Modern wars often are described euphemistically with expressions like “overseas contingency operations” and “low-intensity conflict.” They sometimes are fought from air-conditioned cubicles whence missiles are fired remotely from pilotless drones on unsuspecting targets. At the tip of the spear, however, war remains what it always has been: a punishing, violent, life-or-death struggle - the ultimate test of character of anyone who faces it.
Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller met this challenge on a daily basis in Afghanistan. In 2008, he was serving with Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3312, conducting combined operations with Afghan National Army troops from Forward Operating Base Naray in mountainous Kunar province, along the border with Pakistan. In the cold pre-dawn hours of Jan. 25, he was part of a combat reconnaissance patrol heading to the village of Gowardesh, a known insurgent stronghold.
The team first detected the enemy with a light unmanned drone aircraft. Sgt. Miller engaged the insurgents with a vehicle-mounted 40 mm grenade launcher, switching to a machine gun when his first weapon jammed, while simultaneously calling in devastating precision air strikes. The bloodied enemy dispersed, but the insurgents were not gone for long.
A short time later, Sgt. Miller was selected as point man for a patrol of 15 Afghan soldiers and a half-dozen American Special Forces troops. Sgt. Miller’s command of Pashto gave him quick rapport with the Afghan troops, and he led the patrol through the darkness across the Gowardesh Bridge toward an area where insurgents were believed to have rallied. As the patrol moved up a narrow pass, an insurgent leapt from behind a boulder firing and shouting “Allahu Akbar!” Sgt. Miller shot down the insurgent, but the patrol had walked into an ambush. About 140 insurgents opened fire from prepared positions at the front and flank of the advancing force.
This was the test of character. The outnumbered Afghan troops broke and ran in the face of danger. Sgt. Miller charged ahead. He took out six insurgents who were dug in to his immediate front and quickly engaged and neutralized four others. The entire insurgent force began to direct its fire at Sgt. Miller as he continued to move forward, giving the Green Berets behind him a chance to take cover and give supporting fire.
After Sgt. Miller took out four more insurgents with grenades, he was shot in a side unprotected by body armor. He killed the shooter but then learned his detachment commander also had sustained wounds. The unit began to fall back, and Sgt. Miller remained at the point, crawling through snow toward enemy positions, keeping the insurgents pinned down with small-arms fire and grenades. Eventually, he was struck again, and as his life ebbed, this hero fired his remaining ammunition and lobbed his last grenade. He went down fighting.
The battle lasted seven hours. Sgt. Miller was credited with killing at least 16 insurgents and wounding 30 more. He single-handedly inflicted 33 percent casualties on the enemy. Yesterday, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, Army Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller was awarded the Medal of Honor.
America must always remember the valor displayed by Sgt. Miller and others who make the supreme sacrifice for freedom. However policymakers may sanitize conflict, this is the true face of war. The White House may consider “victory” an old-fashioned concept, but heroism is eternal.
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