MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, FL – A crowd of several hundred onlookers watched as the names of two Special Operators who earned the Nation’s highest military award were unveiled on the black granite walls of the Special Operations Memorial here March 27.
The ceremony was to honor Medal of Honor recipients Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry and Army Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller and induct them into U.S. Special Operations Command’s Hall of Honor, as well as reveal their names at the memorial. Miller, who died as a result of the wounds he received on the mission when he performed his heroic actions, was represented by his parents, Phil and Maureen Miller, along with two of his siblings. Petry and his wife, Ashley, were also on hand to pull off the black veils covering the names at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Admiral Bill McRaven, commander of USSOCOM, presided over the ceremony and talked about how Americans take great pride in the military and are “in awe” of those who earn the Medal of Honor.
“This is about honoring the people and stories that breathe life into the granite walls that surround us,” McRaven said. “The black stone preserves and promotes our heritage … A heritage and legacy that these two Medal of Honor recipients exemplified during their service to this Nation.”
Petry, who is currently serving as a USSOCOM Care Coalition liaison with 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, received his Medal of Honor for his actions while serving with D Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, in Paktya province, Afghanistan, on May 26, 2008. During an engagement with the enemy, he was wounded in both legs before picking up an enemy grenade that landed nearby, which detonated just after leaving his hand as he attempted to throw it clear of his fellow Rangers. Despite the blast severing his right hand, Petry stayed in the fight and called in support for his unit after applying a tourniquet to his wrist.
Miller received his Medal of Honor for his actions while serving with Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3312, Special Operations Task Force-33, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, in Konar province, Afghanistan, on January 25, 2008. While conducting a battle damage assessment after an engagement with the enemy, Miller and his team were caught exposed by a large insurgent force. Miller, the point man, called for his men to fall back and take cover, and then charged the enemy to provide protective fire. Despite being shot in the upper torso, Miller continued to engage the enemy to draw fire from more than 100 insurgents. Through his actions, Miller killed at least 10 insurgents and wounded dozens more, allowing his team to safely reach cover, before he was mortally wounded.
Technical Sgt. Robert Gutierrez, currently with the Oregon Air National Guard’s 125th Special Tactics Squadron, was the guest speaker for the event. He served with Miller’s team as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), and was there the night Miller earned his Medal of Honor when he sacrificed his life.
Gutierrez recalled his first encounter with Miller after being assigned to the team. He said he put his gear in his room, grabbed his rifle and headed out side where Miller and a fellow team member were. Gutierrez said his first encounter with Miller was a good ribbing with a question of, “What are you doing with that rifle, Air Force?”
Gutierrez explained how they became instant friends and would often enter into service rivalry discussions – Gutierrez saying his ammunition was bigger (bombs) and never missed, and Miller always replying with, “But I’m a Green Beret!”
Throughout their time together, Gutierrez said he and Miller shared experiences – Gutierrez taught Miller how to call in close air support using Air Force jargon, and Miller taught Gutierrez the intricacies of working with the local population. The friendship resulted in the two working closely together every day, even the night when Miller was killed as he helped Gutierrez identify and call in targets to pilots above.
After the strikes were called in and Miller took the point to assess the damage, Gutierrez said he felt a little anxiety, like being separated from his brother. After Miller was wounded, Gutierrez and a fellow team member went to pull him back to safety, but Miller was still pointing out targets.
“The thing that mattered the most was, A – we were trying to get to him and help him, and B – a dying man still points out, on his back, and says, ‘They’re right there,’” recalled Gutierrez, who earned an Air Force Cross on a subsequent deployment. “Me, as a JTAC, being able to see it and do my job because of him, there’s nothing I could do or say to ever repay what he did.”
A total of 45 names grace the Medal of Honor/Victoria Cross wall at the Special Operations Memorial. The memorial lists the names and pays tribute to all Special Operations personnel who have died in service to the Nation.