The damage assessment patrol walked north about 800 meters to a bridge impassable by vehicle. Led by Miller, the team turned east, crossed the estimated 100-foot bridge and turned south into a narrow, steep valley. They had trekked for about 45 minutes.
“That’s when we walked into the hornet’s nest,” McGarry said.
About 40 insurgents had dug under rock formations in the narrow pass east of the Kunar River. Nearly 200 more were higher on a ridge, Lodyga said.
Miller’s teammates recalled that an Afghan National Army soldier spotted an insurgent obstructed by a boulder and ordered him to surrender. The man refused.
“You heard somebody yell ‘Allah Akbar,'” the Muslim phrase loosely translated as “God is great,” Lodyga said, “and then an overwhelming amount of firepower came down on us.”
Miller’s first move was to shoot and kill the insurgent who had stepped from the boulder about 20 feet away, said McGarry. Other insurgents were nearly as close, Lodyga said. He, McGarry and Cusick said it was the worst firefight they’d experienced.
“It was almost like standing in the middle of all the fireworks on the Fourth of July,” Cusick recalled. “It was very loud.”
Added McGarry, “There were so many people shooting at us, the bullets were kicking up everything around us. I kept looking over and saw Rob shooting.”
Then McGarry and the others saw something else: Miller charged the enemy, firing his lightweight machine gun at several insurgent positions. At the same time, he was calling out the directions of and distances to enemy positions.
“Robbie was shouting at everybody to bound back, bound back,” McGarry recalled, “and he was taking on the entire south area of the kill zone by himself. I couldn’t look over for too long, but it took me a second or two to take it all in.”
Miller’s approach, while bold, was tactically astute. He was engaging at least four enemy positions and drawing their fire, allowing his teammates to get to safer ground. His aim was deadly accurate. Military records credit him with killing more than 16 insurgents and wounding 30.
In the first few moments, Cusick, the commander, was severely wounded when a bullet struck near his left collarbone and tore an exit hole in his left shoulder blade. His lung was punctured. One of the team members ran to his side and thrust a needle in his chest, allowing him to breathe.
While firing at the enemy, the rest of the team also was seeking cover, McGarry said.
Miller kept charging and firing, and when he had stopped firing, he threw at least two grenades “into enemy machine gun fire that basically had the patrol locked down,” Lodyga said. “He took them out.”
[…]So much chaos was roiling that patch of the narrow pass where the Special Forces were ambushed that it’s unclear how long Miller charged and engaged the insurgents. Those on the patrol said it could have been five to 15 minutes before he was shot inches below his right armpit, a spot unprotected by body armor.
“I don’t know if he stayed on his feet or not after he was shot,” Lodyga said, “but I do know he turned toward the enemy position and kept firing. He killed two or three right there.”
Two to five minutes later, Miller was struck again under his left armpit and died immediately. The entry points of the wounds indicate his arms were raised to fire his weapon, a young man facing death courageously.
“At the end of the day,” Lodyga said, “if Robbie hadn’t been courageous and did what came as second nature to him, you’d be looking at eight dead Special Forces. That’s what Robbie gave his life for.”
The military goes even further, contending that Miller’s actions also saved the lives of an estimated 12 Afghan National Army soldiers.
Although tens of millions of men and women have worn the uniform of the armed forces for the U.S., fewer than 3,500 have earned a Medal of Honor.
Actually, it’s much rarer than that – the military has really tightened up the requirements in the last 100 years or so. Basically, you have to give your life to save many others under heavy fire in order to win a medal of honor. They are extremely rare.
Here are the requirements for the Army version:
The Medal of Honor is awarded by the President in the name of Congress to a person who, while a member of the Army, distinguishes himself or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party. The deed performed must have been one of personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his comrades and must have involved risk of life. Incontestable proof of the performance of the service will be exacted and each recommendation for the award of this decoration will be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.
I once read an entire book on Medal of Honor award winners in World War II. It’s hard to read those stories, because these people who won the award did amazing acts of bravery, courage and self-sacrifice, but then most of them DIED. The stories almost always end in sadness and grief. Here’s the one that really stuck with me as an example. I read that book in 1999 as part of my effort to develop humility. I wanted to break down my own pride, and so I intentionally engaged in an activity to achieve that goal.
Today, many people think it is horrible to look up to anyone who is better than we are at anything. We don’t believe in heroes any more. We think that virtues are easy. That anyone can be virtuous. That virtue takes no preparation or discipline. That brave or cowardly acts are just things that people do because they like one or the other, and that’s all. That everyone, good or evil, is basically doing what they want to do. But I don’t think that’s true. I think bravery, courage and self-sacrifice are objectively good, and that we ought to recognize and honor those virtues.
I think we need to get into the habit of realizing that the character of a person as measured against an objective standard is more important than what they can do to make ME happy. Sometimes, we just need to hold up examples of goodness to ourselves and to others, even if it makes us feel inadequate. Acknowledging what is good is the first step to being good yourself. If you don’t acknowledge that anyone is better than you are, then how will you grow? You have to look at what the best people are doing and honor them and learn from them.
I think that as Christians, the more we reflect on the message of the gospel and the example of Jesus, the more sensitive and appreciative we become of things he exemplified, like self-sacrifice and humility. Jesus deserves something like a Medal of Honor, for sacrificing his life to save others in difficult circumstances. He showed courage in the face of danger in order to die in the place of every single person who has ever lived. When we stand before him to give our account, will we have love our neighbor the same way? Will he pin something like a Medal of Honor on our chest for uncommon valor under heavy fire? Stories like Rob Miller’s makes us think about that, don’t they? And that is a good thing. The story of a war hero points beyond the story to the moral truths that are built into the universe by God himself.
So that’s why I think it’s important for Christians to be grateful to those who give their lives fighting evil in foreign lands so that we can have liberty, prosperity and security here at home. I am grateful for the sacrifice of Rob Miller. Gratitude is another virtue that we often overlook.
You can read more about Rob Miller and see pictures of him here on Blackfive.