R.I.P. Staff Sgt. Robert Miller

Last week, Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, a 2002 graduate of Wheaton North High School, was killed in Barikowt, Afghanistan. He was a Green Beret assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Ft. Bragg, N.C. He was 24.staff_sgt_robert_miller.jpg

His gymnastics coach and English teacher from high school, Chad Downie, said that Miller’s favorite quote from sophomore English was “cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” He convinced the coach to put this saying on the team’s practice shirts during the following season.

I feel personally connected in multiple ways to Staff Sgt. Miller. My oldest son went to the same elementary school, and had the same teachers mentioned in the articles below, and was on the same gymnastics team, coached by the same Coach Downie. The online version of the Daily Herald article doesn’t show it, but the newspaper had a picture of the gymnastics team, and the two kids next to Miller were still on the team the next year when my son was a freshman on the team, and he was mentored by these kids. My son graduated from elementary school with one of Miller’s sisters.

Staff Sgt. Robert Miller was an honorable young man who relished a challenge; he took Latin in high school, just for the challenge, and during gymnastics practice, he never wanted to leave the gym. As with most Special Forces troops, he was proficient in 3 languages, French, Pashto, and Spanish. His awards included the Army Commendation Medal for Valor, Army Good Conduct Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, two Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbons, NATO Medal, Parachutist Badge, Ranger Tab and Special Forces Tab.

I’d really hoped that I wouldn’t read yet another story about a local soldier dying half a world away. These stories about local young people, risking their lives to help others and fulfill a sense of purpose. Their adult lives just getting started, but already exceedingly well-lived and filled with honor, commitment, and the pursuit of excellence. Then, suddenly, they’re gone. And all that is left is grief, and loved ones wondering what might have been. It is depressing, and sad beyond words.

I feel a bond with all local kids that join the service. They’re from my community, and they took risks to help the world I live in, and to protect my own kids. It hurts me when they don’t come home. And I didn’t even know them before; I can’t imagine the grief of those who knew them well, or loved them as family or friend.

But as always with the deaths of brave people serving their country, we must focus on the good things they did with their lives while they were here. Actually, this is true for everybody, since we never know when the end is coming, for any of us. When people like Staff Sgt. Miller are driven to serve, they are fulfilling their sense of purpose, and there is a lot of value in that, regardless of risk. As parents, we like to think we can protect our kids forever, but “protection” can easily turn into something more controlling and unfair to a young man or woman that has reached the age of consent.

My sincere condolences to the family of Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, and to his friends, and to all who knew him.


(updated 4 Feb ’08)

UPDATE 06 October 2010:

Sgt. Miller’s family and close friends are at the White House today to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor in his memory. To them, our undying thanks and gratitude.

More links:

  1. Heath said:

    Robert was in my Ranger School class … I can’t remember if we were in the same Platoon together, but I do remember talking with him in Mountains Phase. My condolences for your loss. RLTW

  2. jb said:

    Heath – thanks for weighing in, and thank you for your service.