Captain Houston Mills (Wabash College, ‘85) learned early in life that two important traits of an influential leader involve willingness to accept and trust others. Understanding these characteristics of a leader, Mills has flourished in his military and corporate careers.
He says he has used a “service before self” leadership mindset throughout his career to help others find success and improve his working environment no matter what job he held.
His experiences as a young member of Lambda Chi Alpha helped to crystalize these lifelong personal values that have guided him from F/A-18 fighter pilot in the U.S. Marines to Vice President of Operations and Safety for the United Parcel Service (UPS), where he recently piloted the first, life-saving shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this year.
Mills first realized the value of acceptance through his early decision to join Lambda Chi Alpha at Wabash College. In a college full of gentlemen from all walks of life, his connection with his Lambda Chi brothers was instant.
Learning From New People Through Lambda Chi Alpha
He shared that one of the key life lessons he most appreciated during his undergraduate experience at Wabash while living with his brothers at Lambda Chi (and still values to this day) was the ability to live with and learn from people who were much different than him, a lesson that he has brought forward with him in every step of his career.
“I’ve never been uncomfortable with people who have different perspectives, different outlooks, or look and think differently than I do,” said Mills. “For me, one of the great takeaways from Lambda Chi was that in spite of our individual differences, as Brothers we accepted each other for who we were.
“I learned the importance of not becoming overly critical of others, to not discount their thoughts just because they were different from mine. Most importantly, I learned the value that comes from gaining a higher understanding of where others were coming from by doing so under the umbrella of dignity and respect, and that’s not a bad thing.”
Mills also said he was able to grow the invaluable trait of trust during his time at Lambda Chi through great times with his Brothers. He shared how those same trust-building skills have helped him develop meaningful relationships in every facet of life over the years with people from all backgrounds.
“In thinking about my experience with Lambda Chi in particular and the trusting relationships I developed with my Brothers…I learned early on that building trust is much tougher if you don’t really get to know and accept people for who they are,” said Mills. “I am forever indebted to Lambda Chi for providing me an environment where I could build great relationships and have a great time at school, but also debate and openly share ideas and grow as a person and a leader.”
A Career in Aviation
Following graduation from college, Mills took his Lambda Chi experiences to the Marine Corps, where he began his career in aviation.
As a military officer, Mills served the United States in Operations Desert Shield (2006) and Desert Storm (1991) in Iraq, Operation Restore Hope (1992-1993) in Somalia and Southern Watch (1992-2003) in Iraq, where he quickly gained a reputation as a standout operator, leader and collaborator.
As a civilian, Mills maintained his love of flight by joining UPS as an engineer.
Prior to his current position, Mills served as Global Aviation Strategy & Public Policy Director, where he advocated for federal and international aviation policy on behalf of UPS and the aviation industry. He also served as UPS’s Director of Airline Safety and Compliance, where he was responsible for ensuring safe flight operations throughout the world.
Within six years at UPS, he was promoted to management, serving in positions of increasing responsibility in human resources, flight training, flight standards and flight operations.
In 2016, Mills was appointed by the Secretary of Transportation to serve on the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Drone Advisory Committee and is also one of only 35 executives in the country to serve on the committee tasked with advising the FAA Administrator on what new polices should look like in integrating unmanned systems in the national airspace.
Remembering Those Before Him
Yet among all his achievements, Mills is most proud of his ability to mentor young people and help them pursue careers in aviation.
As an African American aviation leader, Mills cherishes the long tradition of great Black American pilots, such as the Tuskegee Airmen, who were true trailblazers and the first Black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps, a precursor of the U.S. Air Force.
“The Tuskegee Airmen demonstrated incredible airmanship and provided remarkable service to our country during WWII only to find that when they returned home after the war there were no aviation jobs for them to transition to,” said Mills. “Their legacy lives on in me and others who look like me and are able to enjoy this great profession because men like them paved the way to do so by demonstrating that ability shines brightly when given the opportunity to thrive.”
The Tuskegee Airmen, who fought in World War II, flew 1,578 missions, destroyed 261 enemy aircraft and won more than 850 medals, making them one of the most decorated units in American History.
Throughout his successful career, Mills has not lost sight of the lessons he has learned, including those first, timeless leadership lessons from Lambda Chi.
From those early days to his time with the Marine Corps, UPS and beyond, Mills embodies Lambda Chi’s values and pillar of timeless leadership with his dream of leaving a positive, lasting mark on the future.