The Pentagon has confirmed that one of the suspects in the Washington area sniper killings is an Army Gulf-war veteran, who held an expert marksmanship rating.

The suspect with a military record is John Allen Muhammad, known as John Allen Williams when he served in the U.S. Army.

According to a senior defense official, Mr. Muhammad enlisted in 1985, and reached the rank of sergeant before his discharge in 1994. He also served in the Army National Guard, both before and after his active duty service.

The senior official says Mr. Muhammad's military specialty was combat engineer.

But he confirms the suspect in the Washington area sniper shootings did qualify at the highest marksmanship level in the Army, the expert level with an M-16 rifle.

The official says that means at least once during his military career, Mr. Muhammad successfully shot at least 36 out of 40 targets at distances ranging from 50 to 300 meters.

Despite this, top defense officials are denying the military connection to the sniper case reflects badly on the armed forces.

"Personally, I think it is ludicrous to think this is a black eye on military," said General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We have, between active duty and reservists, today, over 2.2 million [people] serving. They turn over at some rate, so there are tens-of-millions out there who have served."

General Myers says it is wrong to single out the military for criticism because the suspect was a veteran, just as it would be to condemn all males because the suspect is a man.