Image courtesy: Capt. Thomas Cieslak
On January 25, 2008, thousands of Americans were out skiing. Half a world away, a close-knit group of Green Berets was trudging through the cold, treacherous terrain of eastern Afghanistan.
"It has been said that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point," President Obama said Wednesday afternoon at the White House. "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."
Leading Afghan soldiers through Konar province was something Staff Sgt. Rob Miller and A Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, North Carolina, had done before. But something was different about the snow that day.
"It was freezing cold and silent, except for the crackle of their radios and the crunch of snow under their boots," the president said. "Like so many times before, Rob was up front."
In just a few seconds, everything exploded. The sounds of gunfire, rocket propelled grenades, and yelling pierced the seemingly calm valley. More than 100 terrorists were attacking the much smaller group of Special Forces and Afghan soldiers, and everyone knew the odds for survival were low. While all the Americans under fire showed courage, Staff Sgt. Miller, 24, showed a stunning level of composure.
"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 commander-in-chief explained. "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."
While admiring his bravery under almost incomprehensible pressure, his fellow soldiers were concerned for his safety.
"And then, over the radio, they heard his voice. He had been hit. But still, he kept calling out enemy positions. Still, he kept firing. Still, he kept throwing his grenades. And then they heard it. Rob’s weapon fell silent."
Judging from the live telecast, similar silence was evident in a White House audience that included Miller's parents, seven siblings, relatives, friends, and dignitaries including Vice President Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, and the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, Adm. Eric Olson.
"Two of his teammates braved the bullets and rushed to Rob’s aid. In those final moments, they were there at Rob’s side," President Obama said in a rigid, solemn tone. "American soldiers, there for each other. The relentless fire forced them back, but they refused to leave their fallen comrade."
At this point, the incredible story of battlefield already made clear why Staff Sgt. Robert James Miller is the seventh volunteer warrior who fought in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts to be awarded the Medal Of Honor. Yet the next passage was key.
"Five members of his patrol has been wounded, but his team had survived," the president said. "And one of his teammates surely spoke for all of them when he said of Rob, 'I would not be alive today if not for his ultimate sacrifice.' This is the valor that America honors today.”
Because of Staff Sgt. Miller's heroism, seven Green Berets were able to stand up, on the orders of the commander-in-chief, to receive well-deserved applause from military leaders, politicians, and most importantly, the Miller family. 15 Afghan soldiers were also able to return to their families and friends. After the applause, the president turned to the grieving parents of this fallen hero.
"Phil and Maureen, you raised a remarkable son," President Obama said, looking directly at the grieving Gold Star parents. "Today, and in the years to come, may you find some comfort in knowing Rob gave his life doing what he loved: protecting his friends and defending his country. You gave your oldest son to America, and America is forever in your debt."
President Obama also mentioned one of the Medal of Honor recipient's siblings, Tom Miller, who is now training to be a Green Beret. Like his brother, who you can read more about in a recent Army story, this American patriot will humbly do his duty without significant attention from a national media-driven culture that is clearly more interested in 'Dancing With The Stars.' To my great surprise, President Obama pointed out this glaring void in our national consciousness, in which the men and women protecting our nation take a back seat to the likes of Paris Hilton and the cast of 'Jersey Shore.'
"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."
Today, Staff Sgt. Miller has the spotlight, even though he never wanted it. Yet he deserves every moment of this praise, as does his family and fellow warriors. As the snow begins to fall across America this coming winter, consistent coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will be mostly missing from national newscasts and front pages, which has been the case for several years. Yet for the families of the Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and Sailors protecting our way of life in cold mountains and hot deserts, it will be another worrying winter of discontent. Sometimes, it's easy to forget why we can go out skiing and enjoy time with our loved ones. The story of what Staff Sgt. Robert James Miller did that day in the snow helps us remember.
Image courtesy: Staff Sgt. Corey Dennis