Rob was wise beyond his years. Growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, outside of Chicago, he was the boy in school who penned a poem about American GI’s in World War II, men — like the soldier Rob would become himself — who he said fought day and night, fighting for what they thought was right.
Rob was born to lead — the high school gymnast who trained so hard his coach had to kick him out at night so they could close the gym. He was the Army recruit who pushed himself to his limits — both physically and mentally — to earn the title Green Beret. He was the Special Forces soldier who, on his first tour in Afghanistan, earned two Army Commendation Medals for his valor.
Devotion to duty. An abiding sense of honor. A profound love of country. These were the virtues that found their ultimate expression when Rob — just 24 years old and on his second tour — met his testing point on January 25, 2008.
Rob and his team were in the remote northwest of Afghanistan. Their mission: clear a valley of insurgents who had been attacking Afghan forces and terrorizing villagers. So when they came across an insurgent compound, Rob and his men made their move, unleashing their fire and calling in airstrikes.
Now, they were on foot, heading over to that destroyed compound, to assess the damage and gather intelligence. It was still dark, just before dawn. It was freezing cold — and silent, except for the crackle of their radios and the crunch of snow under their boots. Like so many times before, Rob was up front — leading a patrol of two dozen Afghans and Americans on a narrow trail along the valley floor, the steep mountains towering over them.
First, it was just a single insurgent, jumping out from behind a boulder. Then, the whole valley seemed to explode with gunfire. Within seconds, Rob and his patrol were pinned down, with almost no cover — bullets and rocket-propelled grenades raining down from every direction. And when enemy reinforcements poured in, the odds were overwhelming. Rob’s small patrol of two dozen men was nearly surrounded by almost 150 insurgents.
With the enemy just feets away — some so close he could see their faces — 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.”
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.
The fighting was ferocious. 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 they could hear his weapon still firing as he provided cover for his men. 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.
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. 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.
When the dust settled and the smoke cleared, there was no doubt Rob Miller and his team had struck a major blow against the local insurgency. Five members of his patrol had been wounded, but his team had survived. 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.”