News: Fort Bliss building dedicated to Special Forces El Pasoan
Story by Pfc. Melissa Parrish
FORT BLISS, Texas - The Special Forces Recruiting Career Center Building of Fort Bliss was officially renamed the Staff Sgt. Joshua M. Mills Special Forces Career Center, Jan. 20, 2011.
Mills was from El Paso, Texas. He was killed in Afghanistan.
On Sept. 15, 2009, Joshua was returning from a successful mission in the Helmand province of Afghanistan when his vehicle was attacked by enemy forces with an improvised explosive device. All four men in the vehicle were wounded. Mills, Sgt. 1st Class Bradley S. Bohle, and Sgt. 1st Class Shawn P. McCloskey did not survive their injuries and died the following day. The fourth soldier in the vehicle survived and is still in the recovery process. Mills was 24 years old.
Mills was born at William Beaumont Army Medical Center Fort Bliss. The family relocated on orders to Germany on his first birthday and then returned when he was four. His father Tommy Mills was an Air Defense Chief warrant officer three who retired from Fort Bliss. El Paso, Texas, is where the family would permanently reside.
At a young age the Mills family knew the Army would be the path for Joshua.
“He was 13 when he started to show real interest in the Army,” said Tommy, his father.
He excelled in the JROTC program while attending Andress High School and Silva Health Magnet High School. He was awarded a Presidential Nomination to the United States Military Academy at West Point. However he accepted a full ROTC scholarship to the University of Texas-El Paso. He stayed in school for a scant 18 months.
“Joshua got impatient and worried that the war may be over before he finished college. Also after some research he feared by being an officer he wouldn’t get to be in the field for long periods of time and they might pull him and put him in a staff position. He wanted to fight,” said Tommy. “So he joined the Army to do that, to fight.”
Mills joined the Army in March 2005 and enlisted as a Special Forces candidate. After successfully completing nearly two years of intensive military training Mills earned the coveted Green Beret.
“We were very proud of Josh,” said Tommy. “We worried about him, but we didn’t. We knew he was in the Lord's hands. In addition to that we knew he was the best trained soldier the Army had.”
Mills' funeral was at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors in 2009. The family wished there was more they could do to honor him.
“We always wanted something permanent to have the legacy of Joshua live on, but didn’t really know where to go or where to begin,” said Tommy.
That is until Celeste Mills, Joshua’s mother was riding with the family to Amarillo over the summer and was thinking out loud.
“I said it would be such a wonderful tribute if a fallen soldier could be given a street name or a building name. I thought what an extraordinary way to honor a hometown hero.”
She also recently found out some of her co-workers from Nixon Elementary School from the El Paso Independent School District wrote into Fort Bliss suggesting Fort Bliss do something to honor her son.
“Celeste had expressed her wishes to have something more permanent for Joshua’s memory,” recalled family friend Col. Joseph P. DeAntona. “I wanted to help them make this happen.”
“I contacted Col. Joseph A. Simonelli [Fort Bliss garrison commander] and he informed me of a building renaming program,” said DeAntona. “There were several steps that had to be taken to get this accomplished. You have to present your case in front of a board, but there was no doubt in my mind that they wouldn’t approve this.”
“Joshua was a Green Beret so naturally we wanted to rename the Special Forces building. Six months later that is exactly what we are doing,” stated DeAntona with a prideful smile.
People flew in from all over the country to attend the unveiling ceremony.
“I believe it is a perfect honor and it’s not just for Joshua, it’s for all soldiers,” said Tommy as he addressed the attendees.”
As the ceremony continued Mills’ Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Fields shared some memories of him.
“Joshua Mills was a young boy with a big smile,” said Fields. “When he showed up he was contributing immediately. He learned everything so fast. He was a boy when he came to the unit but he quickly became a man.”
Magen Mills, Joshua’s wife and Malaki Mills, his now 2-year-old son were presented with a plaque by Fields from the First Special Forces Regiment.
Malaki was all smiles throughout the ceremony. He reached out to touch the plaque of his father and leaned in to look at it closer. Every American flag he saw he would point to and say “that’s daddy’s flag.”
“I was blown away when I found out they were doing this for Josh,” said Magen. “This is a way for his son, the family and the town to remember him. We are truly honored.”
Mills' two brothers Quent and Travis Mills also attended.
“If Josh were here he’d think this was all too much,” said Travis, a captain in the Air Force. “He was a quiet professional and very humble.”
“The family feels extreme honor and this means so much to all of us,” said Quent. “He was our brother, and it is nice to see all of this support for him.”
After the unveiling of the commemorative sign and plaque everyone stood as the “Ballad of the Green Beret” was played. Several eyes welled with tears as the lyrics mirrored young Mills’ life.
After the ceremony everyone went inside to look at the different displays set up by the Mills family.
Pictures, medals, awards, books and other memorabilia representing Mills' life fill a brightly lit glass case on one side of the room. On the opposite wall, several excerpts of letters from people that knew Mills were enlarged and mounted beside different pictures. The letters speak of Mills' love of his country and his family. The pictures illustrate his rugged side and his tender side. In one picture Mills is seen shouldering his sniper rifle in Afghanistan and in another cradling his new born son.
“I just want people to know we don’t regret our son joining the Army and dying for this country,” said Tommy with pride. “We are proud of him. We don’t just want the troops to come home. We want them to finish the job and then come home.”
“This was a way to tell his story to everyone. There are real people going to this war and not coming home,” said Celeste.
“Having this building renamed after my son filled a small piece of the hole in my heart,” said Celeste. “It helped me heal a little more; I believe it helped us all heal a little more.”
“I think every fallen soldier should get their own street name in their hometown or a building renamed after them, and when I retire next year I hope to make this happen,” said Celeste. “Everyone should feel like we do now. Like their soldier has not been forgotten.”