The College of DuPage will name its homeland security education center this week in memory of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, a Wheaton native who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
The ceremony — which will be held Thursday at the Glen Ellyn campus — culminates a grass-roots movement to name the facility after Miller instead of ousted President Robert Breuder, whose controversial severance package contained a long-standing promise to dedicate it in his honor.
Breuder left the college in the spring 2015 after receiving a $763,000 buyout that quickly became a symbol of outsized government spending and fueled a campaign for three seats on the community college’s board. The buyout also reaffirmed a previous board’s decision to name the homeland security center after Breuder, who oversaw the building’s construction and had been among its proudest boosters.
Amid public backlash over the buyout, Miller’s childhood friend Bobby Kaye asked trustees to consider naming the building, which houses educational programs for first responders and corporate security personnel, after Miller.
Miller, 24, died after exposing himself to enemy fire and saving the lives of more than 20 U.S. and Afghan troops, the Pentagon concluded. President Barack Obama posthumously awarded him the Medal of Honor in 2010.
“There are 21 other people alive today because of what he did,” Kaye said. “That speaks volumes about what kind of person he was. It’s extremely fitting that the building be named after him. I couldn’t ask for anything more than to have the former president’s name taken off the building and Rob’s put on it.”
The second of eight children, Miller graduated from Wheaton North High School and attended the University of Iowa for a year before joining the Army in 2003.
During his second tour of Afghanistan in January 2008, he led a group of American and Afghan soldiers charged with clearing a valley of insurgents who had been attacking Afghan forces and terrorizing villagers, according to the Pentagon. The valley erupted in gunfire, and Miller’s team was pinned down with almost no cover.
Despite the chaos, Miller held his ground and radioed back enemy positions, the Army said. The only Pashto speaker on his team, he organized the Afghan soldiers around him before ordering everyone to fall back.
“And then he did something extraordinary,” Obama said as he posthumously awarded Miller the Medal of Honor. “Rob moved in the other direction — toward the enemy, drawing their guns away from his team and bringing the fire of all those insurgents down upon himself.”
When the gunfire finally ended, five of Miller’s fellow soldiers had been injured, but his entire team survived. Obama told his parents, Maureen and Phil, that others certainly would have died if Miller had not sacrificed his own life.
Miller is only the seventh Medal of Honor winner in DuPage County history.
A deeply divided board revoked Breuder’s severance package in September 2015 amid questions about his spending and management style at the state’s largest community college. In doing so, they rescinded the promise to name the homeland security building after him, an honor predicated on his conduct not being “materially detrimental to the reputation of the board and/or the college.”
Breuder is currently suing the college for wrongful termination. His attorney could not be reached for comment.
But even before the severance package’s revocation, faculty representatives, state lawmakers and members of the public had urged trustees to instead name the building after Miller. The board approved the change two years ago, but it has taken time to create the appropriate memorial inside the building.
Miller’s family asked that the facility include a memorial to former students and alumni who have lost their lives in the line of duty as firefighters, police officers, paramedics and members of the military.
“The Homeland Security Education Center is dedicated to training the people who put their lives on the line every day to help keep us safe,” said Deanne Mazzochi, chairwoman of the college board of trustees. “It’s certainly fitting that it honor Staff Sgt. Miller and the sacrifice he made.”