center ammo staff.

“On her own dime she went to conferences and got to know this field inside and out,” he said.

It is those extra things that separate her from others Hofford further described, “Kristen does the best job of anybody I have seen apply the PME (Primary Military Education) in her daily life to manage people. She just doesn’t take the required courses and dump it; she uses it as part of her management tool box.”

The hard work has paid off. When relating both overcoming obstacles and the added challenge of the new job, Miller said she is honored for the opportunity to show what she can offer.

“I would have never dreamed that years ago when I was just drilling on weekends and working a variety of civilian jobs that I would get to this place in my military career,” said Miller.

This opportunity to lead Airmen and connect to their desire to serve the community and nation is part of what drives her on the job as well.

“It is hard to find this kind of people to lead an organization,” said Hofford. “She has the heart, she cares about people, she will be the first one to lead the charge into war but at the same time everyone knows that she has their back.”

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