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Sailor Chris Miletich Receives Military Vanguard Award
by U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sarah Villegas
July 30, 2021

The Valley Fire ripped through Southern California’s vast area of back country in September 2020, destroying 20 homes and 28 outbuildings.

From a nearby vantage point, a Sailor watched as the destructive inferno moved closer to his family’s home and quickly devised a plan of action to preserve and prevent any more damage to his community.

For his efforts during the fire, Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Chris Miletich, assigned to a West Coast-based SEAL Team in Coronado, California received the 2021 U.S. Navy Military Vanguard Award during the Non Commissioned Officers Association (NCOA) 57th Annual Conference in San Antonio on July 22nd.

Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Chris Miletich, second from the left, receives the 2021 U.S. Navy Military Vanguard Award during the Non Commissioned Officers Association (NCOA) 57th Annual Conference on July 22, 2021. Miletich received the award for his heroic efforts during Southern California’s Valley Fire in September 2020. (U.S. Navy photo)
Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Chris Miletich, second from the left, receives the 2021 U.S. Navy Military Vanguard Award during the Non Commissioned Officers Association (NCOA) 57th Annual Conference on July 22, 2021. Miletich received the award for his heroic efforts during Southern California’s Valley Fire in September 2020. (U.S. Navy photo)

“The actions that earned him this award were selfless, brave and a great reflection of our Navy’s fighting spirit,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Russell Smith.

Miletich received the award for his leadership of a group of volunteers and his individual actions during the Valley Fire. He directly prevented 10 of his neighbors’ homes from being destroyed and personally escorted two of his elderly neighbors outside the fire’s destructive path minutes before it engulfed their home.

According to local news outlets in the area, the blaze erupted for unknown reasons in early September and burned an estimated 17,565 acres over the course of 19 days.

“My family and I saw a huge plume of black smoke rising from behind the ridge of our property,” said Miletich. “Once I moved my family out of the area, I went to help neighbors move their semi-trucks, tractors and farming equipment. It was then that we noticed the fire was starting to crest the ridgeline, and the wind was blowing it our way.”

He was certain that his home, along with many others, would soon be engulfed in flames. Miletich and approximately 20 neighbors made their way back to salvage what they could and prevent as much damage as possible.

“We realized that many of our homes were not directly damaged, but could be soon, due to the large amount of vegetation already on fire,” Miletich explained.

Drawing upon the firefighting training he received on the Tarawa-class amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5) and Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71), he boldly took charge of the situation.

Day and night scenes of the Southern California’s Valley Fire ablaze near the residence of U.S. Navy Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Chris Miletich on September 5, 2020. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Navy photos.)
Top - Southern California’s Valley Fire ablaze near the residence of Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Chris Miletich on September 5, 2020. According to local news outlets, the fire erupted for unknown reasons and burned an estimated 17,565 acres over the course of 19 days. Bottom - A local resident, and neighbor of Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Chris Miletich, extinguishes flames during Southern California’s Valley Fire on September 5, 2020. Miletich and his neighbor were part of a group of 20 volunteers that led firefighting efforts in the community which directly prevented 10 homes from being destroyed. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Navy photos.)

“I divided us into two separate working parties to extinguish the immediate threats by utilizing a neighbor’s water pump and 300 feet of 1.5-inch fire hose, chainsaws, shovels and axes,” said Miletich. “We fell over 20 trees and cleared countless square yards of thick brush from the area to remove the fire’s fuel source. We smothered multiple hot spots and additional flare-ups that ignited due to the dry climate and high winds.”

It was not until the next day that Miletich reached his own house to discover it too had survived the fire.

Over the next four days, overcoming temperatures that exceeded 110 degrees Fahrenheit, rugged terrain and lack of sleep, he selflessly spearheaded the effort to extinguish the immediate surrounding fires to prevent further damage to his community.

“Military service is based on a sense of duty, on the assumption that the common good is more important than the individual, and he demonstrated that,” said Tina M. Kish, Director of Member and Chapter Services at NCOA. “His heroic actions and leadership exemplify the spirit and intent of the Military Vanguard Award. Petty Officer Miletich is a perfect candidate to receive this award.”

The idea of the NCOA Military Vanguard Award was conceived in 1980, an annual award created to recognize and honor a single member from each of the armed services who distinguished himself, or herself, through acts of heroism. The selection to receive the Military Vanguard Award is done through a rigorous nominating and screening process within each of the military services.

The senior enlisted chief of each uniformed service is requested, by letter from NCOA, to submit their respective service’s selection. Individuals are nominated by their command and solicited to the senior service chief’s office where the selection is done. The U.S. Navy’s award recipient is selected by the MCPON.

“Congratulations to MM1 Miletich,” said Smith. “I’m so proud to see that his training and intuition kicked in. His heroism and quick thinking saved lives and will likely leave an enduring impact on the San Diego community.”

Whether it is fighting a fire or making his wife breakfast, Miletich believes the action is not as important as the intent behind it.

Miletich said his actions that day were fueled by his love for his family, community and country.

“[My time with Naval Special Warfare] has given me a much deeper and greater appreciation for those around me,” he said. “It’s about the mission of the team and sticking together. If through my actions my kids see what a good man is, and they strive to be even better men and women, then I’ll have succeeded as a father.”

Miletich plans to continue to reside in the community he helped save alongside his wife and five children.

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