Washington — Calling him a born leader who was wise beyond his years, President Barack Obama on Wednesday honored a Fort Bragg soldier killed in Afghanistan in 2008 with a posthumous Medal of Honor.
Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller, 24, sacrificed his own life to protect his comrades and 15 Afghanistan National Army soldiers during a Jan. 25, 2008, reconnaissance mission, Obama said during a White House ceremony. Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Miller's family and members of his unit attended the ceremony.
"We're just very grateful that he's finally getting this recognition," Maureen Miller said of her son.
Robert Miller was the youngest member of his Special Forces team when it headed into a remote valley in northwest Afghanistan to knock out insurgent forces in the region, which borders Pakistan.
"The whole valley seemed to explode with gunfire," Obama said during a White House ceremony, noting that Miller's team of two dozen U.S. and Afghan soldiers was pinned down by about 150 insurgents.
"Most of the guys were taking it from 30 feet, maybe less. So, it was pretty close," said Master Sgt. Jim Lodyga, who was a member of Miller's team.
Miller called for reinforcements and ordered the team to fall back. Meanwhile, according to comrades who survived the battle, he continued advancing, firing his gun and hurling grenades, even after he was wounded twice in the chest.
Two of Miller's comrades braved a hail of gunfire to rush to his aid, but it wasn't until U.S. reinforcements arrived and pushed the insurgents back that his unit was able to recover his body.
Five other members of the unit were wounded in the battle, Obama said.
"If Robbie hadn't done what he did, if he hadn't been aggressive, if he hadn't taken the fight to the enemy, accurately engaged them, I wouldn't be here," Lodyga said.
A native of Harrisburg, Pa., Miller enlisted in the Army in August 2003 and he became a Green Beret in 2005. He served as a weapons sergeant in Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne).
"Once he decided to get focused on something, he put 100 percent into it," said Miller's father, Phil Miller.
During his first tour of duty in Afghanistan, he won two Army commendation medals.
"Rob's life and legacy endures," Obama said, noting Miller's younger brother is training to be a Green Beret and follow in his footsteps.
Miller’s parents accepted the Medal of Honor on behalf of their late son. They said he died for a cause he believed was right.
"You gave your oldest son to America, and America is forever in your debt," Obama told them.
Miller is the third U.S. service member to receive the Medal of Honor for the Afghanistan conflict, which enters its 10th year on Thursday.
The medal is awarded to a member of the armed forces for heroism above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in combat. The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life.
"We're in awe at the scale and significance of this and the fact he's only the third person to be given the Medal of Honor for service in Afghanistan," Phil Miller said.
More than 1,200 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan since the war began, and 2010 is already the deadliest year of the conflict, according to government officials. Afghanistan is America’s longest war since Vietnam.
In August, the troop surge Obama ordered last December to reverse Taliban gains reached its peak. Currently, U.S. troop strength numbers just under 95,000.
While vowing not to let Afghanistan became a haven for al-Qaeda, Obama has set a deadline of next summer to start drawing down U.S. forces and handing responsibility to Afghan troops.