ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) – Sgt. Heath McMillin, a National Guardsman from an upstate New York village who was killed in Iraq over the weekend, was an accomplished athlete who loved the outdoors and poured his energy into whatever pursuit caught his imagination.

“In athletics he was very competitive, wanted to win, wanted to achieve in things he was interested in,” said his former basketball coach, Richard Jones. “If he felt strongly about something, he would really go above and beyond in his effort in that area.”

McMillin, 29, was killed Sunday while on patrol south of Baghdad. His unit came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire, the Department of Defense said.

McMillin’s mother lives in Biddeford, Maine. U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, described McMillin as “truly an American hero to us all.”

“His bravery in action, his commitment to freedom and democracy and his loyalty to his country will forever be his legacy,” she said.

Assigned to the 105th Military Police Company in Buffalo, McMillin was the first Army National Guard trooper from New York state to be killed in combat in more than 50 years, said spokesman Scott Sandman of the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs.

Forty-nine American soldiers have been killed in combat in Iraq since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat. In all, 164 U.S. soldiers have died in combat in Iraq, 17 more than in the 1991 Gulf War.

Military officials said 176 members of the 105th have been deployed. McMillin’s unit left Buffalo in February for up to two years. The 105th had previously been deployed on a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and at the ruins of the World Trade Center in Manhattan after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

New York Gov. George Pataki asked for a moment of silence for McMillin at the opening of a news conference in Albany announcing the annual police officer of the year awards.

“Sgt. McMillin was a true citizen soldier who selflessly and courageously served his nation in defense of freedom,” Pataki said. “His tremendous bravery and devotion to our nation will stand as an example for generations to come.”

McMillin grew up in Clifton Springs, 35 miles southeast of Rochester. He joined the armed forces out of high school in 1993 and was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California in the late 1990s. A machine gun squad leader, he supervised maintenance and operation of heavy machine guns in the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

McMillin had a child from a marriage that dissolved in 1998.

“His wife asked that no information be let out until he was already home,” said his father, Mark McMillin, who declined to be interviewed.

McMillin left the Marines a few years ago and got a job at a masonry supply company in Phelps, near where he grew up.

As a teenager, McMillin had excelled in outdoor activities.

“He was an excellent athlete, named to all-star teams in both basketball and football,” said Jones, who still works at Midlakes High in Clifton Springs. “He was an outdoors type, enjoyed hunting, fishing, being active.

“He had high energy, a good work ethic but … was not a type of person who enjoyed sitting in the classroom. He was more suited to do hands-on activities.

“I think he liked the discipline, the structure of the military. He was a loyal person. If he believed in something he would give a great effort to that belief.”

AP-ES-07-29-03 2134EDT

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