As war enters 10th year, Obama honors Special Forces patrol leader who died in Taliban ambush

By Mark S. Smith, AP
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Medal of Honor to Green Beret killed in Afghan war

WASHINGTON — In a ceremony that mixed pain, pride and determination, President Barack Obama on Wednesday awarded the Medal of Honor to a young Army Green Beret who saved his patrol by holding off a Taliban ambush in a snowy Afghan valley two winters ago.

He told the parents of Army Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller, “You gave your oldest son to America, and America is forever in your debt.” Miller was killed in the ambush.

The presentation in a hushed East Room came on the eve of the war’s ninth anniversary — and 13 months after Obama gave the same award for gallantry to another set of parents whose son was cut down on another Afghan battlefield.

Miller, 24, was a Pashto-speaking Special Forces weapons expert who led a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol — and allied aircraft — in attacking a suspected Taliban compound in northwest Afghanistan’s Kunar province, near the Pakistani border.

In pre-dawn darkness on Jan. 25, 2008, his patrol was moving in to survey the damage when a much larger Taliban force opened fire. After ordering his comrades to fall back, Miller rushed forward, firing his weapon and hurling grenades in a bid to draw off the enemy attack.

“The fighting was ferocious,” Obama said, recounting the recollection of comrades who survived. “Rob seemed to disappear into clouds of dust and debris, but his team could hear him on the radio, still calling out the enemy’s position … And then, over the radio, they heard his voice. He had been hit.”

Accepting the award from Obama were Miller’s parents, Philip and Maureen Miller, while all seven of his brothers and sisters — and 12 members of his patrol — looked on. Obama noted Miller’s brother Tom is currently undergoing Green Beret training.

“The courage he displayed that day reflects every virtue that defined (his) life,” Obama said.

It was a proud but mournful echo of the words Obama spoke in September of last year, when he awarded the Medal of Honor to Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti, saying Monti’s actions braving enemy fire to rescue comrades in 2006 were “the culmination of a life of character and commitment.”

Miller, a native of Harrisburg, Pa., was the third U.S. service member from the Afghan conflict to receive the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest medal for gallantry

Soon, Obama will award the medal to a fourth, and the first living recipient: Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, being honored for bravery during a Taliban ambush in 2007.

After the medal was presented, Obama hugged Miller’s mother and shook hands with his father. He spoke of the sacrifice of all who’ve fought and died protecting America, but made no mention of Thursday’s anniversary of the bombardment that began the post-9/11 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

“Every American is safer because of their service,” Obama said, “and every American has a duty to remember and honor their sacrifice.”

Speaking to reporters afterward, Maureen Miller said her son “loved what he was doing, he was good at what he was doing and he believed he was working for a good cause.”

More than 1,200 U.S. troops have perished in the Afghan conflict — now America’s longest war since Vietnam — and this year is already the deadliest yet.

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-Qaida, Obama has set a deadline of next summer to start drawing down U.S. forces and handing responsibility to Afghan troops.

Obama said Miller’s spirit “endures in the service of his teammates” and the “relentless focus” U.S. troops on the Afghan mission, which he said remains “to break the momentum of the Taliban insurgency, and to build the capacity of Afghans to defend themselves, and to make sure that Afghanistan is never again a safe haven for terrorists who would attack our country.”

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