Soldier Killed In Afghan War To Receive Valor Award

Staff Sgt. Robbie Miller loved the outdoors, Shakespeare and collecting gemstones from Afghanistan. That's where he was serving his second tour with the Green Berets. Miller was just 24 when he was killed in 2008, protecting his comrades from a Taliban ambush. At the White House Wednesday, President Obama will present Miller's parents with the nation's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Here are some things to know about an Army staff sergeant who's being honored for exceptional valor on the battlefield. Robbie Miller was a talented gymnast who loved Shakespeare, and also being a soldier. He was 24 and on his second tour in Afghanistan with the Green Berets when he was killed in 2008. It was in remote Kunar Province, and Sergeant Miller was protecting has comrades from a Taliban ambush. Today at the White House, President Obama will present his parents with the nation's highest military award: the Medal of Honor.�

NPR's Tom Bowman tells the story of that day.

TOM BOWMAN: The patrol crept along a dirt road on a January night. They were just a few miles from the Pakistan border, checking out reports of Taliban activity. On their left was a sheer cliff. On their right, the road dropped off sharply to a fast-moving river.

Staff Sergeant NICK MCGARRY (U.S. Army):�Our team had actually been in a firefight a couple of times in that area.

BOWMAN: Staff Sergeant Nick McGarry was on the patrol.

Staff Sgt. MCGARRY: So, you know, we called it Ambush Alley.

BOWMAN: It quickly lived up to its name. There was a small skirmish, the Americans quickly beat it back, then the soldiers�crossed the river.

Out front was Staff Sergeant Miller, whose knowledge of the Pashtu language made him a natural to lead the 15 Afghan soldiers working with the Americans. They moved quietly along a heavily wooded trail, says Major Robert Cusick, when a shout pierced the silence.

Major ROBERT CUSICK (U.S. Army): An insurgent yelled, Allah Akbar and initiated the ambush, and from that point it was pretty much chaos.

BOWMAN: Through their night vision goggles, the Green Berets could see a handful, then dozens of insurgents hiding in the hills. Major Cusick says the Taliban opened fire with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades.

Maj. CUSICK: Dirt, rocks, lots of dust kicking up around us. I described it to some of my buddies as standing in the middle of a Roman candle during the Fourth of July. I mean, it was loud, a lot of explosions and a lot of snaps -you know, the sound you hear when a bullet passes by you.

BOWMAN: Staff Sergeant Miller took the brunt of it. Miller fired his light machine gun, taking out Taliban positions. That led to a brief lull in the fighting. Then, says Sergeant McGarry, things got worse.�

Staff Sgt. MCGARRY: The Afghan soldiers just immediately kind of fled that vicinity because there were so many insurgents to cover.

BOWMAN: The Afghan soldiers were supposed to fight with Miller. Now he was alone. It's what he did next that saved his fellow soldiers. Miller held his ground and radioed the other Green Berets. Bound back, he said, meaning move back to safety.�The muzzle flash from Miller's machine gun was a perfect target for the Taliban.

Staff Sgt. MCGARRY: The amount of firepower that he was putting out, they were able to focus on him.

BOWMAN: Sergeant McGarry says Miller kept firing.

Staff Sgt. MCGARRY: He pretty much locked down the entire south side of the kill zone. You know, he was throwing grenades and engaging the enemy -basically, what we say is he was taking the fight to the enemy.

BOWMAN: That allowed the Green Berets to move back to care for the wounded -three Afghan soldiers and two Americans, including Major Cusick. A bullet had pierced his shoulder.�For a time, Cusick and the others could still hear Miller firing to cover their retreat, that distinctive rapid fire of his machine gun.

Maj. CUSICK: Had he not done�that, I think possibly I wouldn't be here to talk about it, and there'd be some other guys - to include Afghans - who either lost their lives or sustained pretty significant injuries.

BOWMAN: Miller had finally run out of ammunition. A Taliban bullet killed him. His body was recovered. He was laid to rest in a small cemetery in Florida.�

Maj. CUSICK: Robbie has a headstone down where he was buried, and the center of that headstone doesn't have anything in the center of it, and it's kind of a groove for an award.

BOWMAN: A groove, a space for an award. Cusick says they all knew Miller would get an award for his courage. They just didn't know it would be the Medal of Honor.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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