a new outlook Kaneland grad comes home from war with new perspective

By on January 22, 2012

Photo: Jessie Miles (center) at home with sisters Savanah (left), Hallie and brother, Charlie. Photo by Susan O’Neill

Editor’s note: On Dec. 15, the Elburn Herald published a story about Jessie Miles while she was on her way home from deployment, “I’ll be home for Christmas.” We followed up with Jessie and her family after she returned home and had time to spend with everyone. That story is below.

by Susan O’Neill
Sugar Grove/Maple Park—National Guard Spc. Jessie Miles arrived home from Afghanistan just in time for Christmas. The 22-year-old Kaneland High School graduate had joined the National Guard a year out of high school, went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and was stationed in California when she was deployed overseas about a year ago.

“Jessie was always an outdoorsy girl,” said her mom, Kippy Miles.

She told of Jessie’s love for fishing and hunting, as well as being able to skin and field dress her own deer.

After high school graduation, Jessie took general education classes at Waubonsee Community College for two semesters, but wasn’t really seeing a direction for her life.

One day, her mom asked her if she would consider going to talk to a recruiter at the National Guard unit in Sycamore. It was like a light bulb went off. Her father, Marshall, went back with her the next day, and she signed up.

Her tour of duty in Afghanistan with the 870 MP Company included training members of the Afghan police and army, as well as going on a number of combat missions. Although she said she is not allowed to talk about that, she did say she had a lot of close calls.

She lost a good friend from her unit, 21-year-old Specialist Sean Walsh from San Jose, Calif., who was killed 10 days before they were to come home. Jessie said that he was an only child, and Jessie has been in touch with his mom since she came home.

She said there were a lot of ups and downs, that being over there was hard, and physically and mentally challenging.

“It was good, though,” she said. “I gained a lot of mental and physical strength. If I could do what I did there, I feel like I pretty much can do anything. I have more confidence now.”

She said she saw the way that the Afghani people live—many in mud and straw houses, and there are many old buildings with no electricity or running water.

“We have so much and they have so little, and we don’t appreciate it,” she said. “We’re so lucky.”

She said that her experiences opened her eyes up to what is really important in life.

“Now, what’s important is my family—making sure they have what they need and that they’re happy.”

Jessie and her family have been spending a lot of time together since she came home in December. The timing worked out well, with her brother Charlie, 20, home from college for much of the time.

Between her dad’s house in Sugar Grove and her mom’s in Maple Park, she and Charlie and their sisters Savanah, 17, and Hallie, 14, have just been doing a lot of hanging out, Jessie said. The siblings recently went to stay at a water park near the Wisconsin Dells for the weekend.

Charlie said that he and Jessie have always been close, and that it has been great to be able to see her again every day. He hadn’t seen her since the spring of 2009, when she left for basic training.

He said he sees differences in her now that she’s home again. He said she has developed leadership qualities, that she has a direction and purpose.

Jessie is currently applying to schools, and hopes to go to colleges in either Colorado or Oregon to study architecture. In the meantime, she is hoping to stay at home and travel back and forth to California for her National Guard weekend drills. Once she finds out where she will go to school, she will transfer to the National Guard there.

”I want to make a future for myself,” she said.