RIT Air Force ROTC Graduate Kathryn Miles Receives Prestigious Sijan Award

Alumna recognized for heroism and leading reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan

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RIT Air Force ROTC Detachment 538

RIT and Air Force ROTC graduate First Lt. Kathryn Miles proudly displays an American flag during her deployment in the northern mountain region of Panjshir Province in Afghanistan. She recently received the Sijan Award, one of the military’s highest honors, for leadership.

First Lt. Kathryn Miles spent more than a year leading a team in one of the most volatile areas of the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan, helping to improve security and reconstruct buildings destroyed in combat.

For these rebuilding efforts, Miles, a 2007 graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology, was one of only four Air Force officers and enlisted personnel awarded the Lance P. Sijan United States Air Force Leadership Award.

“I was truly humbled when I heard that I was even being considered for this award,” says Miles. “Knowing what other airmen went through during their deployment experiences in other, more dangerous provinces, makes it hard to believe I’ll be getting handed this award over anyone else.”

Miles graduated with a degree in engineering from RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering. She served in Panjshir Province, located in the mountains of northeast Afghanistan, from July 2009 to June 2010 as a civil engineer.

Provincial reconstruction teams, lead by the U.S. and its NATO allies, consisted of military personnel from all branches of service along with civilian members of different government agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Agency for International Development. Rounding out teams were Afghan contractors, interpreters and construction personnel.

The Sijan Award is also given in recognition of heroism. While working, Miles and members of her team defended themselves after an improvised explosive device went off near her vehicle. The group held off insurgents that fired upon the four-vehicle convoy long enough for the Afghan National Police to arrive and apprehend 13 suspects.

The nomination for the award by her superiors was humbling, says Miles. The Rochester native says the men and women who were part of the convoy “all hold an equal piece of this accomplishment. I am absolutely not a hero, and I’m no more courageous than anyone else serving their country. It is a strange feeling knowing that I’ll be the person receiving such a prestigious award.”

Lt. Col. Mark Avery, commander of RIT’s Air Force ROTC Detachment 538 and professor of Aerospace Studies, says winning the Sijan Award is a very big deal.

“It’s the Air Force’s highest leadership award, and Lt. Miles winning it speaks directly to the great quality of graduates produced by RIT and Detachment 538,” says Avery. “We are all very proud of her accomplishment and thankful for her service.”

Military service is a family affair for Miles, as she and her husband, Brent, are both Air Force veterans. While Miles was in Afghanistan, her husband was deployed to Iraq. Both have since been re-stationed to South Korea, but at different bases. Brent Miles serves at Kunsan AFB, while Kathryn Miles is stationed a few hours away at Daegu AFB. Both are awaiting information about their next assignments.

Miles also acknowledged her parents, John and Nancy Berens, for their support and “for constantly worrying about me and, while I was deployed, for sending me anything I asked for and more,” she says. “I think during my nine months in Afghanistan, they spent more time at the post office than a lot of mailmen do.”