Pvt. Scott Miller hunted for deer, antelope and elk in his native Wyoming, and a few weeks ago his shooting skills earned him a sniper's...

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Pvt. Scott Miller hunted for deer, antelope and elk in his native Wyoming, and a few weeks ago his shooting skills earned him a sniper’s position with his Fort Lewis unit in Iraq.

The 20-year-old Miller told his parents that the new job meant more time on foot — rather than riding in armored Stryker vehicles — as he sought to protect his fellow soldiers from insurgent attacks. On Saturday, small-arms fire killed Miller, one of three Fort Lewis soldiers who died over the weekend in Iraq.

His death was announced Monday, along with the deaths of the two other Fort Lewis soldiers: Sgt. Cory Endlich, 23, of Massilon, Ohio, and Staff Sgt. Brian Long, 32, of Burns, Wyo. Long had moved to Roy, Pierce County, where his wife and three children, ages 1 to 9, live.

Also on Monday, the Army announced the death last week of Sgt. Dariek Dehn, 32, from Spangle, Spokane County, who deployed from Fort Hood, Texas.

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Miller “liked serving in the Army, but he didn’t like where he was,” said his father, Robert Miller of Casper, Wyo.

The recent weeks have seen a sharp increase in Fort Lewis casualties, with the post’s reported June death toll of 10 soldiers nearly 30 percent of the total death toll for all U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

The surge in deaths comes at a time when the base is changing command.

Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby took command of Fort Lewis in a ceremony Monday, telling an audience of military personnel and community leaders that taking care of soldiers and building a strong Army would be at the forefront of his agenda.

“For me, taking care of soldiers and their families is as critical as any mission we have,” Jacoby said. “Every soldier and every family counts.”

Jacoby, 52, follows Lt. Gen. James Dubik as the 62nd commanding general of the post. Dubik left in May to oversee the training of Iraqi military and police forces. Brig. Gen. William Troy temporarily took over base operations.

During this violent spring in Iraq, Robert Miller said, Scott Miller had been on an emotional roller coaster:

“When some of his buddies would get hurt or killed, he would say we need to blow this whole place up, and then he would say we can’t do that, and talk about some place where the people would thank him endlessly.”

Fort Lewis has two Stryker combat brigades in Iraq, one of which arrived in April for an expected 15-month tour of duty, and another that arrived last June for a 12-month deployment that was extended for another three months.

Miller was part of the unit — the 3rd brigade, 2nd Infantry Division — that had initially hoped to be home this month. He was the middle son in a family of three boys, according to his father.

Miller had wanted to be in the Army ever since he was a little boy, and was training — with his parents’ consent — during his senior year of high school. He would have been eligible for release from active duty on Sept. 30. His unit — the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment — was shifted earlier this year from Baghdad to Diyala Province, and Miller told his family it was a more dangerous place as insurgents often set roadside bombs and then followed up the explosions with small-arms fire.

Staff Sgt. Long also was with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division and died Sunday of wounds from an explosion. Long grew up in Burns, Wyo., and his mother, Lynn Curtiss, said he served in the Navy for four years before joining the Army. His wife, Brenda Long, is a former high-school classmate, and the couple lived in Roy while Long served at Fort Lewis.

Lynn Curtiss said her son largely tried to downplay the dangers of his Iraq duty but did talk about a scare earlier this year when a grenade was tossed at his Stryker as he prepared to go out on a mission. It exploded underneath the vehicle and knocked him down.

Curtiss said the last thing she received from her son was a photograph. In the picture, Long was handing a teddy bear to a young girl whose father — an Iraqi policeman — had died in the fighting.

“He wrote that he was trying to make a little bit of a difference over there, and he hoped to go fishing with me when he got home,” Curtiss said.

Endlich was with the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which arrived in Iraq in April, and since then has seen heavy fighting. In high school, he was a musician who played tuba in a marching band, and baritone in a concert band.

“In one of Cory’s last letters home, he stated that he felt that we were justified in being in Iraq, and were there for all the right reasons,” his family said in a statement released Monday. “He was very proud to be serving his country, and doing so in Iraq.”

Endlich died Saturday from small-arms fire north of Baghdad.

Dehn was killed in a June 2 bombing in Sharkat. He was assigned to the 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood.

Dehn grew up in rural Spokane County, the fifth of six kids, said his sister, Sherri Jeske. He wrestled and played baseball in his high school of only a couple hundred students.

After graduating, Dehn enjoyed the outdoors by playing sports and snowboarding, but he didn’t really find direction in his life until enlisting in the Army six years ago, Jeske said late Monday.

“The Army formed a direction for him, he was really proud of being a soldier,” she said.

Dehn was deployed for about a year to Korea, where he met his wife, then came back to the states for a while before being deployed to Iraq.

Dehn came home to Spokane on leave several weeks ago and visited with his family. He told his cousins that he’d see them at Christmas (his deployment was to be up in December).

But to his closest family members he spoke of the danger in Iraq and about the close calls he’d had in his six-month deployment, his sister said.

“That was kind of his way of preparing if something was to happen,” Jeske said. “We were just thankful to spend the time that we did with him.”

The family hasn’t finalized memorial plans.

“We’re very proud of Dariek. He’s always had an awesome sense of humor and a contagious smile,” she said.

Staff reporter Brian Alexander and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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