Heroes 2011

Miller's sacrifice saved his squad

On Jan. 25, 2008, Staff Sgt. Robert Miller’s patrol of 22 U.S. and Afghan soldiers was ambushed outside Gowardesh by a force of 120 enemy fighters. Troops there said Miller bore the brunt of the attack, then drew even more fire in an effort to help his men drop back to safety.

Even after being shot through both sides of his chest, he continued to return fire and toss grenades at the enemy, until his bold counterattack cost him his life.

Miller’s team had been conducting combat reconnaissance patrols near Gowardesh, a hostile region in eastern Afghanistan where 18 months earlier Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti earned a Medal of Honor after losing his life while trying to save a fallen comrade.

As the team approached a recently bombed compound for a battle assessment, they marched into a snow-covered, narrow valley where enemy fighters had set up an ambush.

One hid behind a boulder until Miller was less than five meters away, then opened fire. Witnesses said Miller killed that man instantly, but the noise signaled others hidden along the valley walls to begin their assault.

Heavy fire from above pinned down the U.S. troops, so Miller began charging enemy positions on the mountainside. Teammates said the constant bright flashes from Miller’s squad automatic weapon made him the prime target for the insurgents, so he pushed forward while ordering others take cover.

The move let the rest of the squad retreat and regroup, but it also left the 24-year-old fighting in the open nearly half a football field away from his team.

Fellow soldiers said he charged one insurgent machine gun position and killed five fighters. He tossed grenades into two others, and continued peppering ambush positions with gunfire before attempting to take cover.

As he moved, an insurgent shot Miller through his right side, finding an area not covered by body armor. Critically wounded, Miller returned fire and killed the man.

Witnesses told Army investigators that the rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire hitting around Miller was so intense that they could not see him, only dirt and snow being kicked up from the ground.

Miller kept shouting information on enemy positions over the radio, but was struck by a second bullet under his left arm. Despite efforts to save him, he died before his teammates could evacuate him from the fight.

Army officials credited Miller with killing at least 16 insurgents and wounding 30 others. His family was presented his Medal of Honor in October.

Twitter: @LeoShane

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