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Guardsmen, reservists bear growing share of death toll in Iraq

Friday, January 2, 2004

WASHINGTON -- As they prepare to increase their role in Iraq, including more combat duty, soldiers with the Army National Guard and Army Reserve already are experiencing a bigger share of U.S. military deaths there.

Of the 39 deaths in December in Iraq for which the Pentagon has released the victim's names, 10 were citizen soldiers, according to an Associated Press review of the Pentagon reports. That is up from 14 percent in November, the deadliest month of the war with 81 American deaths. There actually were 40 reported deaths in December, but one soldier's name and affiliation have not been released.

Overall, since the start of hostilities last March, 14 percent of all U.S. military deaths have been members of the Army Guard or Reserve. The Army says it has had 68 reservists killed so far, compared with nine reservists among the Marines, two in the Navy and one in the Air Force.

It's too early to know whether December's proportional in-crease in deaths among citizen soldiers was the start of a trend, but some analysts say the jump is both politically and militarily troublesome, even if it proves temporary.

"It's one more strain on the Reserve," said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, a private think tank. "We are living a gamble to keep the Reserve component intact" at a time when reservists are coping with the double worries of being called to active duty for long periods and facing grave dangers in Iraq.

Valuable skills

The nation's citizen soldiers play a role in every major military operation because they offer skills and resources that are not available in sufficient numbers in the active-duty force. Military police, linguists and civil affairs specialists are called upon frequently, for example.

But reservists in Iraq also are in direct combat roles, and their presence there is about to expand.

Of the approximately 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now, about a fourth are reservists. When the force rotates out this winter and spring, to be replaced by a slightly smaller contingent, the proportion of reservists will about double -- to nearly 40 percent of the force.

The fresh force will include three National Guard combat infantry brigades -- one each from North Carolina, Arkansas and Washington state. O'Hanlon said that although he believes the Guard and Reserve are performing well in Iraq, the use of the three infantry brigades is likely to spark debate -- once they begin taking casualties -- about the adequacy of their training.

The AP review of Pentagon reports of U.S. military deaths also shows that nearly two-thirds of the 478 who have died in Iraq since the war began on March 20 were in their 20s.

The youngest was 18 -- in all, seven soldiers aged 18 have died so far. The oldest was 55-year-old Army Sgt. Floyd G. Knighten Jr. of Olla, La., who died of non-combat causes on Aug. 9 while in a convoy headed from Iraq to Kuwait. He was a member of the Army National Guard based at Fort Polk, La.

The loss of lives weighs on the minds of U.S. commanders, but Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who commands the 1st Armored Division that is responsible for securing the Baghdad area, told a news conference Wednesday that he has no doubt his troops believe the sacrifices are worthwhile.

"I've lost soldiers and there's nothing more important to me than my soldiers," Dempsey said. "But they believe in the mission we're doing. And so that makes it easy for me to sleep at night -- not easy: It makes it possible for me to sleep at night."

Pentagon records of the hometowns of those who have died in Iraq show that every state has lost at least one person. Montana lost its first and only, thus far, on Dec. 22. California, the nation's most populous state, has lost the most, with 52, followed by Texas with 41.

Several states have lost proportionally more than their share, including Texas, which has 7.4 percent of the nation's population but has taken 8.6 percent of all deaths so far in Iraq. Others that have lost more than their share include Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi.

Wyoming, the smallest state by population, has lost four individuals, which as a percentage of all U.S. losses in Iraq (0.8 percent) is four times more than Wyoming's share of the U.S. population (0.2 percent).

In addition to the deaths, the U.S. military has reported 2,379 wounded in action in Iraq and another 372 wounded in other circumstances such as accidents.

The United States is not alone in taking casualties. Britain's military has reported 52 deaths in Iraq; Italy, 17; Spain, eight; Bulgaria, five; Thailand, two; and Denmark, Ukraine and Poland have reported one each.


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