During the height of the Iraq War, Nevada Assembly candidate Mack Miller deserted his fellow Army soldiers on the frontline, court documents show.
Miller, a Republican hoping to win the District 5 seat, now faces significant backlash from soldiers who say he failed to take responsibility for ditching them in the desert. But Miller says he was put on a mandatory leave and told not to return after he suffered a back injury while his unit was detonating a bomb.
“I’m very angry,” said Richard Carreon, a Las Vegas resident who was a sergeant in Miller’s unit and president of the Nevada Veterans Association. “This guy is parading around like he left honorably, but in reality he deserted the unit at a time his brothers were in the fight of our lives.”
A military court found Miller, then a private first class, guilty of desertion and sentenced him to 18 months confinement, a demotion to private and a bad conduct discharge, according to documents obtained by the Review-Journal. Miller twice unsuccessfully appealed the ruling.
Miller, 41, joined the Army in spring 2007 and was stationed in Germany before his unit was deployed to Iraq in August 2007. The Las Vegas native, who owns a firm called M&A Legal Management, left Iraq just three months later and did not return.
“I got thrown into a wall and I suffered injuries,” Miller said in an interview Friday.
Miller said that while he was on a 14-day mandatory “rest and relaxation” leave a sergeant emailed him to say “don’t bother coming back.” Miller could not recall who sent the email or provide a copy of it.
But Eric Owens, who was Miller’s platoon leader, said he was not notified of any injuries.
”I cannot recall an instance where he reported an injury to his leadership because we would have sent him to get checked out,” said Owens, who is now out of the Army and lives in Atlanta.
“He made no statement that he was injured. He just left us in Iraq during quite possibly one of the most difficult lives in our lives.”
Miller said he believed he was released from military duty until a December 2007 run-in with Los Angeles police — he can’t remember why — in which he was notified of his AWOL status. Miller was then sent to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, and offered an opportunity to resign with an other-than-honorable discharge.
But Miller refused to resign and opted to instead face a court-martial in Germany.
“If I sign something saying I’m quitting, then I’m quitting,” Miller said. “I’d rather be prosecuted by court-martial and have you force me out than quit.”
Miller, who also pleaded guilty last year to impersonating a police officer, said he never again saw the soldiers he served with in Iraq. But they see him campaigning for Assembly and posting tributes to a fallen comrade. A post on Memorial Day enraged those soldiers who said 16 lives were lost in Iraq while Miller was AWOL.
“It seemed he was trying to score political points off of someone who died for us,” said Kyle Spletter, a former Army specialist who now lives in Wisconsin. “Miller ran from battle. He left us. Our leaders didn’t leave us.”
Miller has one Republican opponent, Jason Burke, in the June 12 primary. Nevada GOP chairman Michael McDonald did not return calls for comment. Burke has done little in the way of campaigning. Incumbent Democrat Brittney Miller, who is not related to Mack Miller, has no primary opponent.
A tearful Miller offered an apology to his fellow soldiers.
“I’m very, very, very sorry for what has happened,” he said. “I never had any intent to harm anyone or to desert them.”