WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2010 — President Barack Obama paid tribute today to a young U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant who gave up his life for his fellow soldiers.
During a White House ceremony, the president awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor recognizing Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller’s 2008 actions in Afghanistan. Miller’s parents, Phil and Maureen Miller, accepted the award.
“We are a nation of more than 300 million Americans. Of these, less than 1 percent wears the uniform of our armed services. And of these, just a small fraction has earned the badges of our special operations forces,” the president said. “In the finest military the world has ever known, these warriors are the best of the best. In an era that prizes celebrity and status, they are quiet professionals — never seeking the spotlight. In a time of war, they have borne a burden far beyond their small numbers.”
The Medal of Honor is the highest military award a servicemember can receive for valor in action against a combatant force. Miller’s Medal of Honor is the seventh awarded, all posthumously, to troops serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. A living soldier, Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, has been chosen for the award but has yet to receive it.
“It has been said that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point,” Obama said. “For Rob Miller, the testing point came nearly three years ago, deep in a snowy Afghan valley. But the courage he displayed that day reflects every virtue that defined his life: … Devotion to duty. An abiding sense of honor. A profound love of country.”
Miller served as a weapons sergeant for Company A, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group Airborne. He was the team’s youngest member, on his second deployment to Afghanistan.
His team was supporting an Afghan Border Police security patrol in Kunar province Jan. 25, 2008. Taliban fighters opened fire on the group from nearby buildings and from behind boulders. The team called in air strikes on the enemy position, but came under fire again when they moved forward to search for survivors.
Miller’s team captain was seriously wounded, and Miller remained at the front of the patrol to lay down suppressive fire as the captain was moved to safety. Other team members bounded back over the snowy terrain to find cover and return fire.
“Rob held his ground. Despite the chaos around him, he radioed back enemy positions. As the only Pashto speaker on his team, he organized the Afghan soldiers around him. But the incoming fire, in the words of one soldier, was simply ‘astounding,’ ” the president said.
“Rob made a decision. He called for his team to fall back. And then he did something extraordinary. Rob moved in the other direction — toward the enemy, drawing their guns away from his team and bringing the fire of all those insurgents down upon himself,” Obama said.
The young weapons sergeant continued to fire his weapon and lob grenades at the enemy positions, drawing fire to cover the team’s movement even after he was wounded by machine-gun fire. Army accounts of the incident said more than 100 Taliban fighters shot at Miller. Team members say he returned fire for more than 20 minutes after he was wounded. Then his weapon and radio went silent.
“This is the story of what one American soldier did for his team, but it’s also a story of what they did for him,” Obama said. “Two of his teammates braved the bullets and rushed to Rob’s aid. In those final moments, they were there at his side — American soldiers there for each other.
“The relentless fire forced them back, but they refused to leave their fallen comrade. When reinforcements arrived, these Americans went in again — risking their lives, taking more casualties — determined to bring Rob Miller out of that valley. And finally, after fighting that raged for hours, they did,” the president said.
Miller’s courage saved his captain’s life, and enabled seven of his fellow Special Forces soldiers and 15 Afghan troops to survive, gain cover and repel the attack, Army officials said.
The president said Miller’s legacy endures in the love of his parents, the pride of his brothers and sisters, in the Afghans he trained and defended, and in the service of his teammates.
“Finally, Rob Miller — and all those who give their lives in our name — endure in each of us. Every American is safer because of their service. And every American has a duty to remember and honor their sacrifice,” Obama said.
Miller was born in Harrisburg, Pa., and raised in Wheaton, Ill. His family moved to Florida shortly after the young man graduated from Wheaton High School. He joined the Army in 2003, graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course in 2004 and completed the Special Forces Weapons Sergeant Course in 2005.
In addition to his parents, Miller is survived by his brothers Thomas, Martin and Edward; and sisters Joanna, Mary, Therese and Patricia.
First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, Army Secretary John McHugh, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Navy Adm. Eric Olsen, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, attended today’s ceremony.
Also on hand were several of Miller’s teammates from Alpha Company and more than 100 of his friends and family members.
Here is the text of Miller’s Medal of Honor citation:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded, in the name of the Congress, the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.
Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism while serving as the weapons sergeant in Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3312, Special Operations Task Force 33, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Afghanistan, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, on January 25th, 2008.
While conducting a combat reconnaissance patrol through the Gowardesh Valley, Staff Sergeant Miller and his small element of U.S. and Afghan National Army soldiers engaged a force of 15 to 20 insurgents occupying prepared fighting positions. Staff Sergeant Miller initiated the assault by engaging the enemy positions with his vehicle’s turret-mounted Mk 19 40-millimeter automatic grenade launcher, while simultaneously providing detailed descriptions of the enemy positions to his command, enabling effective, accurate close air support.
Following the engagement, Staff Sergeant Miller led a small squad forward to conduct a battle damage assessment. As the group neared the small, steep, narrow valley that the enemy had inhabited, a large, well-coordinated insurgent force initiated a near ambush, assaulting from elevated positions with ample cover.
Exposed and with little available cover, the patrol was totally vulnerable to enemy rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons fire.
As a point man, Staff Sergeant Miller was at the front of the patrol, cut off from supporting elements and less than 20 meters from enemy forces. Nonetheless, with total disregard for his own safety, he called for his men to quickly move back to cover positions as he charged the enemy over exposed ground and under overwhelming enemy fire in order to provide protective fire for his team.
While maneuvering to engage the enemy, Staff Sergeant Miller was shot in the upper torso. Ignoring the wound, he continued to push the fight. Moving to draw fire from over 100 enemy fighters upon himself, he then again charged forward through an open area in order to allow his teammates to safely reach cover.
After killing at least 10 insurgents, wounding dozens more and repeatedly exposing himself to withering enemy fire while moving from position to position, Staff Sergeant Miller was mortally wounded by enemy fire. His extraordinary valor ultimately saved the lives of seven members of his own team and 15 Afghan National Army soldiers.
Staff Sergeant Miller’s heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty and at the cost of his own life are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)