Canadian of British-Jamaican origin becomes first military woman in family

Sergeant Sophia Miller

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By Sergeant Sophia Miller, 25 (Toronto) Field Ambulance

February is Black History Month, a time to honour Black Canadians past and present who have served in uniform and as civilian employees in the defence and service of Canada since before Confederation.

In the following first-person account, prepared in support of Black History Month, Sergeant Sophia Miller, a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Primary Reserve Medic with 25 (Toronto) Field Ambulance, discusses how she achieved her dream of being the first woman in her family to serve in the military.

Sgt Miller describes the highs, the lows and the victories of her 24-year career as a Reservist through the lens of her British-Jamaican background. She was instrumental in making the braided cornrow hairstyle part of CAF dress regulations, which progressively support the needs of different cultural groups regarding hairstyles and headwear. See Image Gallery and Related Links for examples of the policy.

At least one evening a week and one weekend a month, Sgt Miller trains with her unit to be ready to serve following natural disasters or to support other safety and security events within Canada. As a true “citizen soldier,” Sgt Miller has a dual lifestyle, working part-time with the CAF and full-time as a civilian nurse, a second career she achieved with the help of the Primary Reserve’s tuition assistance program.

Toronto, Ontario — My name is Sophia Louise Miller; I was born on February 29, 1968 to Sylvia Miller (nee Campbell) and Uton Miller.

 I am the second of three children; I have two brothers. Having been born in Lewisham, South London in England to British-Jamaican born parents, I identify as British-Jamaican.

As a young child, my parents separated, and then my father moved to Canada. During the summer months, I would visit with my father, returning to England for school in September. This was the usual routine for several years, but in 1987, after one such visit, my younger brother and I decided to remain in Canada.

I come from a family where many of the men have served, not to retirement, but had served their time as British subjects, defending Britain in both World Wars, so the military was highly respected by us. In 1916, my great uncle was in Europe for the First World War; he never returned home and so my younger brother was named in his honour. 

Both of my brothers have military service: my older brother served in the Paras (The Parachute Regiment), an airborne infantry regiment of the British Army, while my younger brother served in 2 Field Engineer Regiment (later renamed the 32 Combat Engineer Regiment) in Toronto. So there was a great deal of support when I considered joining the military.

On March 11, 1993 I was sworn into the CAF at 25 (Toronto) Medical Company, which later became 25 (Toronto) Field Ambulance as a Canadian Forces Primary Reserve Medic. 25 (Toronto) Field Ambulance is a medical unit in Toronto, Ontario. It forms a part of 4 Health Services Group, which has its headquarters (HQ) in Montreal, Québec. It is the only Primary Reserve medical unit in Toronto. The unit is comprised of a medical company, a services support company, and an HQ element.

Having spent half my life in the military, I have had many positive experiences. Examples include graduating from my Junior Leadership Course in Petawawa (2001), and receiving a commendation from the Ontario Provincial Police for assisting civilian victims who were involved in a serious car accident on Highway 400 (2006). Also, when I received the CO’s commendation letter from Recruiting Group for a job well done while working in recruiting (2016).

My late father used to say, “In everything you must take the good with the bad.” so despite my many positive experiences in the military, there have been a few bad experiences and so I have not been a stranger to negative ones along my journey.

One such experience occurred earlier in my career, while I was a young private in 1994. I was wearing cornrows in my hair while parading with my unit. During inspection, I was berated in front of the unit by a sergeant and ordered to fall out and immediately remove the braids from my hair.

Being very new to the military, I was quite shaken by this experience and so I reported the incident. Eventually, the CAF amended the Queen’s Regulations and Orders dress regulations to deem cornrows acceptable. I feel very proud to have been the catalyst behind this very important change and I commend the CAF for the swift action that was taken to create a more inclusive environment.

The implementation of the $2,000 per year tuition assistance program for Primary Reserve members prompted me to return to school for a second career in 2009. With my years of training and experience as a medic, naturally I became a nurse.

With a new career in nursing since 2012, I have experience as a civilian community health nurse working mainly with the elderly in their homes and currently as a staff nurse at the Toronto East General Hospital on the stroke unit.

The reason I joined the military was simply that I wanted to become a soldier. Not more or not less. In my family, I am the first female to serve in the military; I wanted to be the first and today I stand alone.

Unlike my older brother, I was not interested in joining any Special Forces unit. All I desired was to become an Army Medic. Looking back, I would not say that I had all the deep, admirable motivations that other people might have, but I can say it was the best decision that I have ever made. I joined the military because of my family’s military history, but I stayed for the people. I love my friends. I love my Unit. I love my trade. I love being a part of the military family.

More than anything else, I love the person I have become because of the CAF. Today, I can confidently say that I am a driven, relentless, methodical, empathetic, thick-skinned leader. I was none of those things before.

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Related Links

Queen’s Regulations and Orders Volume I Chapter 17 – Dress And Appearance
Jobs in the Canadian Army

Image gallery

  • Sergeant Sophia Miller of 25 (Toronto) Field Ambulance
  • This braided style, known as cornrows, became a standard in 2001 following the efforts of Sergeant Sophia Miller
  • Sergeant Sophia Miller (then a Private) in 1993 during a helicopter ride
  • Sergeant Sophia Miller (then a Corporal) in 1995 at the 25 (Toronto) Field Ambulance mess hall.
  • Sergeant Sophia Miller (then a Corporal,) returns from Operation ASSISTANCE in Manitoba in 1997
  • Sergeant Sophia Miller at her day job at the Toronto East General Hospital
  • Sergeant Sophia Miller with her significant other

Article / February 20, 2018 / Project number: 18-0054

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