Rob graduated from Wheaton High School in Harrisonburg and attended one year at the University of Iowa before making a commitment to join the Army in 2003. He initially had plans in place to attend the Naval Academy, but that changed when Rob learned he was colorblind. Although he couldn’t pursue a career in the Navy, Rob found a solid match when he learned the Army Special Forces would allow you to enlistment as a trainee right off the street.
The second of eight children to Phil and Maureen Miller, Rob’s sheer desire to serve his country was in his blood. Maureen said, “I think there were several factors that pushed Rob to join the Army, one was his sense of adventure, another one was his sense of the importance of military service. My husband had been in the service, both of our fathers had been in the military service, some of our relatives had served in Korea, World War II and World War I. Both my husband and I had ancestors who had served in the civil and even someone who served in the Revolutionary War. It’s something that runs in our family.”
Growing up, Rob had a strong desire and ability to perform competitively in gymnastics. Maureen remembers when his initial interest was sparked to be a gymnast,” When he was very young, 2-years-old, we would have him at playgrounds, we noticed he was unusually flexible and very good at climbing up playground equipment, a number of people would be amazed that someone was so small could do so much. I signed him up at 3-years-old.”
As Rob got older, he was known to spend hour upon hour each day in the gym perfecting his skills. At one point he even worked at a local gym to pay for lessons and because of his patience and dedication, he was asked to work with children who had autism. While building his gymnastics skills, Rob also learned to play a couple of instruments.
Mary Miller, Rob’s sister said you never knew what to expect with him, “Growing up with Rob was a lot of fun… one day we would have a tuba, the next day we would have a pommel horse in the garage.”
He was known to practice and play the trumpet and the tuba. In addition to every other goal, Rob was also a Boy Scout leader in his community and acquired a taste for classical music. He also had an eagerness to learn and speak multiple foreign languages, which would aide him later on in life overseas.
Rob climbed the ranks quickly, after graduating from Infantry Basic Training and Airborne School at Fort Benning; he immediately enrolled and graduated from the Special Forces Qualification and Special Forces Weapons Sergeant Course. He was eventually assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Force Group (Airborne).
SFC Javier Mackey recalls Rob’s first day, “This was the team’s first 18 X-ray, you know a young kid who was recruited off the street who had no prior Army experience coming to a team, and they just wrapped their arms around him and loved the guy.” Rob was first deployed in 2006, and again in 2007.
On his deployments, Rob was known best for his work with the Afghans. He was always a solider who took time to communicate and play with the children and interact within the community. Rob not only wanted to make friends, but his goal was to be the best in his Special Forces position.
SFC Michael Saragosa said, “His ability for languages was off the meter. Even though it wasn’t his language he took in Special Forces course, he picked up the Pashto language really quick.”
Rob not only spoke French, German and Russian, but knew Pashto, the official language of the Afghan nationals.
SSG Nicholas McGarry recalls, “He was, I mean he was such a smart guy, he would just be able to pick up on anything, I mean he knew Pashto I would say better than most people on the very first tour that we went together. He was constantly over hanging out with the locals, the ASG we had, the Afghan Security guards, you know the Terps, just getting to know who and what they were. The epitome of what you know being what a Special Forces solider is to be able to win over the hearts and minds and really be able to do that, and he did it to the fullest extent.” SFC Mackey said, “He was always looking to sharpen his sword, whether it was honing his skills with shooting, or seeing if he could squeeze another minute off his two mile, that was just the type of guy he was.”
Everyone on the team said Robbie was a free spirit who was always looking for adventure.
On January 28, 2008, the platoon’s lives would change forever. Taliban Fighter’s closed in on the Special Forces team near the Pakistan border in a near ambush attack.
SSG. McGarry said his team was on a standard operation to observe a compound because of increased activity in the area, “Robbie said I’ll do it, I’ll go up front. His way with the language was so well, he was going to be able to direct the ANA, the Afghan National Army. So, it was really just kind of light hearted the whole time. It didn’t seem like anything big, there wasn’t a lot of pressure on anybody.”
A simple mission changed drastically as MSG James Lodyga recalls, “We heard Ali-Akbar screamed out and an immediate barrage of fire followed that.”
SFC Nicholas McGarry said Robbie was only 10-15 meters away, working with the Afghan National Army and taking charge of the situation. SSG McGarry said, “I looked over and just immediately saw Robbie he had the squad automatic weapon which was a machine gun, and he just tore into it, immediately I see him charging a PKM position, after being over there so many times you can tell the difference between what rounds are being shot at you. He just went right towards them.”
“From my location, it was almost like the 4th of July. There were tracers everywhere, RPG’s everywhere,” said Capt. Cusick. During the fire fight Capt. Cusick was struck, but SSG Jeffrey Vanryn said even after Capt. Cusick was shot, he continued to be an extra set of eyes as he used his laser to laze enemy targets so his team could take them down.
It was a chaotic scene as SSG McGarry remembers, “The bottom fell out basically, I was engaged completely in front of me, we were engaged to our left, our front, our right. It turned out to be like ants coming out of an ant hill, they just started coming out all over the place.”
When the team realized they were in trouble, SFC Mackey heard the commands to bound back, “Our standard operating procedure for breaking contact in the formation we were in was to do a peel and that’s where we are in a file we’re stacked one behind the other, the first person while everybody else is shooting, the first person sends a burst out until he’s is empty of ammunition and the round is complete and he runs to the back of the stack.”
As the team was preparing to leave, Rob made a conscious decision to stay. Eye witness accounts from his team say he not only stayed, but began to launch forward towards the enemy and fired his weapon. MSG Lodyga said he heard Robbie yell out the three D’s, distance, direction, description of the enemy and then he saw Robbie moving forward with his gun engaging them and their machine gun position.
“All the muzzle flashes we saw, that were engaging us, Robbie was shooting, and all of those muzzle flashes turned to Robbie and Robbie kept going at it, and we saw guys die,” said SFC Mackey.
Capt. Cusick has his own beliefs on why Rob made the decision he did that day, “My personal opinion I think he wanted to provide that extra fire power for his buddies to get out of the kill zone and again I don’t know, to this day, maybe when we meet our maker and I get to sit down and talk to him, but that’s just one of the mysteries. Knowing Sgt. Miller, why he did what he did, to this day we don’t know. He moved forward, and we moved back.”
Robbie’s muzzle flashes were attracting a lot of attention which in turn made him the focus of enemy fire, but then his gun went silent.
SFC Mackey was emotional when he said he looked up at one point, and Robbie was lying on his back, “I immediately I got up and said Robbie is hit and ran to him. We were still taking fire. I immediately started to apply first aide to, looking for wounds. I didn’t see any on his head, or his face, nor his neck, I looked down his arms, got between his shoulder blade, and I found a bullet wound. So I stripped his body armor off of him and I stuck my finger in where the bullet wound was to stop the bleeding.”
SFC Vanryn remembers the distinct radio traffic during those moments, “Chief Wilson had called up over the radio and he was like you need to get that medevac in here now otherwise Bob, Capt. Cusick is going to die, and we are going to have to carry Robbie’s body out. That’s when we knew, it was like oh no.”
It was at that moment that the rest of the team learned that Robbie did not make it out alive, and he had passed on.
“The fact that Robbie went well and beyond what he was supposed to do and he saved our lives by the actions he took, it puts him to me in a category of the guys back in World War II, Vietnam. The guys that did things without thinking about their own safety… it puts him in that category of guys who have come before him… and I give thanks to that,” said MSG Lodyga.
“The loss of Robbie, it took me a very long time to get over, things like that shouldn’t have to happen to people like him. He was a very special person and individual,” said SFC Saragosa.
Robbie’s parents were contacted, and his story of heroism was told. Maureen remembers that day, “When I heard that he had sacrificed his life for others that did help us a lot in dealing with the grief, we knew his death was not in vain, that there were other people alive and that some of his teammates had wives and children and that their fathers would be coming home to them someday, that really, that did help us get through it all.”
Robbie’s father Phil, is proud of his son’s actions, “All of us wonder could we perform the same way and keep our head and do what we have to do in an extreme situation and take calculated risks. I really admire that. To stay in the kill zone, and actually move forward, and to take out the machine gun position that was in front of him and I believe after he was hit once, was still able to keep firing and throwing grenades and to keep the enemy under pressure… above and beyond the call of duty.”
SFC McGarry told the story of the Afghan community reaction to Robbie’s death, “After the fight and the town that we were in Naray, after that whole thing the Mullah from Naray, which was the holy man, and the Mullah from the fire base came over and said the entire week all prayers are gonna be dedicated to Robbie. That’s how big of a statement he made on the local populace.”
President Barack Obama awarded Sgt. Robert Miller the military’s highest honors posthumously on October 6, 2010 during a White House formal ceremony with his family, Special Forces team members and close friends. Sgt. Miller became the third recipient of the Medal of Honor for valor in Afghanistan.