by Melissa Spicer, Cofounder & President of Clear Path For Veterans
Mark “Miles” Vigil was born August 11, 1982 and died tragically on November 29, 2010. He grew up in West Layton and attended Syracuse Jr. High School in Syracuse, Utah. In 2001, Miles watched the events of 9/11 unfold. His father Mark said “he was really upset. He felt like he had to do something.”
In 2002, he joined the Army and was stationed at Fort Drum, and soon he was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Service came naturally to Miles. He constantly looked for ways to help others, in service to his country and to his community. Miles was always thinking of ways to give back even after he left the Army. His father notes, “He was one of a kind.”
After leaving the Army in 2006, Miles received his associate’s degree from Lemoyne College here in Syracuse. Two years later, he moved back to his hometown in Utah and began pursuing a career as a fireman. He graduated from the Fireman’s academy and was once again ready to serve his community. He became involved in martial arts, and loved giving free jujitsu lessons to elementary kids. As a way to overcome the stresses of his post combat life, he retreated to the water to spend time fly fishing and he enjoyed being in the peaceful presence of nature.
Miles was wise beyond his years and his soul was warm and his heart was kind. He was a gentle giant and he cared deeply about his family, his friends and his country. Ask anyone who knew Miles what motivated his generosity and they say “that’s just Miles.”
The love and support that Miles so freely gave was reciprocated from a group of men whom he saw as family. Champ, Earl, Steve and Dejuan served by his side and provided him with comfort and strength during their deployment together. In a blog written in 2009 Miles says “It is nice to know that you have backup whenever you need it. They taught me family can form out of sweat and blood, and a few hundred sandbags, and pound cakes.” He loved his military brothers, and they in turn will forever remember Miles as the “one of a kind” person his dad describes.
This past Memorial Day gave everyone an opportunity to reflect on those lost in battle. I’m glad to see that we as a nation are beginning to turn back to the original intent of Memorial Day. There’s once again an understanding and appreciation for our military and we’re honoring those lost on the battlefield in meaningful ways.
Equally important, is to honor and reflect on those whose front line battle might have been at home. Miles lost his at home battle and committed suicide in November 2010. It was a tragedy that shook the souls of those who knew him. I never knew Miles, but countless stories from family and friends serve as evidence that his life has forever changed them, both while he was alive and how he died.
In September 2011, I had the privilege of meeting Earl Fontenot. While working as a Veteran Liaison for Congresswomen Ann Marie Buerkle, Earl was asked to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for Clear Path for Veterans. It wasn’t until several months later, that I learned Earl’s passion and commitment to serving Veterans stemmed from the loss of one of his best friends, Miles Vigil. Earl had a passion to serve, so when Congresswoman Buerkle lost the race in November 2012, he agreed to join Clear Path for Veterans as our first paid staff member. Here, Earl met Maddy Spicer, a dog who is largely responsible for why Clear Path exists today.
I adopted Maddy in 2001 and because of a medical condition that left me unable to have children, Maddy was my rock. She was a certified therapy dog and knew just what to do to make people happy. For 13 years she led me on a path of helping others. Maddy was my Miles, and she helped me find my way to serving my community and eventually, our Veterans. She watched my back and stood by my side through good and bad. Like Miles, Maddy was a gentle soul and graced visitors with her warm personality and she changed people’s lives.
In April 2013, Maddy’s life was nearing its end. The time had come for my husband and I to make the difficult decision to put her to sleep and end her suffering. Although dying is an inevitable part of all living things, when and how is often the hardest for those left behind. Something drew me to call Miles’ dad Mark, and I picked up the phone and shared my sadness.
I believe it was Miles who pushed me to call his dad and for a brief period of time, our sadness melted away and we talked about the two things we loved most, Miles and Maddy. From that phone call forward, Mark and I forever committed ourselves to a legacy of service in their memory. In the end, we were both comforted in knowing that Maddy and Miles would be together, and behind our passion to serve was Mile’s buddy Earl.
With another Memorial Day behind us, we’ve been given an opportunity to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Let’s not let another day pass without honoring those who may have lost their battle at home. The good news from Mile’s tragedy, is that his legacy remains in us all. There are many warriors who have lead generous and impactful lives. Miles and Maddy are proof that warriors live and die in all forms. Their death gave birth to a long line of service to others. For that, we are forever grateful. From those at Clear Path for Veterans, we hope that you too have had the privilege of knowing a Miles and Maddy.