Last month the United States Air Force awarded its highest honor to retired Master Sgt. Keary Miller, who grew up in Maxwell, for his heroic actions in Afghanistan during the 17-hour Battle of Roberts Ridge, which took place more than 15 years ago.
On April 20, Miller, who lives in Kentucky, was one of two airmen to receive the Air Force Cross at a ceremony in Florida. Miller’s mother and step-father, Maxwell residents Lindia and Michael Daugherty, attended the ceremony, along with Miller’s wife, Gina, and their children Kiersten and Ian.
“It was just a really nice day. I’m so proud of him. We just had a great time. Not enough time, but it was great,” Lindia Daugherty said.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein officiated the ceremony, honoring both Miller and fellow Air Force Cross recipient Staff Sgt. Chris Baradat.
“No doubt, both Keary and Chris would have preferred to receive these medals in the mail. But it’s our responsibility, and in fact, our distinct honor, to celebrate our heroes. And there’s nothing more important than doing so with our families, who often bear the burden of service in uniform,” Goldfein said at the ceremony.
Miller – who deployed to Afghanistan as a pararescueman in November 2001 with the Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron – was previously presented the Silver Star Medal on November 1, 2003. His award was upgraded to an Air Force Cross after a Department of Defense-directed review of valor awards given for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, which was initiated last year.
The Air Force Cross – the Air Force’s highest award outside of the Medal of Honor – is given for extraordinary heroism while engaged in military operations against an enemy of the United States.
“That’s the essence of special tactics: You do what others cannot or will not do, and you do it because it must be done, and because there is no one better,” Goldfein said.
According to Miller’s Air Force Cross citation, that was on display on March 4, 2002, when then-Tech. Sgt. Miller was the Air Force combat search and rescue team leader assigned to a U.S Army Ranger quick reaction force. The team was tasked with supporting a joint special operations team on a mountaintop called Takur Ghar, which was occupied by al Queda forces.
The Chinook helicopter carrying Miller and the team of Rangers was attempting to land on the mountaintop when it was hit by rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire, severely disabling the aircraft and causing it to crash land. Miller and the remainder of the assault force “formed a hasty defense and immediately suffered four fatalities and five critical casualties,” his citation said. Miller moved across the snow-covered battlefield, risking his own life while running through open danger areas and intense enemy fire while he attempted to attend to critically wounded servicemen.
As the battle went on, Miller removed M-203 grenade and 5.56 rounds from the deceased “and, in multiple acts of extraordinary courage, proceeded through some of the day’s heaviest rocket-propelled grenade, mortar, and small arms fire, while distributing the ammunition from position to position.”
Another attack ensued shortly thereafter, killing one pararescueman and compromising the casualty collection point. Miller again braved enemy fire to move the wounded to better cover and concealment. Miller is credited with saving the lives of ten U.S. servicemembers who were wounded in action, and with recovering the bodies of seven members who died that day.
“In 2002, Sgt. Keary Miller, from the 123 Special Tactics Squadron, displayed extraordinary heroism on a fateful night, on the snow covered ridges of Tahkra Gar, Afghanistan. In a time where the normal reaction is to defend yourself, he instinctively chose to defend others, repeatedly exposing himself to hostile fire,” said Goldfein. ■