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DIA fighting for family, honoring its ties

By Ally Rogers, DIA Public Affairs

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It’s said that a single person can have multiple families in life. There’s the one you’re born into, the one that you choose and create, and the one you meet along the way. 

When it comes being a part of the Defense Intelligence Agency, family ties are extended to spouses and children of employees. This is something the Defense Attache Service has proven true with the passing of Micala Siler, wife to DIA and Army Maj. Jason Siler.

“We're ensuring long-haul support to Jason and the girls as they embark on the next chapter of their lives,” said Melissa Perham, DAS chief of staff. “We’re staying in close contact with Jason and Micala's families to provide ongoing support— whether that be career development services for Jason or mental health support for Jason, the girls and family members. Our (casualty assistance officer) and psychologist were basically adopted by the family and maintain ongoing communication with them. I see that remaining in place even if it’s not an ‘official duty.’

“There is something that bonds people who go through this type of event together.  We're all family and we treat each other as such.”

Micala died Sept. 30, 2020, after sustaining injuries while running in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she lived with Jason and their four daughters. She would have been 42 on Dec. 19.

A graduate of West Point Class of 2001, Micala served in the Army until 2009. Through the course of her Army career, she served assignments in Fort Leonard Wood, Kansas; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Lewis, Washington; Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. She became the first female to graduate from the Sapper Leadership Course, was jumpmaster certified and led units through several combat deployments.

Micala was an avid runner – she was on the West Point marathon team and, according to Jason, ran five miles before the family would wake each morning. After leaving military service, Micala worked as the executive director of A Family for Every Orphan, an international non-governmental organization dedicated to finding loving families for orphans in their home country.

From the moment DIA was notified of Micala’s passing, the Agency went into action.

“We mobilized across multiple offices and platforms to bring her home with every due respect, with the dignity and honor she deserved, and in keeping with Jason and her family's wishes,” said Perham. “The DAS Headquarters and the Defense Attache Office took the lead in orchestrating the entire repatriation mission. We levied our wonderful partners in Germany and received fantastic support from the Mortuary Affairs Office in Dover, Delaware.”

DAS’s chief of support, who served as a casualty assistance officer, Marjorie Hunt added, “Essentially, we responded by surrounding the entire family and (those affected) with support and care. We were there to help in any way possible.”

DAS immediately mobilized senior psychologist Dr. Abbey Durkin to Kyiv, where she stayed until Micala was transported to Germany. A U.S. DAO member escorted Micala throughout her entire trip home to Ohio, while a fellow Army officer and close friend, Col. Dan Miller, accompanied Jason and his children through their travels.

To meet the family in Ohio, DAS mobilized a forward support team, which included Hunt, Dr. Tiffany Prather who is a psychologist that worked with the Siler’s prior to their posting in Kyiv, and Army Element representative Maj. Stephanie Bullock.

Perham explained that collectively more than 30 people from DIA were part of the Agency’s response, as well as 10 additional people from the Department of Defense mortuary team in Germany and Dover. The response team conducted twice-daily syncs until Micala arrived home to Ohio, and provided daily situation reports to the DIA director of operations and DIA command element.

“The DAS, as a service, certainly has previous experience with loss overseas, but this was and is a relatively new team,” said Perham. “For many of us, it was our first time supporting in this way.”

She explained that the team had to learn as they were supporting, making sure to update the family along the way.

“Repatriation can always be a bit challenging, even under the best circumstances, because we have to negotiate the host nation’s processes as well as our own,” Perham explained. “It’s naturally complicated even if everything is going smoothly. Micala’s case had a few unique challenges. (But) the USDAO and Department of State helped navigate those.”

She added that repatriation protocols are different depending on the deceased’s status – whether civilian, military or family member.

“Micala was a member of the DAS and was treated as such throughout,” said Perham. “We really worked with our partners to lean in and reach beyond what their SOPs state, to put humanity at the forefront of bringing Micala home and supporting Jason, the girls and Micala's extended family.”

Micala’s obituary describes her as “an intense light and fierce leader from the day she was born.” Those words ring true, especially for DAS and the running community.

“The experience we gained supporting Micala and her family was quickly put to the test when we lost another DAS family member just a month later and then a DAS civilian this month,” Perham said. “We applied all that we'd learned with Micala to these cases. She has forever impacted the way in which we respond to these events—for the better. Her memory is a blessing, and she has led the way even in her death.”

In her memory, a free running event was organized, Miles of Smiles for Micala, which took place from Dec. 13-19, 2020.  Participants helped reach the goal of 4,895 miles—the distance from Kyiv, Ukraine, to Olmsted Falls, Ohio, where her family lives. In the first five days, runners from around the world collectively covered a distance of three times the goal miles. People who didn’t know Micala but were impacted by her passion and her story were moved to pay respect for a fallen patriot.

Micala’s family ties bind her to more than just the family she was born in to and the one she chose and built – they bind her to all runners, the military and, forever, DIA.