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Austin Peay State University ROTC cadet Zachary Miller, as member of the ‘Old Guard,’ represented Army with ‘strength, perfection, honor’


Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – Ample footage exists of the four-hour funeral procession of U.S. Senator John McCain, who died in 2018.

Full of speeches from the likes of Barack Obama and George W. Bush, it’s easy to understand how Staff Sgt. Zachary Miller, a mild-mannered soldier from Alabama, could be lost in all the moving parts, even though he was front and center as McCain’s body was borne to the hearse for burial.

Austin Peay State University ROTC cadet Staff Sgt. Zachary Miller at front right during McCain's funeral. (Submitted photo)

Austin Peay State University ROTC cadet Staff Sgt. Zachary Miller at front right during McCain’s funeral. (Submitted photo)

On September 1st, 2018, Miller, now an Austin Peay State University (APSU) ROTC cadet, served as team leader of the soldiers representing several branches of the U.S. military that made up the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as “The Old Guard,” serving as pallbearers for McCain, the late Arizona senator, and Navy captain.

According to an interview given to Sherry Kughn of WEIS radio, Miller had “an immense amount of pride to represent the Army and do my part for the McCain family.”

A few months later, Miller served as a pallbearer at former President George H.W. Bush’s funeral on December 6th, 2018.

Army ‘opened me up to new experiences’

Miller graduated from Cherokee County High School in Centre, Alabama, and then attended Gadsden State Community College, where he was certified as an emergency management technician. Miller then enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2011.

Since beginning his career, he has been stationed in Germany; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; and Arlington, Texas.

“Each location and unit was unique and rewarding in its own way,” Miller said. “I was able to not only fight in the Global War on Terror, but I was also deployed throughout Europe to train and evaluate the armies of several countries. This opened me up to new experiences.”

‘Strength, perfection and honor’

One of these new experiences was serving in the 3rd Infantry Regiment at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, according to WEIS radio, where they were responsible for conducting four funerals a day.

“The thing to remember is we may conduct multiple funerals a day, but the family only receives one,” he said. “As a soldier, you must represent the Army to the utmost perfection, giving the individual soldier the respect and honor they earned. This type of duty weighs on every soldier differently, so as a leader, you have to know your soldiers and be flexible towards their needs.”

The two things Miller kept in mind when conducting a funeral was to give each service member the respect they deserve and “represent the Army with strength, perfection and honor.”

There could be some difficulty in this, as each branch of the military has a unique way of conducting funerals. Miller’s job as team leader for McCain’s funeral was to ensure that each represented branch was on the same page.


‘Shape your future in a positive way’

While Miller attended community college before enlisting, he says he had no intention of returning to school. After marrying his wife and having two daughters, he realized the importance of education and how a degree could advance his Army career.

“I hope to commission as an officer in the military and hopefully go back to serve with the 101st Airborne,” Miller said.

He also was complimentary of Austin Peay State University’s ROTC program, where he has found opportunities to serve as a mentor to younger cadets.

“I try to mentor anyone that can benefit from my experience throughout my career. The values and skills that have helped me through most situations are determination, flexibility and self-discipline,” Miller said. “The ROTC program at Austin Peay is a gateway to numerous assets that allows you to shape your future in a positive way.”

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