OAKLAND — In one searing moment in time in September, Army Spc. Michael Miller’s haunted expression became immortalized as a face of war.

Time magazine photographer Adam Ferguson, embedded with Miller’s infantry brigade in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, took a picture of Miller seconds after enemy fire had tore through trees around them.

The photograph, taken after an ambush in which a sergeant in Miller’s Charlie Company was fatally wounded, was recently picked as one of Time’s Top 10 Photos of 2011.

The picture snapped near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan has made a lasting impression on Miller’s in-laws, Robert and Jane Burke of Oakland.

In July 2010, Miller married the Burkes’ daughter, Brittany, a 2003 graduate of Messalonskee High School.

Seated in her parents’ cozy living room Tuesday, Brittany Miller, 26, said she is awed by her courageous husband and hopes the photograph draws attention to the horrors of war that armed service members routinely endure.

“I know for the general public that’s a powerful image. I see it and I think, ‘That’s my husband as I’ve never seen him before,'” she said as she looked at his young face. “He goes through that on a daily basis. It is surreal to me. He honestly amazes me.”

The Time photographer said he saw Miller, 23, of Melbourne, Fla., sitting “with a glassy haunted stare” at the feet of Daniel Quintana, his dying sergeant.

Ferguson wrote, “I tapped him (Miller) on the shoulder and when he turned and gazed into my lens, I not only saw an image from Afghanistan, but an image that could have been made in Vietnam. His expression wreaked of the same senselessness and confusion, the same futility of a life lost under equivocal circumstances.”

Brittany Miller said her husband’s family has a long history of service to the country.

“This is a personal challenge for him,” Brittany Miller said. “He likes to challenge himself and push himself. He loves what he does and if he’s happy being deployed, then it’s easier for me to stick it out.”

She said she hopes Americans realize the sacrifices that armed service members and their families make.

“I didn’t have that appreciation before being immersed in it,” she said. “I was guilty of taking for granted comforts and conveniences.”

There will be a number of families sitting down Christmas Day with an empty chair at the table, she said. And she said the war will never be over for families who have lost loved ones in conflicts.

She often asks her husband about his day when they talk on the phone.

She said his routine response is, “I went to work.”

Robert Burke added, “He can’t say what they do. They get attacked nearly every day.”

Brittany Miller said her husband signed up for the Army on the day of their first date, when she was a graduate student at the Florida Institute of Technology. Michael Miller is a graduate of Full Sail University, with a degree in computer design.

“He’s an amazing person,” she said. “He’s genuine, he has good values, he’s grounded, he’s nice, he’s fun and he makes me laugh.”

Jane Burke said she couldn’t have “hand picked a better son-in-law.”

Early in the new year, Brittany Miller is planning to spend time with her hero.

After spending Christmas with her parents, she will travel to Florida to visit her in-laws then, after a stop in Paris, she’ll go to Grafenwoehr, Germany, where her husband is based.

There, she’ll await his arrival for his mid-deployment break. She said they’ll celebrate Christmas together in Germany, then go to London for a few days.

The past two years have been a whirlwind for Brittany, who earned a graduate degree in marine biology from FIT on July 8, 2010, married Michael Miller on July 23, then joined him in Germany a couple of months later.

Before her husband deployed to Afghanistan in July, the pair enjoyed trips to Berlin, Paris and Venice.

When Michael Miller returns to Afghanistan after his break (his deployment is slated to end in June), she will return to her full-time job as a program assistant for the U.S. Army Child, Youth & School Services.

“The busier I am the faster the time goes by,” she said.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]

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