NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The wife of an Army National Guardsman accused of fatally shooting an Afghan civilian said the sergeant is a dedicated soldier who volunteered for combat deployments to support his family.

Sgt. Derrick Miller, 27, of Hagerstown, Md., has been charged with murder in the death of Atta Mohammed in eastern Afghanistan last September. Miller had volunteered to deploy with the Connecticut National Guard and was attached to the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan at the time of the shooting.

After being charged, he was sent to Fort Campbell, on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line where the division is based, and remains there on active duty status. His court-martial is scheduled for June.

Katherine Miller, his wife and the mother of his two daughters, told The Associated Press on Thursday that her husband enlisted after losing his job in construction four years ago and found his calling in the military. Since then, he deployed three times, twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, and was given Army Commendation Medals and Army Achievement Medals for his service.

“He loves the military because it gave him a sense of accomplishment, the pride of being a soldier and serving your country,” she said.

He spent only three months at home between his two Iraq tours and also worked as a security guard at Fort Detrick, Md., before his deployment to Afghanistan, she said.

She said she believes his statement to investigators that he pulled the trigger when the Afghan tried to grab his gun.

“I feel pretty confident because his story has never changed,” she said. “It’s always been the same thing since the first time I talked to him back in September.”

According to documents from his Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury, Miller’s unit had set up a defense perimeter around a mortar platoon on Sept. 26 in Laghman province. Miller said in his statement that the Afghan man approached their position, saying he was there to fix electrical lines that had been knocked down.

Miller said he became suspicious and decided to question the man. Miller took him to a nearby latrine, along with an interpreter and another soldier.

Miller said the man started giving inconsistent statements about what he was doing in the area. Miller said he pointed a 9 mm pistol at the man’s head and threatened to kill him if he didn’t tell the truth.

At that point, Miller said the man reached for his gun and Miller shot him in the head. Miller said after the shooting, he moved the body inside the latrine, so that younger soldiers wouldn’t see the body.

His wife, who is 25, said her husband is not the kind of guy to snap or react without thinking first. She said other soldiers he’s worked with considered him a good leader and responsible.

“He’s got a conscience and ethics and he’s going to do things the right way,” she said.

But the military’s report on the shooting said the Afghan may have been agitated in fear of his life, attempting to kiss Miller’s feet and place his hands on the soldier’s chest in a flailing manner. Neither of the two eyewitnesses to the shooting saw the Afghan reach for the gun, according to the report.

The charge of murder also includes lesser charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.

Miller’s wife said combat is extremely stressful and she trusts that her husband used his best judgment at the time.

“Everyone tends to speculate so much, without realizing what it would be like in combat,” she said.

She said he remains upbeat while he stays at Fort Campbell and she’s been able to visit him. But she said he is eager to return home to Maryland to see his two daughters, who are 4 and 2 years old.

“He tells me to keep my chin up and tells me everything is going to be OK,” she said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (4)
  1. Craig says:

    We should be supporting our military and our soliders not persecuting them. If the man who was killed entered a miltary zone without proper approval and started giving inconsistent answers. The military has every right to pull a weapon on him. The solider said the man went for his gun, why won’t they believe his word. Especially considering he is a decorated solider. I am sure he used proper judgement in the situation. I have the upmost respect for all military servicemen, I believe he was in the right and should not be held accountable for the situation. If he is court martialed, it just goes to show you that the government is more worried about politics than protecting the people of our great nation. Our soliders have died on the battlefield to secure a safe haven for everyone else we should support them. I wish the best to the SGT. Miller and hope this outlandish charge brings a not guilty decision and he can still continue to protect our boarders.

    1. kathleen says:

      I totally agree with Craig. Well said! My prayers are with the Sgt. and his family. Thank you for your service.

  2. Nikki Shanell says:

    Craig is so right. If nothing else the military is taught and live by the Army values. No one knows the day to day action behind the action of the Soldiers of our country that guard our country and others country without hesitation. Having been to Afghanistan myself, you never know what some of those people are going to do. If they will let their child walk up to you with an explosive strapped to them then you can never be to careful. SGT Miller should be praised because who knows what that guy was coming to their area of operation for. Our Soldiers are the best and they should not be put in situations such as this. Keep your head up to SGT Millers wife and family. God knows all.

  3. dcan says:

    As a fellow combat arms soldier, I know that it is against military law to hold a gun to any civilian, and that the Rules of Engagement established long before you reach the deployment zone are to be adhered to from both high and low ranking soldiers.

    Never will you hold a weapon to someone’s head, and NOT expect them as a defenseless individual to defend themselves from an irrational individual.

    Do not doubt that anyone under the same situation (or mental condition) can do the unfathomable.

    And for heavens sake – AAM’s and ARCOM’s are lovely ‘pat on the back’ medals, which are given for doing a good job. Had he been awarded a Meritorious Service Medal, Bronze Star, Silver Star, or even an Arcom with “valor” I could take a ‘decorated soldier’ comment much more serious.

    Nobody would ever imagine their loved ones whom they love and care for to be capable of doing something inconceivable.

    Just because he is a soldier, does NOT mean that he is to be presumed innocent. My heart feels for the family involved that the father would do such a careless act without first bringing the individual that was killed to the attention of his SOG (sergeant of the guard), or at a minimum to his platoon sergeant – He took matters into his own hand, and executed this civilian. Non combatant or not, he was unarmed, and was killed like an animal.

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