Pfc. Corey Clagett believed the matter had been resolved.
After two internal inquiries into a mission that had taken place in northern Iraq on May 9, the 22-year-old and three other soldiers from the 3rd Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division expected to return to their duties without a stain on their characters.
Within a month, however, three of the four had been arrested, accused of premeditated murder, and placed in a U.S. military jail in Kuwait.
On Tuesday the four appeared before an Article 32 hearing that would determine whether they should be court-martialed. If found guilty, they could face the death penalty.
Speaking by telephone from his prison cell, in an exclusive interview with "Nightline," Clagett defended his actions and expressed anger toward the military for pressing charges against him.
"I was trained to do the right thing," he said, "and I did do that. And it's like I was a hero one day -- and I was being treated like that one day -- and now I'm in a prison facility in Kuwait."
The transition became all the more astounding when it emerged that his accusers were not from the Iraqi populace but from his own battalion -- the tightly knit and fiercely loyal "band of brothers."
Clagett, along with Sgt. Raymond Girouard and Spc. William Hunsaker -- all members of the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 3rd Battalion -- have been accused of deliberately releasing three Iraqi men they had captured, in order to kill them.
Another soldier, Spc. Juston Graber, has admitted to carrying out the "mercy killing" of one of the detainees after the initial shooting.
Clagett, Girouard and Hunsaker, however, vigorously deny the charges, saying that they only fired after the Iraqis broke free and started to attack them.
The truth of what happened on that morning in May has become the subject of bitter dispute between former comrades who will find themselves on opposite sides of the ongoing military court proceedings.
The mission itself, like most combat tasks in remote areas of Iraq, was dangerous and intense.
According to Clagett, the briefing was clear.
"I was told that we were going into an al Qaeda and an anti-Iraqi force training area. And that when we were coming in, I was to expect fire. … Before we got on the ground, they were gonna shoot at the birds. They said we were gonna go in hot."
In their sworn affidavits, the three accused soldiers, along with others in the unit, said they received unusual but unequivocal rules of engagement for the task ahead. They said that they were given repeated and explicit orders to "kill all military-age males."
From his prison cell, Clagett explained how they prepared for the mission.
"We did rehearsals on the 8th of May and … it got passed down to my lieutenant commander and he told us and then my platoon leader and my lieutenant he told us, then the platoon sergeant told us, then the squad leader told us. It was just relayed through chain of command."
What were they told?
"We were told that everybody on this island was hostile," Clagett said. "They were known al Qaeda insurgents, and we're going to kill all military-age males, so be prepared."
NIGHTLINE: So you were told specifically to kill all military-age males?
NIGHTLINE: Were you ever told on any other mission that you were to kill all military-age males? Did that ever happen before this event?