Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian McCrum
Aidalis Mills had been teleworking from home for the Coast Guard ever since she had injured her shoulder while caring for her elderly father with dementia. She had received a call from work that the chief of staff wanted to have a meeting with her in his office. After finding a ride into work, she sat outside the chief of staff’s office, still wondering what the meeting was about. He called her in and began asking her how she was doing and how her shoulder felt. Mills was bewildered.
“I’m like, ‘why am I here?’” said Mills. “All of a sudden the phone rings and someone on the phone says: ‘Is the person in the room?’”
Mills, a civil servant at the 9th Coast Guard District for over 20 years, braced herself for what she thought was next.
“I’m gonna get fired … here it is,” she thought at the time. “All of a sudden he says he’s the commandant of the Coast Guard and he wants to congratulate me.”
Unbeknownst to Mills, she had been selected as the recipient of the Coast Guard’s 2018 George R. Putnam Inspirational Leadership Award. The award was given in recognition for her selfless service at work, volunteering efforts in the community and countless after-hours efforts during the 2017 hurricane season.
“It was all a surprise,” said Mills. “I didn’t know what to say; and usually I know what to say. I was humbled by the fact that someone at that level would call me and talk to me.”
For Mills, she attributes her success, both at work and in life, to her family.
Mills’ father moved from Puerto Rico to Lorain, Ohio, about 30 miles west of Cleveland, where Mills was born, raised and still lives to this day. Her father worked in the steel mill for 33 years and taught his children by example through his strong work ethic.
“He was always pushing,” said Mills. “His philosophy was: ‘do better than you’re expected to do.’”
That mentality stayed with Mills all her life. Her mother, who passed away when Mills was 12, instilled in her the mindset of always helping others. Between the values ingrained in her by her parents and having seven of her own children, along with 18 grandchildren, Mills said that her family is her inspiration for everything she does and she credits much of her success to them.
As the Coast Guard Reserve funds manager for the 9th District, Mills’ job is to execute funding associated with reserve affairs for over 450 reservists across the district. Everything from training needs to drill berthing goes through and is organized by Mills.
“I take calls on the weekends because our reserves work mostly weekends, so they don’t have anyone there to support them,” said Mills. “But they know they can pick up the phone and call me; and I’ll answer it.”
The 2017 hurricane season was especially challenging due to the number of hurricanes hitting landfall one after the other. Mills ensured that the reservists were ready to respond to the hurricanes by taking care of the details behind the scenes.
“Even though I never wore the uniform, I tried to learn as much as I could about what they needed to do based on their rank and rate,” said Mills. “It gave me an understanding. I have a lot of pride in this service because I know what they do. Knowing what they’re doing out there and what I’m doing to help them get there; and working those extra hours to make sure that they get what they need so that they can worry about what they’re supposed to be doing…that’s really important to me.”
In addition to her work at the district for reservists, she is the Hispanic Emphasis Program Manager, a member of the Leadership and Diversity Advisory Committee, a Defense Finance and Accounting Service committee member and volunteers on her own time in the community, including tax preparation for lower income individuals and speaking to Hispanic youth at leadership conferences. Part of her work with youth involves educating them about the Coast Guard and military service.
“I try to convey that to the youth that there are opportunities within the services that can help you one day get into the civilian sector and have a better job sometimes than if you tried just going straight into the civilian sector,” said Mills. “And it has worked.”
Mills is very proud of her Puerto Rican descent. She said that her father had experienced a lot of discrimination throughout his career, but he never let that be the reason he could not do something.
“Even if they didn’t like him he found a way to keep showing them that he could do whatever it is they told him to do,” she said. “Even when he was going through dementia, the thing he remembered the most was what he did at work.”
Mills’ father passed away in November of 2017 at the age of 93. Mills had cared for him for over 10 years, since he was diagnosed with dementia. Her father and mother’s principles are evident throughout her own work ethic and her willingness to go above and beyond to help others. Her kids always supported her and empowered her, telling her that she could accomplish anything she set out to do.
Her George R. Putnam Inspirational Leadership award proudly sits on her desk in her cubicle among many other awards, certificates and accomplishments. Surrounding her various achievements are dozens upon dozens of pictures of her family.
“It’s my family that is my inspiration,” Mills said. “My family gave me most of who I am today.”