Sunday, May 20, 2018
Military News

Soldier keeps alive the memory of old friend killed in Baghdad

Two-hundred soldiers stood in formation, ready to meet their new commanding officer. Friends and family filled the chairs for the ceremony.

All but one.

Capt. Erik Anthes reserved it for a fellow soldier, a man he hadn't seen since high school back in New Port Richey, but promised he would never forget.

As Anthes snapped salutes and accepted the responsibility for Company E, 1st Battalion of the storied 16th Infantry Regiment which dates back to the Civil War, he felt awash with emotion. How coincidental — no, how fitting — he thought as he glanced toward the empty chair and the sign taped on it: Spc. Patrick "P.J.'' Miller, March 29, 2008.

That was the day a roadside bomb exploded next to the young soldier's vehicle in Baghdad, one week before he was scheduled to return home. His outfit: the 16th Infantry Regiment.

Anthes, 26, assumed his new role on Aug. 30 at the regiment's headquarters in Fort Riley, Kan. At night, when he went home to be with his wife, Kelli, and their 5-month-old daughter, Reagan, he changed from his uniform. He didn't remove the bracelet that bears P.J. Miller's name.

"I never take it off,'' Anthes said. "I never forget.''

They met as boys on the junior varsity football team at River Ridge High. Anthes still has a picture somebody took of them sitting on the bench together. They lost touch when Miller moved to Mitchell High, where he graduated in 2003. He earned a biology degree at the University of South Florida and wanted to become a doctor. He thought joining the Army would help him pay for medical school.

"And, he wanted to serve his country,'' recalled his fiancee, Tara Nelson. "I wish I had steered him away from it, but we always supported each other.''

Anthes graduated from River Ridge and the University of Central Missouri and became a second lieutenant. After basic training, he deployed to Ramadi in central Iraq. A year later, as he returned home and his mother picked him up at the airport, "I felt like I was at the Super Bowl. I was very high that all the guys in my platoon had made it home. And then …''

Just a few days earlier, Anthes' parents, Melissa and Erik Sr., a veteran Pasco sheriff's deputy, drove along Peace Boulevard near their home in Shady Hills when they saw a military utility vehicle in front of Miller's house. Officers in dress uniforms were talking to his mother, Kim.

"We knew,'' Mrs. Anthes said. "We just held our breath, praying our son was safe.''

On the way home from the airport, she told him about P.J. "He was the first person I knew who was killed in combat,'' Anthes said. "It brought me down several notches. It made it very real.''

Anthes began wearing the bracelet. The army assigned him to Fort Stewart, Ga., and he and Kelli found a home in the small town of Richmond Hill. Their street name: Miller Drive.

One more reminder.

Anthes spent 2010 in Baghdad with a brigade that shut down 20 operational bases. He came home in time for Christmas and enjoyed being with his parents and younger sister, Katie. He visited Miller's grave at the national cemetery in Bushnell.

"Erik always asks if there is anything he can do for me,'' said Tara, who still has difficulty handling the grief. She was one semester shy of a microbiology degree at the University of Florida when Miller was killed, dropped out and moved in with her parents in Ocala. She hopes to return to college but still isn't ready. She often visits Miller's grave and has grown especially close to his mother. They have traveled together around the United States. "She's like my mother-in-law,'' Tara said. "We keep each other sane.''

On Friday, she planned to visit the grave again. She's gotten to know several of the workers because she's there so often. She notices the headstones seem to multiply overnight. So many soldiers, so young.

Comments
Trump announces he will nominate acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to become department’s permanent leader

Trump announces he will nominate acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to become department’s permanent leader

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Friday that he plans to nominate Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie to become the department’s permanent leader, noting that the decision may come as a surprise to Wilkie."I’ll ...
Published: 05/18/18
McDonald’s giving away free food to military members today

McDonald’s giving away free food to military members today

TAMPA— All current and former military service members in central Florida can stop by their local McDonald’s and grab a free burger today.In celebration of Military Appreciation Month, McDonald’s is giving away a "Taste of Thanks." All veterans and c...
Published: 05/17/18
Howard Altman: MacDill chosen to sell new Army-like Air Force uniforms

Howard Altman: MacDill chosen to sell new Army-like Air Force uniforms

Home to headquarters including U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base is at the forefront of a lot of important military action.Now it is taking on a new role — as a prime Air Force clothier.The flying branch...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
MacDill reviewing transportation plans after crowds jam roads for AirFest 2018

MacDill reviewing transportation plans after crowds jam roads for AirFest 2018

TAMPA — Tampa Bay AirFest 2018 pulled in a whopping 150,000 people and more over three days last week, including practice on Friday.But that proved to be more people than the transportation plan could handle, delaying arrival by hours for some and pr...
Published: 05/17/18
Vital military training falls short, New Port Richey veteran says: How to re-enter civilian life

Vital military training falls short, New Port Richey veteran says: How to re-enter civilian life

When Green Beret Brian Anderson got ready to leave the Army in 2011, after eight years fighting in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, he followed the path taken by tens of thousands of service members each year.Anderson, now 36 and living in New Port ...
Published: 05/14/18
Clouds can’t dampen crowd’s enthusiasm at packed MacDill Airfest

Clouds can’t dampen crowd’s enthusiasm at packed MacDill Airfest

TAMPA — With his 4-year-old son Tyler on his shoulders, Ryan Wick watched the Navy’s Blue Angels aerial demonstration team scream over the MacDill Air Force Base flight line at about 400 miles an hour.An hour or so earlier, the two struck a similar p...
Published: 05/12/18
US jets intercept pair of Russian bombers off Alaskan coast

US jets intercept pair of Russian bombers off Alaskan coast

Two Russian long-range bombers were intercepted off the coast of Alaska by a pair of F-22 Raptor fighter jets on Friday, the military said.The Tu-95 bombers were flying in the Air Defense Identification Zone in the Bering Sea north of the Aleutian Is...
Published: 05/12/18
Agencies are told to step up use of special powers to hire military spouses

Agencies are told to step up use of special powers to hire military spouses

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump has issued an order aimed at boosting hiring by federal agencies of spouses of military personnel, who often face career difficulties as a result of being relocated frequently.Military service "often impairs the sp...
Published: 05/12/18
WWII planes, their wings overlapping, take to the air at MacDill festival this weekend

WWII planes, their wings overlapping, take to the air at MacDill festival this weekend

TAMPA — As a formation of World War II trainers cruised 1,000 feet over Tampa Bay, a 60-year-pilot flew one of the single-engine propeller planes so close to another that their wings overlapped by three feet.The tight maneuver is old hat to Steve Sal...
Published: 05/10/18
Updated: 05/11/18
Watch: Times photographer takes a wild ride in MacDill Airfest plane

Watch: Times photographer takes a wild ride in MacDill Airfest plane

RIVERVIEW — Tampa Bay Times photographer Luis Santana helped take the controls of an Extra 300L aircraft that will be part of this weekend’s Tampa Bay AirFest 2018 at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. With Santana on board, pilot John Kla...
Published: 05/10/18