Secretary of the Army Medal of Honor Speech
October 8, 2010
(Remarks as prepared)
Years ago, President Ronald Reagan once observed: some people go their whole life wondering if they ever make a difference; but Marines don't have that problem.
I imagine that if President Reagan were here today, he would not hesitate to include Soldiers and, in fact, all the men and women serving our nation at a time of war in that same category.
But by whatever measure, in SSG Robert Miller's case, there is no need to wonder - he made a difference.
As we've heard, he sacrificed his life to make a difference for his fellow Soldiers; he upheld the values he coveted most dearly in order to secure our Nation's future: loyalty, duty, selfless service, honor - personal courage.
To those who knew him best - his family, friends, teachers, his fellow Green Berets - Robert's actions didn't come as a surprise. It was how he always led his life.
Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on October 14, 1983, Rob started a life that would be continuously marked by force and passion. The second child of eight, he was a daring and innovative boy-- walking by his seventh month. But for Rob, walking, even at that early age, wasn't enough; his mother recalls as soon as he was able to navigate on two feet, he began dragging a chair around to help him explore new spaces and to climb on her kitchen countertops.
During one of his last visits home, his mom, Maureen, recalled that Rob had again displayed that same enduring wild streak he had growing up. Seems Rob was driving his mother home while holding a soft drink in one hand and adjusting his iPod in the other - no simple task for most mortals, but Rob was doing those tasks while driving hands free, with his knees, in a pickup truck that operated with a stick shift! Despite his mother's protests, as always, he just laughed, claiming: "I know what I'm doing."
Rob always found a way to live life on his own terms.
Moving with his family to Wheaton, Illinois, at the age of five, Rob attended St. Michael's School from first through eighth grades. There he discovered a love of sports - particularly gymnastics, then basketball and later track.
At St. Michael's, Rob developed a ferocious intensity, particularly for the subjects that truly interested him. He always went the extra mile for those interests, especially history.
Bill Cashin, St. Michael's physical education teacher, remembered Rob as being "nice to everybody and a fun kid to have in class." While his eighth grade teacher, Peggy Flynn, recalled that he was "very responsible...someone who respected traditions."
By all accounts, Rob was your average American kid. He loved to re-enact episodes of "The Simpsons" and he often pretended to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, even mimicking their patented karate moves.
Through it all, Rob showed an early, persistent interest in the military; in fact, he often got caught putting on his dad's old Army uniforms.
His parents recounted the many times he would listen intently to their dinner table stories about the Cold War, their time spent in Berlin and the Soviet Union.
And once, as part of an 8th grade assignment to interview veterans, Rob energetically contacted his parent's former chaplain in an effort to learn about his unique experiences during World War II.
Early on it became pretty clear that for Rob, it wasn't really a question of if he would join the military, but when.
Throughout his too brief life, he followed his passions wherever they led. He developed his knack for languages - first mastering Latin, then Spanish, later French. It was a skill that would make a crucial difference the night he died saving his comrades...when he gave orders in Pashto (a language he taught himself) that saved Afghan Soldiers from certain destruction.
He also discovered classical music and cultivated an interest in geography and military history. He even read "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu-a task most Soldiers desperately try to avoid until ordered to read it at our most senior levels...yet another testament to Rob's passion and his love of the Army and of learning.
Whatever the challenge, whatever the pursuit, Rob gave it his all...never half-way, never half-done...
But throughout high school, Rob's first love was always gymnastics. He led the school's team as co-captain during his Junior and Senior year. With his intense drive and leadership pushing them to win, his team placed fifth in the state championships.
Chad Downie, his high school gymnastics coach once described Rob's extraordinary dedication when he noted, "One of his amazing qualities is how hard he would work when he put his mind to something. I would often have to kick Rob out of the gym after a three-hour practice because I wanted to go home."
In sports or life, Rob Miller was determined...and relentless. The way Rob's friend, Brian Melvin put it, "He was intense ... No Joke."
But despite his determined and relentless nature, Rob was always quick with a smile and a joke to lighten things up.
Right after high school, Rob hoped to become a Midshipman. But he was colorblind and that forced him to abandon his dream of the Navy, and yet, he remained committed to the idea of service. Fortuitously for the 22 Afghans and Americans he would save one day, his life instead took a different path.
Rob attended the University of Iowa in the hopes of joining the Hawkeye gymnastics team. Although he didn't make the roster, he continued to devote time to work out with the team and lend a hand at meets as often as he could.
His parents later recounted an incident where Rob, after helping to clean up after a competition, made some students retrieve a rumpled American flag they had carelessly thrown into a closet. He instructed them on how to render the proper respect to our national symbol...and from what I've learned about Rob Miller, I'm certain those students learned that lesson awfully well.
But ultimately, college life didn't satisfy Rob... He left the University of Iowa after just one year to follow an older, more deeply felt passion. In 2003, he enlisted directly in the Army with no prior service as a Special Forces candidate.
To Daniel Coon, mentor and leader of Hawkeye Gymnastics, Rob's choice made perfect sense. Enlisting was, as he put it, "a suit of clothes that fit him."
After he completed two years of assessment, qualification and weapons training, 'Robbie' (as his teammates called him) finally donned his Green Beret. He began the career he always wanted...something in which he would excel but for far too short a time.
Now a Soldier, Rob still managed to maintain the same spirited, carefree manner he had as a teenager.
Among his peers, he was known for making his team-mates laugh.
When times got hard, he always managed say the right things to keep them going.
And everyone who worked with Rob considered him an outstanding Soldier; many thought he was, as they put it, "way too smart for his job."
Off duty, Rob possessed a zest for life that also stood out.
While at Fort Bragg, he enthusiastically took up surfing during his free time.
His friends would often find him home cooking a gourmet meal, listening to classical music... or cleaning his weapon to the sound of hard rock.
Rob's friends never knew just what to expect.
With his rich, varied interests - his many talents - Rob was comfortable in any setting.
On his second deployment to Afghanistan as part of Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, Rob would quickly distinguish himself as one of the best amongst his elite teammates.
As the youngest member of Alpha Company, he was known for his skill with weapons and his fluency in languages (he had already mastered four and was learning Russian at the time).
And with his unflagging enthusiasm and willingness to take on the most difficult missions, Rob was the "go-to guy" in the midst of the most elite, motivated warriors in our Army.
Rob Miller wouldn't have had it any other way.
And on the night of January 25th, 2008, he volunteered one last time - he unhesitatingly stood-up, saying to his commander, as he so often did...
"I got this one...I'll do it...send me."
SSG Robert James Miller was an outstanding Soldier and a hero - he was a funny, generous, passionate and determined man.
And glimpsing these brief moments of his life leads to an inescapable conclusion: he was someone we would all like to know...someone we would like to call friend. Someone we could always count on.
He lived his tragically shortened life to the fullest; He died making a difference.
As one of his teammates put so well, Rob Miller was the best 'Blackhawk Down' partner you could possibly have...and that's the highest tribute a Soldier could ever hope for. A life that while too short...was a life of extraordinary measure...