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Medal of Honor awarded to Green Beret for sacrifice in Afghan fight

By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 6, 2010; 7:00 PM

Wounded and running out of ammunition, Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller battled a force of more than 100 insurgents in Afghanistan, allowing his fellow soldiers to seek cover from a blistering attack in 2008.

Miller's actions, which helped save 22 U.S. and Afghan troops and resulted in his own death, were recognized Wednesday when he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor.

The award was accepted by his parents, Phil and Maureen Miller, at a White House ceremony.

"Rob endures in the Afghans he trained and befriended," President Obama said during the ceremony. "In valleys and villages half a world away, they remember him as an American who spoke their language, respected their culture and helped them defend their country."

Miller, 24, was the youngest member of his elite Special Forces unit, which was operating in northern Konar province, a remote region near the border with Pakistan.

Only four U.S. service members serving in Afghanistan have been awarded the Medal of Honor since the war began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. All four were deployed to the same region of northeastern Afghanistan where Miller was killed. U.S. troops operating in the area are among the most vulnerable in Afghanistan.

Large numbers of fighters regularly cross the border, using the difficult mountainous terrain to evade detection by U.S. surveillance drones, U.S. military officials said.

In several instances, the enemy has been able to mass a force of several hundred fighters against much smaller American formations.

On Jan. 25, 2008, Miller's small Special Forces A-Team was moving through the Gowardesh Valley in search of enemy fighters.

About 15 insurgents, fighting from a small compound across the valley, opened fire on Miller and his team. Miller, who grew up in Wheaton, Ill., outside Chicago, fired back. A few minutes later, U.S. attack aircraft swooped in to finish the fight.

The young Green Beret, who had picked up the local language from the Afghan soldiers on their base, was ordered to accompany a platoon of 15 Afghans to find out whether any of the enemy fighters had survived the aerial assault.

He and the Afghans moved through the snow in the pre-dawn hours. The only sounds were the crackle of Miller's radio and the crunching of boots.

As Miller and the Afghan troops moved toward the enemy compound, about 100 fighters in the mountains above him unleashed gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades that one of Miller's fellow soldiers described as "astounding."

The rest of the U.S. troops from Miller's team were trapped in a choke point beneath him, dangerously exposed to the insurgent barrage.

Miller radioed to his fellow troops to seek cover. He then charged the enemy, killing at least 10 insurgents and giving the Afghan and U.S. troops a chance to move to a safer spot, according to U.S. Army reports.

Eventually Miller was wounded by insurgents who homed in on the muzzle flash from his gun.

Despite his wounds, the soldier continued to crawl uphill through the snow, firing on insurgents and radioing the location of enemy positions below. Because the area where he was fighting is so remote, it can take as long as an hour for attack helicopters to reach troops pinned down in gunfights.

After about 25 minutes, his radio fell silent. Miller's fellow soldiers then braved enemy fire to recover his body.

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