A Wheaton North graduate is being posthumously awarded the nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions in Afghanistan in 2008.
The White House announced Thursday that Army Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, who died while in a close-range fire fight on Jan. 25, 2008, would receive the rare award.
President Barack Obama will present the award to Miller's parents, Phil and Maureen, on Oct. 6 at the White House.
"Once it started to sink in we are very proud," Maureen Miller said. "We are proud that he is our son and of the training that he got from the special forces."
Miller received the award for his "immeasurable courage and uncommon valor" while saving the lives of his team of American soldiers and 15 Afghan National Army soldiers during the fire fight, according to a White House statement.
The rare distinction will be only the third Medal of Honor awarded for action in Afghanistan.
Miller was on a patrol mission with a squad of approximately 23 soldiers when they were ambushed at close range the night of his death, Miller's mother said.
"Some of the machine guns were only 15 meters away from them," she said. "What Rob did was basically take control of the situation after his team captain was critically injured."
Maureen Miller said her son directed the team during the ambush and had the courage to put his life on the line to save the other soldiers.
"He finally went into an exposed position to draw fire on himself to allow his fellow soldiers to get into a safe position," she said.
Bobby Kaye, Miller's best friend since 1997 when they met at Wheaton North High School, said the announcement finally provided him with a sense of closure.
"Once Maureen told us, it was nothing but tears," Kaye said. "A lot when through my mind when I first heard about (the award), but the best way to say it would be good closure."
Kaye said the courage Miller showed while leading the assault that January night did not surprise him.
"I first thought it was a bombing, but when reports came out about what really happened I was not surprised," Kaye said. "That had Robert Miller written all over it."
Maureen Miller said her son was put into consideration for the award shortly after his death, and she was notified that he would receive the award this July.
"Our main sense was one of relief that the decision had finally been made," she said.
The award is presented to members of the armed forces whose conduct involved "great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life," according to the White House statement.
"His first reaction would have been that he was just doing his job and that he didn't deserve the award," Maureen Miller said.
Robert's three brothers, Thomas, Martin and Edward, and four sisters, Joanna, Mary, Therese and Patricia, will accompany their parents to the October ceremony.
Miller was highly educated and had a love for languages, Kaye said. While on his first tour he had learned to speak Pashto, which played a role in saving his fellow soldier's lives during the assault, Kaye said.
"During the initial assault he was yelling orders in Pashto to his Afghan soldiers and radioing in English to the Americans," Kaye said. "His team captain is alive today because of him."
Miller, who was 24 when he died, was born in Harrisburg, Pa., but spent most of his childhood in Wheaton. Shortly after his graduation, his family moved to Oviedo, Fla. He attended the University of Iowa for one year before enlisting in the Army as a Special Forces candidate in August of 2003. He later became a Green Beret in 2005.
He last served as a weapons sergeant in Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
His military decorations include the Army Commendation Medal for valor, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, a Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab and Parachute Badge.
"There are stories out there that date back to before the Civil War that live on today," Kaye said. "Those stories are still being told. Rob's story will never go away, and that's something that I will always be proud of."