NASHVILLE, Tenn. – 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.