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One Month, Two Brushes With Death

He had felt this way before, after leaving school in the ninth grade, wondering what to do besides work at his aunt and uncle's sports bar in Grand Rapids, Mich. "I wasn't going anywhere," he said. "The Army sounded like a good solution."

Solution. When he said it, it sounded like he meant salvation. He enlisted at 17, finished basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia, earned the equivalent of a high school diploma, flew off to the war.

"It's changed me. I think for my whole, like, person. It's been a good thing for me. Made me a better person, I guess," he said. "The way I act, the way I talk, the way I feel. It improved my whole quality of life."

July 9, late afternoon, next to an empty school on a dusty road in southwestern Baghdad. It was Briggs's first day back. This time he sat in the driver's seat of the last of four Humvees. A blast rang out. Again a copper slug shot across the road and slammed into the driver's side of the armored vehicle. The shocking thing was not the sound but the speed.

The first thing Briggs did was look down at his legs. He still had them. Then he started to curse.

In the Humvee in front of Briggs, the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Patrick Frank, thought the blast sounded like a rocket-propelled grenade. "RPG! Turn around! RPG! RPG!" he shouted.

Dust poured in through the turrets and doors of the vehicles. It was impossible to see. Urgent, agitated voices came over the radio.

"Our vehicle has been hit by an IED," someone said, using the military's abbreviation for improvised explosive device, or roadside bomb.

"Keep moving forward. We want to get out of here."

"Are there any casualties at this time, over?"

As the convoy turned a corner, a rocket-propelled grenade skidded along the ground behind Briggs's vehicle, hit a curb, bounced into the air and came down about 30 yards behind them. It didn't explode. Pfc. Colin Spangenberg, 21, swiveled his machine gun in the turret and fired several bursts in response.

"Negative, we're good. No, no casualties."

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