For a long time in the history of the U.S. military, women earning spots in leadership roles wasn’t something that happened.

However, in recent years, women are not only earning their way up the ranks but creating even more opportunities for women in the future.

That shift is taking place at Fort Drum as well — as the 10th Mountain Division recently introduced its first female chief of staff.

“I remember that phone call,” 10th Mountain Division Chief of Staff Col. Erin Miller said. “General Beagle called me and said, ‘Hey, Erin, I want to talk to you about your next job’.

It was a promotion 25 years in the making.

“So, I think the first real introduction was a letter that I received from the United States Military Academy recruiting me to actually run track and cross country,” Miller recalled.

Miller was a two-time state champion in track and field at Clarence High School just outside of Buffalo. And the Army wanted her at West Point.

“In Buffalo, we have the USS Sullivans. And so well, you would think that that would lend me to a service in the Navy. I don't particularly like to swim,” Miller laughed.

After graduating from West Point, Miller intended to only stay in the Army for the minimum time required. However, on her first deployment in 1999 to Kuwait, she learned what she did love.

“I fell in love with the leadership aspect of it and having an impact on young people's lives,” she said. “Even though I was a young person myself.”

And from there on out, it was a race to learn how to do just that, with every step she took.

“In not just learning from a book, but learning from your superiors, from your peers, and then from those that work for you,” she added.

There was one person in particular whose path truly inspired. Ann Dunwoody was the Army's first-ever female four-star general. It just so happens that the year that Miller commissioned in 1998, Dunwoody was leading a 10th Mountain Division unit right here on Fort Drum.

“There was not a lot of women in leadership positions when I first came in the Army. They were few and far between,” Miller recalled.

But the path had been paved. And Miller would follow it. She would rise in the ranks from a captain to a lieutenant, to a major.

“I think it just goes to the mindset of really just understanding, you know, really looking at things from, hey, this is a person who has this level of capability and potential versus this is a woman or this is a man who has this particular capability or potential,” Miller said of women earning their roles in leadership.

It’s that potential that led now-Colonel Aaron Miller to come back to Fort Drum, when in June 2020, she took command of the 10th Mountain Division’s Sustainment Brigade.

“Now it's just normalizing those things to where it's normal to see a female combatant commander, you know, or a woman serving as a four-star general or any, you know, leadership position,” she said.

It’s two years which, then 10th Mountain Division commanding General Major General Milford Beagle called exceptional work. The work led to him making that phone call and offering Miller the opportunity to become the division's first female chief of staff.

“What would have been thought of is almost impossible, is now kind of normal in that I think is, you know, the progression that I've seen across my career,” she added.

It’s a career that could one day, in the not-too-distant future, see Colonel Miller follow the exact path of General Dunwoody by earning a star, and becoming a general herself, which would continue the legacy of female leadership in the Army, while at the same time put her in a position to further grow those opportunities for the next generation. 

In the coming days, Miller will be joining some 500 other members of the 10th Mountain Division Headquarters, including new commander, Major General Gregory Anderson, in a deployment to Europe in an effort to assist NATO partners.