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Medal of Honor Ceremony for Staff Sergeant Robert Miller

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, The Pentagon, Thursday, October 07, 2010

I’d like to note that before this ceremony, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the Miller family.  I am so impressed by their courage and strength.  Mr. and Mrs. Miller, just as you are proud of Robert, I know he would be extraordinarily proud of you and all of his brothers and sisters who’ve joined us today.

The Medal of Honor was first authorized by President Lincoln in the early days of the Civil War when our nation was beginning to write the bloodiest chapter in its history.  Over the past century it has gone only to the bravest of the brave, with fewer than 1,000 recipients out of the millions of Americans who’ve served in uniform during that time.

It goes to those who demonstrate exceptional bravery in the face of enemy fire.  But it also demands something more of an individual.  The knowledge that by embarking on a course of action losing one’s life is not only possible, it is quite likely.  Duty to one’s country demands certain things, certain responsibilities.  But this is something more.  This is not simply answering the call of duty.  This is truly “above.”  This is truly “beyond.”

Every evening I write notes to the families of young Americans – as I did to the Millers – who have given this country the supreme sacrifice.  They are our country’s best, the nation’s sons and daughters, who answered the call of service to defend this country in a time of war.  They answered what Theodore Roosevelt described as “the trumpet call,” which he said, “is the most inspiring of all sounds, because it summons men to spurn all ease and self-indulgence and bids them forth to the field where they must dare and do and die at need.”

Rob was one who answered that trumpet call, one who also possessed that extra measure of courage and determination to be at the very tip of the spear in America’s wars.  

In Rob’s case, that meant leaving college early to join Army Special Forces, where he quickly earned the respect and trust of his fellow Green Berets; no small feat among that elite brotherhood of arms.  And as we heard today, whenever his Special Forces team was given a particularly challenging mission, Rob would be the first to volunteer.  At just 24 years old, Rob was the true embodiment of that special breed of warrior that he had long aspired to become.

Rob’s uncommon qualities – his intellect, curiosity, agility and determination – were in demand and on display during his two tours in Afghanistan.  Along with his renowned athleticism as a former gymnast, Rob had a real affinity for languages, as [Secretary] McHugh said – he even studied Latin in high school – a unique form of scholastic suffering avoided by all but the most dedicated.  Rob quickly picked up Pashto while in Afghanistan and, because he spoke their language and learned their culture, developed a bond with the local villagers; they respected and trusted this young American.

Even as he was winning the trust of the local people, Rob never stopped being a warrior.  That is why, on that night in the rugged mountains of Eastern Afghanistan, heavily outnumbered, mortally wounded, Rob charged ahead when he so easily could have taken cover.  That is why he put the lives of his brothers in arms – Afghan and American – ahead of his own. And, that is why they returned home and he did not.

I’ll close with a favorite line of Rob’s from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”

Rob is now known to history as one of those valiant.  His name, and his story, belong to the ages.

May God bless this brave young man.  And may God grant peace of heart and soul to you, Maureen and Philip, and to the rest of your family.

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