The U.S. Army’s recruiting slogan, “Go Army,” challenges potential soldiers to “find your strength.”

Stationed in Iraq for 11 months as a cavalry scout, Warren Miller found his strength in laughter.

“All the near-death experiences are absolutely hysterical. That’s just how we deal with it,” the 20-year-old West Hartford man said.

A specialist E-4 with the 82nd Division, Miller graduated from Hall High School in 2005 and enlisted soon after. He said he looks forward to going to college on the GI Bill after he is discharged, and is considering pursuing a journalism degree at the University of Connecticut.

In a telephone conversation on Oct. 12, Miller talked about his life in Iraq.

Q: What was your near-death experience?

A: This still gives me chills, to this day.

It was 2 o’clock in the morning, and half of my guys are getting ready to go into a house and clear it. I’m surrounding the house so that no one can get out and run away or get into the house – pretty much to seal off the area.

We’re sitting there for about a half hour, and finally my sergeant decides that we need to cross the street because if we get shot at, we have nothing to hide behind. So we get up, and we start walking across the road. I am dead center in the middle of this intersection and they start shooting at us.

It scared me; I fell right on my back. I’m sitting in the middle of an intersection, 5 meters [11 feet] from the guys who are shooting at us, and my night-vision goggles broke – they shut off when I hit the ground. So I didn’t have any night vision, and I was just shooting at a muzzle flash – everything else was black. I was just pointing a weapon and squeezing the trigger as fast as I could.

After I went through 20 rounds, I felt a bullet come by my cheek – brushed my right cheek. Before I had time to react, another bullet came by my left cheek.

At that point, I ran up and found the nearest thing I could find to hide behind, which happened to be a telephone pole that was only 4 inches wide. That was the only thing I could find! So I got behind that and fired a grenade at them. It hit one of them – took his head clean off.

Then I ran behind a little shed. We hid behind that, then we called in the Apache helicopters, and [a helicopter gunner] killed the last guy who was trying to run away.

Q: What did that experience feel like?

A: When it’s happening, you’re not thinking. You’re saying ‘oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,’ but your body is just moving. They train you so much that you’re just doing it.

When it’s all over, it’s such a rush. Once it’s done your heart is still pumping and you start coming back to consciousness. You’re starting to see everything else around you; you’re starting to calm down. And then, all you can do is laugh about it. And later on, me and my sergeant, we always joke about it. It’s a story we always talk about. Me and my platoon – it makes us laugh.

Q: Why laugh?

A: That’s just how we deal with it. When somebody [in Miller’s group] doesn’t die, there’s no reason to freak out about it. And when you’re around it so much, you get used to it.

So you can stop and notice the little things. Like you can notice the fact that when they started shooting at us, I was parallel with the ground – and I’m wearing 180 pounds of gear – which I couldn’t do again if I tried. Like when we were hiding behind that mud hut, the only thing I could manage to say was ‘blow them up, blow them up, blow them up.’ I just kept repeating it.

December 1, 2007