Saturday, February 8, 2003 New airport manager gets involved in community BY SHAWN CLUBB The Alton (IL) Telegraph BETHALTO -- With rosy cheeks and a ready smile, David Miller does not give the impression of a career military man. "But I can show that side, too," asserts Miller, 59, the new manager of St. Louis Regional Airport. Describing himself as devout and patriotic, Miller reads from the Bible daily and has attended a different church each Sunday since taking over as airport manager on Jan. 1. He believes an airport manager should enjoy participating in a local church and join a local service club and possibly also a fraternal organization. "Participation in the community is very important in this type of job," he said. Miller said he has trust in his staff, allowing him to focus on the airport' s outward image and help it to become what it can be. The airport has come under criticism previously from residents who don't like the noise from air traffic, especially from the occasional practice sessions for Boeing fighter jets. Other residents have expressed dissatisfaction because the airport remains on the tax rolls. Miller said he wants to interact and help improve the image, but he knows he can't win over everyone. "There's always some people that you will never be able to please, but just because you can't please them doesn't mean you should ignore them," he said. "That's been true of every community I've been in. It's not as simple as saying, 'If you don't like it, move someplace else.' That's the wrong answer." Just a month into his duties, Miller already has started becoming part of the community. He has joined the executive board of the Growth Association of Southwestern Illinois, attended a meeting of the Illinois Public Airport Association and gotten involved with the Bethalto Rotary. He has been a member of Rotary in the last three communities in which he has worked. He also plays the clarinet and wants to get involved with or start a Dixieland group and maybe join the local orchestra. He is a ham radio operator and wants to get involved with a local ham operators club. With his wife, Cora, he enjoys cross-country skiing, hiking and camping. Most of his career, military and civilian, has been spent in colder climates. Miller said this originated from growing up in the hot summers of Salina, Kan., and wanting to find someplace cold. After graduating high school there, he studied business administration at the University of Denver, but then enlisted in the Air Force before he could be drafted, wanting to have his choice of military service. The recruiter had asked, "How would you like to fly jets?" "The boyhood memories came flashing back," he said. "As you learn marketing and management, boyhood dreams sound foolish." As a boy, he had sat at the attic window of his parent's home. If he sat facing one way, he was a fighter pilot. If he sat facing another way, he was a bomber pilot. In the Air Force, Miller first flew tankers to refuel aircraft in midair over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. He later flew B-52 bombers. "I thoroughly enjoyed the flying," he said. "I enjoyed everything about the Air Force." By 1973, the war was winding down. The thought of leaving the Air Force to "take off, fly straight and land" commercial airliners and spend a lot of time away from home didn't appeal to Miller, so he stayed in the Air Force. Miller moved on to perform aircraft maintenance functions at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., and Clark Air Base in the Philippines. He later served at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., where he became chief of airfield management, which he called "a real good training ground for airport management." In 1988, federal legislation required the retirement of all military personnel who were eligible to retire, so Miller found himself entering civilian life. "Had that not come about," he said, "I would probably have stayed with the Air Force." He worked a year as assistant director of Bishop International Airport, Flint, Mich.; five years as airport director in Bismarck Municipal Airport, Bismarck, N.D.; four years as airport manager at Juneau International Airport, Juneau, Alaska; one year under contract managing the airport, ferry and bus service in Ketchikan, Alaska; and one year as director of aviation for two airports in Montrose, Colo. Miller said he'd like to make St. Louis Regional Airport his final stop. "This airport is as near a textbook-perfect airport as any airport I've ever seen," said Miller, noting the infrastructure, security and equipment the airport has. "My marching orders from the board are to take this textbook-perfect airport and start using it for what an airport is for." Attached Photo: David Miller, standing in front of the mounted F-4 Phantom fighter jet and tower at St. Louis Regional Airport in Bethalto, is the new airport manager.