At least 150 Taliban swarmed in front and around him when Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller of the U.S. Army Special Forces charged at them on a cold Afghanistan morning in January 2008 in order to provide cover for the retreat of his fellow Green Berets and a dozen members of the Afghan National Forces. They were on patrol in a valley that harbored a Taliban compound. After calling in air strikes on the compound, Miller, who was 24 years of age, and his unit headed toward it to inspect the damage. That's when they were ambushed, surrounded and subjected to deadly plunging fire from three sides by insurgents wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades.

In a White House ceremony last October, President Obama described what happened after Miller charged toward the enemy:

"Rob made a decision. He called for his team to fall back. And then he did something extraordinary. 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.

"The fighting was ferocious. Rob seemed to disappear into clouds of dust and debris, but his team could hear him on the radio, still calling out the enemy's position. And they could hear his weapon still firing as he provided cover for his men.

"And then, over the radio, they heard his voice. He had been hit. But still, he kept calling out enemy positions. Still, he kept firing. Still, he kept throwing his grenades. And then they heard it -- Rob's weapon fell silent."

But his men lived to fight another day. For his heroism, Obama posthumously awarded Miller the Medal of Honor, which was received Oct. 6, 2010, by his parents, Phil and Maureen, in a White House ceremony.

Miller's extraordinary courage earned him the nation's highest honor, but just since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, members of the U.S. Army Special Forces have been awarded nearly 1,500 medals, including two Distinguished Service Crosses, 90 Silver Stars and more than 500 Bronze Stars.

Which raises the classic question: Where do we find such men as these?

Well, one entirely unexpected place is the Milwaukee Institute of Fine Art, where Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Bell of Houston earned a B.A. in fine arts. Bell joined Special Forces in 2005. I met him recently during a demonstration of Special Forces equipment and tactics at Fort Bragg, N.C.

In case you're thinking Bell is an exception, Army personnel data shows that nearly 40 percent of Army Special Forces' E-7 staff sergeants -- the core rank of the force -- have at least some college education. And all Green Berets who survive the grueling selection process receive an amazingly diverse postgraduate education that includes a high level of competency in at least one foreign language.

Besides the legendary physical, survival and martial training, Special Forces preparation covers a wide range of unconventional skills because Special Forces units currently serve in 40 nations overseas, often on missions that require everything from diplomatic talent in working with village elders to construction management to make sure a school being built by local contractors with U.S. assistance goes up properly. It's why Special Forces are increasingly called "warrior diplomats."

At least two members of every 12-man Special Forces unit have extensive medical training, while other pairs specialize in communications, weaponry, engineering and intelligence. Special Forces units are lethal: They've killed more Taliban insurgents than the rest of coalition forces in Afghanistan, but they've also treated an estimated 200,000 civilians with medical problems every year.

There are approximately 15,000 members of the Army Special Forces, with about 8,500 deployed overseas. In Afghanistan alone, Special Forces units conduct on average 30 operations every night.

Brig. Gen. Ed Reeder commands the Army Special Forces, based at Fort Bragg. He has served multiple combat tours in Afghanistan and Panama, and says his basic job -- besides equipping, training and deploying his men -- is making the American public aware of the crucial importance of Special Forces capabilities in dealing with threats characterized by unconventional warfare.

"The Special Forces warrior today is better, brighter, more physically fit than ever," says Reeder, who has spent 25 of his 28 years with the Army in Special Forces. He beams when he talks about his men, adding that "we even had an F-18 Hornet pilot who came over to Special Forces."

An Army unit that can lure Navy fighter pilots out of their jets is special indeed.

Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner and proprietor of Tapscott's CopyDesk blog on