EGLIN AFB — The daughter of a 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Green Beret soldier who shot his estranged wife early this week has been placed in the custody of a sister, according to Army Col. Patrick Colloton, commander of the 2,500-troop unit headquartered near Crestview.

 

In a wide-ranging Friday interview on the fatal Sunday shooting, and the Tuesday arrest of another 7th Group soldier on charges of sexually abusing two young girls, Colloton said that both the 7th Group and Eglin Air Force Base have counseling and other services available to assist the surviving victims of the two crimes.

On Sunday, Sgt. 1st Class Derek McKinney, 32, a 7th Group Green Beret, was arrested by Crestview police on a charge of homicide in the shooting death of his estranged wife, 34-year-old Natasha McKinney. McKinney himself called police, and came out of the Northview Drive home where the shooting occurred with his hands up as police arrived, according to his arrest report.

Two days later, 32-year-old William Thomas Mrozek, a support troop at 7th Group, was arrested by Crestview police on charges of sexual battery and child abuse in connection with alleged assaults on an 11-year-old girl and a 7-year-old girl in 2017.

Colloton offered only limited comment on the specifics of the two incidents.

The murder, Colloton said, "really took us by surprise."

With regard to the child sexual abuse cases, an addition to the Crestview Police Department report indicates that the Army's Criminal Investigation Division interviewed the two young victims, their mother and Mrozek on March 4 of this year. According to Colloton, the investigation came within a matter of days of 7th Group notifying CID of the alleged incident.

Speaking generally about how 7th Group responds to indications of criminal behavior within its ranks, Colloton outlined a three-pronged approach employed to assist victims, civilian law enforcement and the soldier charged with the crime.

"Number one is support to the family," Colloton said, which involves linking them with counseling and other services available through 7th Group, Special Operations Command, Eglin AFB, the Army, the Air Force and other agencies.

There are also less formal channels through which 7th Group seeks to address potential problems before they become criminal issues, Colloton said. In some instances, those channels include telephone calls from concerned spouses or family members directly to his office.

"And I encourage that," Colloton said. "We get a lot of information from the family networks."

The 7th Group also uses what Colloton called "sensors" to ferret out potentially problematic troops within its ranks.

Broadly speaking, "sensors" are people like chaplains, people working in the base gymnasium, and others who come into informal contact with troops throughout the course of the day. When those people believe a soldier may be having problems that might lead to bad behavior, they have regular opportunities to bring it to the attention of group leadership, Colloton said.

When warranted, Colloton said, a soldier can be placed involuntarily into mental health care.

Troops can also seek help voluntarily, and there are psychologists on the 7th Group staff, Colloton said. The commander conceded, though, that some soldiers might think seeking help could adversely affect their future with Special Forces.

"It may be perceived, but it's not real," Colloton said, adding that there may be a need for "further education" within his ranks to remove any stigma associated with mental health care.

There are signs that stigma might be lifting, according to Colloton.

"I've seen a small uptick in voluntary referrals," he said.

With regard to mental health issues among Special Forces troops, Colloton rejects the suggestion that the nature of the work attracts people with a tendency toward violent behavior.

When their work requires violence, Colloton said, Special Forces troops "don't do it because they enjoy it. They do it because it's their job."

When a crime is committed, Colloton said, 7th Group always brings in the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, and also always strives to communicate with local law enforcement.

Jurisdictional lines are clearly drawn, Colloton explained. Whenever an offense occurs on federally owned property, the lead role is taken by CID and the military judicial system, and when it occurs elsewhere, local law enforcement and the civilian judiciary take the lead role.

As a matter of practice, though, it's routine for military and civilian law enforcement to work together in criminal investigations involving military personnel, according to Colloton.

"They're usually joint investigations," he said.

But if a case goes to civilian court, the eventual resolution there might not be the only sanction a soldier faces, Colloton explained. Military courts can set punishments not available to civilian authorities, he said.

"If there's something the civilian (court) can't do, there's something the military (court) can do," he said.

But, Colloton added, as a case is proceeding through investigative and judicial processes, an alleged offender's unit still has a responsibility toward them.

"That soldier is still a part of my organization," Colloton said. As such, there is a responsibility to address the soldier's needs, through visits from the chaplain and other support. Until a court proceeding proves otherwise, charges against a soldier remain unproven, Colloton noted.

"They are still alleged (offenses)," Colloton said.

In other comments on the recent arrests, and criminal activity by military personnel in general, Colloton acknowledged that 7th Group, as well as other military organizations, has a responsibility to be open in addressing media inquiries.

"I'm not going to win any kind of a media 'war,''' Colloton said. At Special Forces in particular, he added, "We have a high bar. We are an elite organization. We're going to face additional scrutiny."