Sitting in a booth at the Hatterasman Drive-In, eating a fried flounder sandwich, it’s hard to imagine Frank Miller, the new owner, is a man who has walked the halls of power in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Much of the talk centers on what it takes to run the drive-in, how he has some kids who are working for him whom he really believes in, and plans he has for the summer and beyond.
Part of his plans include creating a place where the Hatteras Island veterans’ community will feel comfortable coming to have a cup of coffee and meal—and that’s part of the story that brought him to Hatteras village.
He first came to the Outer Banks in the 1970s when his wife, Nancy, a teacher at Cape Hatteras Secondary School, took a teaching job in Manteo. He was running his own landscaping business, but what he really wanted to do was change things. He ran for mayor—unsuccessfully, as it turns out. “I was the youngest candidate to ever run for mayor of the town,” he recalls.
Still in his 20s, not quite sure what he wanted to do, he joined the Army and began a 20-plus year career that took him all over the world.
He worked his way up through the ranks of the Army—boot camp enlisted all the way to major, but one thing was clear. “I was major promotable,” Miller says. “But . . . I was never going to be a general.”
He liked the Army. He liked what he was doing, but Miller is the type of person who believes everything can be improved, believes he is the one to improve things, and the best way to do that is to be in charge.
It was what he was trained to do in the Army. It’s what he is still doing today.
His last military assignment was as executive officer in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
“While I was still green-suited, they created a position as an executive officer,” he says. “Shortly before 9/11, I retired and went right back into DIA in the exact same job.”
With security suddenly the top priority for the Army, Miller started traveling.
“I spent the next 18 months in a whirlwind tour going to all the DIA sites making sure all their force protection was all set up and everything was proper in all their locations around the world,” he recalls. “It was pretty awesome.”
Taking the experience he had gained in the Army and as a civilian contractor, he formed RedTiger Intelligence Solutions. “We do worldwide mentorship for leadership,” is how he describes the company’s mission.
The phrase “nation building” gets thrown around a lot, and if it does exist, then Miller and his company are in the thick of it.
“What my consulting team does, we go over and work with the senior leaders, in this case in Afghanistan, Karzai and his national security structures on down,” he explains. “We do all the consulting with those folks and teach them business processes that have worked for 200 years for us as we’ve evolved.”
RedTiger consists almost entirely of retired senior government officials and general officers, creating an environment where top-level government officials feel they are talking to their counterparts.
“Most of us are 55 years and older up to about 75,” Miller says. “We do worldwide mentorship programs for U.S. coalition and host nations’ senior leadership.”
Although Afghanistan was the most recent deployment, he and his RedTiger team have been sent to countries all over the world. Regardless of the country or setting, Miller has found everyone is searching for the same thing.
“They want a roof over their heads, they want the security, they want the safety, they want their kids to go to school, they want food on their tables,” he says.
There are differences, though. Significant differences that make bringing a western-style government to a troubled nation state such as Afghanistan difficult.
There is organized crime in all nations, but in many of the countries in which Miller and his team work, the tendrils of international crime run through every layer of society.
“The transnational crime is probably one of the greatest influencers of the nations we go to. Transnational crime is something the farmer wants to do because he wants to feed his family,” Miller says. “Afghanistan is being controlled by maybe half a dozen prime crime families. Call them warlords or whatever what you want.”
The mission has been successful, although as Miller points out, predicting the future can be dangerous. As he explains it, the key is understanding to whom to teach the systems that will create success, not just how to train.
“When you go in . . . that person who is there may not be there next year,” he says. “The person you’re training at that time is not the important person. It’s the person who is going to take his place.
“So our successes are phenomenal. When you look at what’s happening in Afghanistan now, notwithstanding what may happen in the future, we’ve been able to keep all the ingredients to keep 9-10,000 troops into the future. We’ve got a base security agreement with them. We didn’t have that in Iraq.”
Yet no matter the level of government power, the similarities to life everywhere are apparent to him and brings a reminder of home.
“I call it family leaders. Because you look at Hatteras village or Manteo, the tribal aspects or the family aspects are very much the same,” he notes. “You’ve got to be able to work inside that. Those people have to be able to get the message out the way you want them to hear it.”
He’s back home now, but still on a mission — this mission to create a place of refuge for veterans at Hatterasman Drive-in.
“The vets, they come in and they just hang out,” he says. “And that’s what this place is all about. It’s a fishing village (Hatteras) but at the same time it has a really, really strong military tradition.”