Wednesday, October 29, 2003

"Equal Opportunity For Death"

Young enlistees have highest death rate in Iraq

By LISA HOFFMAN and THOMAS HARGROVE
Scripps Howard News Service
October 28, 2003

- When Army Pvt. Joseph Guerrera, 20, died on patrol after a bomb hit his vehicle in Baghdad Sunday, he exemplified the profile of America's war dead in Iraq.

In a pattern as old as war itself, it is the young U.S. enlistees like Guerrera, a paratrooper and former church choir member from Dunn, N. C., who are doing most of the dying in the ongoing war in Iraq.

More 20-year-old soldiers have died - 40 - than those of any other age represented in the ranks, according to a Scripps Howard News Service computer analysis of the war dead.

And troops 21 and under account for nearly one-third of the 353 troops identified by the Pentagon who have perished in combat or by accidents, disease and suicide since the war began seven months ago.

Raise the cutoff age to 25, and young soldiers make up more than half of the war dead.

Similarly, it is the enlisted troops who are suffering the highest casualties, according to the Scripps database.

Commissioned officers such as Army Lt. Col. Charles Buehring, who was killed Sunday in an enemy rocket assault on a Baghdad hotel, have accounted for just 11 percent of the troops who have died in Iraq and surrounding areas since the war began March 19. They also were about twice as likely to die during the major combat of the war in March and April than in the six following months.

Non-commissioned officers such as sergeants have made up 34 percent of the fallen U.S. fighting force, while privates such as Guerrera, specialists and other grunts comprise 55 percent of the toll.

That breakdown is more top-heavy than has been typically seen in past conflicts, where non-officers - who commonly make up 85 percent of the force - died in numbers more proportional to their number in the ranks.

David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland, says that is because of the nature of the Iraq war, where a mostly urban battlefield dominates, there are no defined front lines, and guerrilla attacks are largely indiscriminate in their choice of victims.

"I think it is an equal opportunity situation" for death, Segal said.

But the Scripps analysis, which is based on Pentagon-released data about the war dead, also shows that, as the U.S. occupation of Iraq has progressed, reserve and National Guard troops have become three times more likely to die in enemy attacks.

Before May 1 - the date President Bush proclaimed the main combat over - only about 9 percent of the battle dead were citizen-soldiers. Since then, reserves and guard troops have accounted for 22 percent of the deaths directly attributable to enemy action.

The shift mirrors, in part, the metamorphosis of the 130,000-soldier U.S. force in Iraq from a primarily combat operation, in which active-duty troops predominate, to one with a greater peacekeeping focus.

Even so, it is full-time GIs who are the most by far coming home in caskets. Of the war dead, 293 have been active-duty troops, while 59 have been reserve or guard soldiers. The affiliation of one casualty could not be determined.

Similarly, it is Army troops who are bearing the bulk of the toll. Since the war began, 258 Army soldiers have died, compared with 82 Marines, seven Navy sailors, and six Air Force airmen.

  • Young enlistees have highest death rate in Iraq

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