Three years ago, Army Captain Michael Miranda (JD ’13) sat on top of a mountain in Eastern Afghanistan, days away from completing his second combat deployment and months from finishing his military service obligation. As he reflected on his experience — parachuting out of airplanes, leading soldiers in two wars, developing lifelong relationships and navigating several of life’s great challenges — he wondered what was to come. Little did he know, his next chapter would begin at Wake Forest University.
For Mike, the military has been a family thing. His grandfather led the way — serving in World War II and Korea — and since then, members of his family have served, and continue to serve, in every branch of the armed services. Impressed by the Army ROTC program at Rutgers University, where he received his undergraduate degree in history, Mike quickly showed his knack for leadership in military skills competitions, military skills educational clubs and the national military academic honor society.
Army Captain Mike Miranda serves with Army Major John Fivian in Afghanistan. Together they led the 503rd Military Police Battalion (Airborne) in developing an Afghan Military Police Corps.
The New Jersey native was first deployed to Iraq where he worked with Iraqi military and police forces. As a platoon leader, he was responsible for approximately 40 paratroopers divided into three squads. These squads were each assigned to several Iraqi police stations throughout south and east Baghdad. “We conducted daily training and mentoring of the police at these stations as well as daily combat and security patrols — sometimes conducted unilaterally, and other times conducted jointly with the Iraqi troops,” explained Mike.
After 12 months in Iraq and a year stationed at Fort Bragg, he deployed to Afghanistan for his second combat tour. It was while he was in Afghanistan working with the Afghan Military Police that his interest in law grew. “By the time I deployed to Afghanistan I had been promoted to captain and was serving as an assistant operations officer,” Mike stated. “Once we arrived in Afghanistan, my commander assigned me and the noncommissioned officer that worked for me to a special project. As the only American Military Police headquarters element in Afghanistan at the time, my commander felt that we had a duty to develop and implement a program that would establish an Afghan Military Police Corps. My sergeant and I were attached to an Afghan unit of roughly 80 soldiers and given several months and a modest budget to develop the program.”
Mike and his commanding officer coordinated the training with the Afghan Judge Advocate General program so the police could better understand how they fit into the larger justice picture. “Just as we were mentoring the new Afghan Military Police, American JAG officers were mentoring the new Afghan military lawyers,” explained Mike. “Through our frequent coordination and work with the American JAGs, I developed an interest in law and decided to pursue a career in law after separating from the military.”
Not only did Mike define his future career while in Afghanistan, he also met lifelong friends and his military family. While he was working with the military police in Afghanistan, a South Carolinian sergeant introduced Mike to Captain Danielle Burro, also a native of New Jersey, who was serving in Iraq. The sergeant, who had served with both captains and fully acknowledged that Danielle and Mike were “the only two Yankees he could stand,” figured the two would find they had much in common.
The two captains met, discovered they had grown up only 15 minutes from one another, and started talking across thousands of miles and in the midst of dangerous situations. Emails and phone calls ensured that their relationship grew, and the two were married in December 2011.
Both Mike and Danielle left the Army with stunning honors. Mike earned two Bronze Stars, four Army Achievement medals, the Army Commendation Medal, the Air Assault Badge, the Senior Parachutist Badge and the Combat Action Badge. Danielle, who graduated from with a degree in criminal justice from St. John’s University, served in Iraq and Haiti. She was honored with the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal and the Parachutist Badge.
After being stationed at military bases in North Carolina, Mike and Danielle had come to consider North Carolina home. Upon his return from the battlefield, Mike began looking into law schools. “I was ready for a smaller and more intimate educational experience,” Mike stated. “Naturally, Wake Forest stood out as the obvious preference, but I knew that the high cost of attendance would significantly challenge my ability to attend.”
After receiving an invitation to visit Wake Forest as part of an Admitted Students Day, Mike showed up on campus only to find that snow had cancelled activities on campus. Even though the Admitted Students Day was cancelled, Melanie Nutt, director of admissions and financial aid for the Wake Forest University School of Law, and several students who knew visitors were traveling specifically for the day selflessly gave up their snow day to ensure that the prospective students had the opportunity to see all that Wake Forest has to offer. “I knew then and there that this was the type of school for me,” Mike commented. “Unfortunately, at the time, it was just not financially possible. A week later, Melanie called to offer me an incredibly generous scholarship — the A.J. Fletcher Law Scholarship. I accepted before she could even finish her sentence.”
“Wake Forest doesn’t just produce exceptional scholars, it produces exceptional human beings,” Mike noted. “Students here are taught that we are privileged to enjoy the opportunity to study law and that we have the obligation to pay it forward in whatever way possible.”
Mike has not delayed in that directive. Still a student, Mike is president of the Veterans Advocacy Law Organization at Wake Forest. This group organizes veterans’ awareness projects, raises money to support homeless veterans, and donates time and effort to provide free legal services to some of the community’s most underserved citizens.
At this point, Mike is not entirely sure where his law degree will lead him, but he’s gaining a variety of experiences and keeping his options open. “Ultimately, I would like to find a way to continue serving the public, either as a legal professional, or in addition to my legal practice.”
For a man who has stood on mountaintops thousands of miles from home, his character, leadership and work ethic certainly indicate that for Michael Miranda, the sky is the limit.