In the military, this native of North Fork changed lives

Steven Miska grew up in North Fork, first at Cutchogue Elementary School and then in Greenport, where he graduated from high school in 1986.

Unsure of making the right decision, he accepted an appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point. “I needed a lot of discipline, and I needed the four years there to get it,” he said. “I don’t think I was mature enough to go to college.”

Since graduating as a US Army officer at West Point, Mr. Miska has had an extraordinary life and career. He more than lived up to the education and training – and the promise – he received at West Point.

While based in Iraq in 2007, and deeply concerned for the safety of Iraqis who worked as interpreters for the US military, the then Colonel. Miska began helping the Arab men on whom he depended for loyalty to obtain visas to leave the country. They needed help navigating the mountains of paperwork and endless interviews; he wanted to streamline the bureaucratic process and put these men out of harm’s way.

He had seen what had happened to some Iraqis who, risking their lives, had generously helped his men. He tells their stories in his book “Baghdad Underground Railroad – Saving American Allies in Iraq”, which was published in May. Consider the story of an Iraqi book he calls “Jack.”

“Jack was killed in January 2007,” Mr. Miska said, his voice clear as he spoke of a beloved friend he lost. “It worked for me. He was on patrol with me every day. He returned home with his wife who had given birth. He had previously been approached during a visit to his home by insurgents and told them he was not working for the Americans.

“So at that point, they let him go,” he said. “He went home the next time to be with his wife and they murdered him in the street and left a note for his daughter to find. Two weeks later, a store owner on the base who still looked after American soldiers so well, was shot and killed by Shiite militias for supporting the Americans.

While serving in Iraq, Colonel Miska was deeply concerned with strategy and mission. He shared his perspective with a friend he met after graduating from West Point, General David Petraeus, who would become commander of US forces in Iraq.

“He asked me if we could win,” said Mr. Miska, who is now retired from the military, lives in California and works with various nonprofits. “I told him it would be very hard. I told him the truth. I shared with him a strategic vision of where we went wrong in our strategy and operationally, what worked and what did not.

Mr. Miska spent his first years of school at Cutchogue. His paternal grandparents had a farm in Mattituck which was later sold. He graduated from Greenport, where the first day met Dan Horton, who remains a close friend today.

“That first day Dan approached me, a complete stranger, and said, ‘My name is Dan, who are you?’ We’ve been friends ever since.

He spent part of his teenage years working at a wharf inn on Front Street, opening the business at 5 a.m., and baking bacon and eggs for the fishermen. As he neared graduation, his father, who had served in Vietnam, presented the officers he had met and graduated from West Point as a cut above.

I was trained to serve, and they deserved the best of me.

Steven miska

His first mission after West Point was in Panama. Before leaving for this 36-month stay, he married a daughter from Southold, Amy Brown, whose father taught science in the district. Her mother worked in San Simeon.

From Panama, the couple moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, and then to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where they trained with members of the 82nd Airborne “to jump out of perfectly good planes.” It was there that he met David Petraeus.

“He pushed me to teach,” Mr. Miska recalls, “and I went back to West Point. I left in 2001 “- a worrying year -” and we moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Because we both grew up in the East End, we have salt water in our blood. Kansas was 10 months of torture for us.

The cover of Colonel Miska’s book.

From Kansas, Mr. Miska shipped to Germany. The war in Afghanistan and later in Iraq was ongoing. A very different career is looming on his horizon. The war in Iraq deeply affected him.

“I thought it was a big mistake,” he said. “It was visceral for me. But I was trained to serve, and they deserved the best of me.

In the end, he would tour Iraq three times, totaling nearly four years. It was there that he connected with the Iraqis who risked their lives working with the Americans. New York writer George Packer embarked in his unit. A later story by Mr. Packer about the war and Iraqis working with the Americans “was very raw to me,” Mr. Miska said. “It took me four times to read it. The absence of any US policy to protect our closest Iraqi partners was tragic. “

Then “Jack” was shot, along with the owner of the store on the base. “I wanted to help these guys,” Mr. Miska said. “They were torn apart by the bureaucracy and the embassy talks, the very small number of visas and all the paperwork. We managed to get that across and, if they were successful, we brought them to Jordan under pseudonyms so that their families in Iraq would not be threatened. “

Looking back today, what he calls his greatest pride in the military, Mr. Miska can count three dozen Iraqis whom he led to safety. Several of them, once in America, enlisted in the US military and returned to their home countries to fight the militants. Some went to Afghanistan.

One of them is “Ronnie,” who came out and now lives in Tampa, Florida. He still uses a nickname because he has family in Iraq.

“He got a special immigrant visa at the end of 2007,” Miska said. “He came to me and said, ‘Thank you very much.’ But then he said he didn’t want to go straight to the United States. He didn’t want to be dependent on anyone. He said he wanted to stay in Iraq to save money.

“I’m going back to Iraq later and Ronnie contacts me,” he added. “He was staying with a captain in the green zone of Baghdad and saving his money. But there was a fire and he lost all his visa papers and $ 10,000 in cash. I had him transferred to where I was and in 2009 he moved to the United States

“His godfather was the mother of the captain with whom he had stayed,” said Mr. Miska. “From there he enlisted and deployed again. He cares about his country and he cares about our country. The captain’s mother told me later that Ronnie was her second son. He broke her heart when he enlisted.

Mr. Miska worked in the Obama administration on Iraqi affairs and today works with a multitude of nonprofits focused on a cause close to his heart: bringing the Afghans who worked with the Americans into a safe haven as the Taliban continue to take more and more of this country.

“There are major Taliban gains every day,” he said. “There is a backlog of some 18,000 Afghans trying to get out, who have helped us. Many of them are now in areas controlled by the Taliban. We are working around the clock to get them out. “

He said he agreed “in spirit” to the US withdrawal. “We haven’t been able to accomplish what we need to do in 20 years,” he said. “I don’t agree that we shouldn’t have anyone there.”

As he works to help relocate the Afghans who have helped the Americans, he thinks back to his own journey. “George’s article was very influential for me and for many others,” he said. “My first commitment as a commander is to the sons and daughters of those who have served.

“I owe them the best leadership to bring them home. And we cannot do the mission without local support. The book is this story, which we did our best. It’s a way of balancing it all out and showing the lives we’ve saved. The best we can do is help as many people as possible to get out, but several thousand will not.

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