Iraq Fatalities

L046 "The death rate of American troops in Vietnam was 5.6 times that observed in Iraq. Part of the reduction in the death rate is attributable to improvements in military medicine and such things as the use of body armor. These have reduced the ratio of deaths to wounds from 24 percent in Vietnam to 13 percent in Iraq."  Washpost


That is the unofficial insignia of the 1st Cavalry Division’s medical evacuation unit in Vietnam. 

This is a very informative article about patterns of mortal losses in Iraq along with an occasional glance backward to compare the patterns to those of Vietnam.  There are still a lot of mythological beliefs "floating" around abut the statistical structure of combat losses in Vietnam.  Mis-statements were then politically convenient for some because of their disapproval of the war and these falsehoods live on.  Therefore, it is a good idea to establish the truth at an early date.  This article tries to do that.

P37 A few comments:

– A lot of people wore body armor in Vietnam at least occasionally.  Body armor is better today but the multi-ply Kevlar worn then would stop fragments and was warm at night.

– The higher percentage of deaths in the Marine Corps is probably caused by the Army having a lot more logistical and administrative structure (some of which supports the marines as well).  This reduces the percentage of deaths since it is the "grunts" who take most of the hits as is always the case.

– Hispanic Lance Corporals (E-3s) in the Marine Corps are the most likely to die in Iraq.  Presumably these are infantrymen (grunts) and are the most exposed to fire.  Hispanics have a long running "love affair" with the marines.  They like the uniform.  They like the sense of regimental brotherhood.  They like its manliness.  As a result there are a lot of them in marine infantry specialties.  This carries a price.

– Blacks were killed in Vietnam in numbers roughly equivalent to their numbers in the US population and their numbers in the force in Vietnam.  In Iraq Black service people are dying at much smaller percentages than "all others."  The explanation is simple.  This is a volunteer force.  In general, recruits negotiate their way into the specialty of their choice.  A lot of Black soldiers have chosen to serve in specialties that do not expose one to fire on a regular basis; medical, supply, and so forth.  Navy medical corpsmen serving with the marines and national guardsmen seem to be exceptions. 

– Lieutenants in the infantry are exposed to hostile fire exactly as their men are exposed.  For that reason their losses are high.  The structure of the military is very hierarchical and by its very nature tends to move more senior officers to the rear as managers if they allow the system to push them that way.  Ever increasing administrative pressures push officers in that direction.  This is not a good idea.  If the troops get the idea in their heads that officers are not sharing the risk, then, in the end they lose respect for officers. 


Pat Lang

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29 Responses to Iraq Fatalities

  1. Rider says:

    Col. Lang,
    This prompts me to ask if you have any publications where you have written about VN at length. I am going through your archives to look for those longer posts about your analysis of VN but wondered if you have written any articles or op eds on the subject (if not, please do).
    Thanks for this great blog. I appreciate all your work here.

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    See “Recruiting the Enemy” posted on this blog from the CSM a few weeks ago.
    I will think about it. This is still a sensitive subject for all concerned. pl

  3. taters says:

    From USA Today –
    A growing number of U.S. troops whose body armor helped them survive bomb and rocket attacks are suffering brain damage as a result of the blasts. It’s a type of injury some military doctors say has become the signature wound of the Iraq war.
    Known as traumatic brain injury, or TBI, the wound is of the sort that many soldiers in previous wars never lived long enough to suffer. The explosions often cause brain damage similar to “shaken-baby syndrome,” says Warren Lux, a neurologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
    From what I understand, the effects can be in a range from moderate to severe and sadly, can be misdiagnosed as PST, although it’s not uncommon for those that have suffered TBI may have
    PST, too. Stalin funded research on BIT, certainly not for humanitarian reasons – it was simply to get troops back in the field as soon as possible. Much of the early research was done by the father of neuropsychology, Alexander Luria.'stalin%20neuropsychology%20brain%20injury
    Myself, as a rule, I do not come here to Col. Langs’s site for politics. There are other places I go for that. It is of utmost importance however, that our elected representatives do not decrease funding for the rehabilitation of our wounded and sadly, the possiblity of lifetime care for those that have suffered what is becoming known as the signature wound of Iraq. The wound has no visible symptons. It is heartbreaking when someone who has been devastated by BIT may no longer recognize their family or have to learn to tie a shoe. Please, I implore all of you to be relentless in keeping pressure on those that are responsible for the funding of care for our veterans. We owe them nothing less and I humbly beg your pardon if this comes off with too much of a soapbox. It is not intended to be so.

  4. W. Patrick Lang says:

    First I am shocked that you are not a “libertarian conservative” like me. the Cato people put that in whenever they reference me. Maybe I ought to get to know them.
    About the brain injury thing. you are quite right. There have never been so many of these injusries, at least ones that people lived through.
    The oral surgeon who worked on me recently is a retired Navy man who does volunteer work re-building heads and faces at Bethesda/Walter Reed. He told me that these injuries are of two kinds. In one a shock wave drive concussive blast of air goes up your nose/mouth and blasts your sinuses, palate and other available tissue into mush and in the other type the shock wave hits your helmet and causes your brain to bang against the opposite side of the inside of your skull.
    This doctor was so angry by the time he finished telling another old-timer about this that his hands were shaking.
    Question: Have GWB’s daughters joined up yet? pl

  5. larry birnbaum says:

    I once met the man who designed the first “frangible” fuel line coupling for US Army helicopters. (He worked for Aeroquip Corp.) It was discovered in Viet Nam that most crew survived a crash, only to be killed in the ensuing fuel explosion and fire. Further analysis revealed that the weak link was where the fuel line attached to the tank. The solution was to put a “frangible” coupling there — when it was broken during a crash, a valve automatically closed at the spot and prevented fuel from leaking out.
    It’s saved a lot of lives.
    Interesting PS, the company thought about marketing this to gas pump manufacturers as self-serve became the norm, but decided no one would be so stupid as to drive away from a pump with the hose still inserted in their car. So a competitor ended up reaping the profits in that market.
    The physicist Freeman Dyson also has a lot of interesting and very unsettling things to say about his experience as a young man in WWII Britain studying the survival rates of RAF air crew shot down over Europe. American air crew shot down had a much higher survival rate, and it turned out that one reason was simply that the doors on US bombers were much easier to open and to get through. He was unable to get British designs changed throughout the war after he figured this out, though, because the whole issue was deemed too “negative.”

  6. Rider says:

    pl, got it. thanks

  7. Rider says:

    pl, You are right, it is still a sensitive subject. You are also right that “[t]here are still a lot of mythological beliefs “floating” around.” Might be good to address some of those. Thanks.

  8. McGee says:

    Interesting note at Laura Rozen’s blog today re the House Intel Report on Iran which was discussed here a few days ago:
    Note from a reader, a Hill veteran with expertise on proliferation matters, on the House intel committee report:
    Thanks for highlighting [the report] …. You know who the author is — Bolton’s former top aide. He had been actively seeking employment on the Hill for a full year, ever since the Bolton confirmation hearings in June of 2005. From what I am told, he was given the brush off from almost everyone. So I was very surprised to hear from an acquaintance two weeks ago that he was now on HPSCI. The timing of the report was no accident. The Committee should be embarrased by this document — it has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with a jeremiad against [Iran.]
    …It was riddled with many, many errors — the ones that Gary Sick highlighted were different from those I saw. At the end of the day, the document is so absurd that giving it further attention is plain detrimental. …
    Original note is posted at Laura’s blog here:

  9. zanzibar says:

    I share your sentiment. It is such a travesty when we treat our military personnel so shabbily after they have paid such an enormous personal price.
    What really gets my goat with the current Administration and the Republican Congress is that they talk a good game with respect to our soldiers but screw them where it counts – VA benfits, battlefield armor, etc. How many funerals did Bush attend? How many families has he comforted? And if it is such a “noble” cause – why haven’t Bush and Cheney and our fighting senators rushed to enlist their kids?

  10. lightflyer says:

    Colonel Dear,
    This is not really meant for publication. Just a note from someone who lives in Beijing but has many ties to the Gulf and things Araby. Just to say that I enjoy your site. And wish it the “utmost fish”. I am sure you have the reference.
    Take care

  11. Got A Watch says:

    The same trend is visible on the streets of any large city. Emergency personnel are used to dealing with gunshot victims now, so many more are saved from dying due to their wounds than was the case 40 years ago. This has the effect of skewing the shooting statistics – less people die, though more are being shot, so the “gunshot death” statistics are declining, but no one mentions the total number of shooting victims.
    The same thing can be seen in Iraq, where better body armor, improved Medevac, and corpsmen with better equipment etc. result in more soldiers surviving serious wounds. So we have less deaths but more wounded, and the wounds tend to be severe, but survivable. This leads to more long-term care being required – more veterans hospitals to handle the maimed and crippled who would probably have died in past wars from their wounds at the front.
    Thus, if you are assesing the “progress” in Iraq, the total number of insurgent attacks and number of dead/wounded combined is much more indicative of the real conditions on the ground than only the “combat deaths” reported. The neocons like to trumpet this declining death rate in Iraq for American soldiers, but the number of attacks is at an all time high lately, and the number wounded must be large, though un or under reported for political reasons.

  12. taters says:

    Col. Lang,
    Thank you for your reply. Well according to the the CSM online quiz, “Are You A Neocon?” I come up as an isolationist before coffee and a liberal after coffee.
    I’m pretty strong on social security and some other New Deal stuff which probably has me leaning toward Brookings. However I have some friends that are self described conservative libertarians and I enjoy discourse with them very much. I do like to tease strict constitutionalists that according to them the USAF must be unconstitutional because they are neither land or naval forces.
    Thank you for the information. What I have checked out on Cato – debates, their site, position papers, etc. – is very interesting and there are some pretty sharp folks there and positions I agree with. To me an eagle needs both wings to fly, the left and the right. And of course a center.
    Your doctor is my kind of guy, thank you for the info. As far as the twins go – I’ve never heard an answer from the kool aid imbibers as to why they aren’t there.
    Zanzibar – I always enjoy reading you. And I fully agree with your assessment.
    Got a watch – Yes, I agree. I wonder if modern prosthetics and therapy were available for Erick Shinseki when he suffered his wound in Vietnam would he still walk with a limp today? I doubt it.

  13. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I have never understood why the USAF exists as a separate service and was opposed to the idea of making “Aviation” a separate branch of the Army so I guess I am in the right place politically.
    Airpower? Flying artillery and trucks.
    I had a couple of War College classmates in the mid 80s who had lost legs in VN and neither of them walked with a limp.
    One of the enduring curiosities on this blog is the number of peple who read my “How to Cook A Country Ham” post. pl

  14. zanzibar says:

    A disturbing report in the Sunday Times. I don’t know what to make of it – but if these soldiers accounts are accurate then the repercussions on our fighting men and women are even worse than I thought.
    We was going along the Euphrates river,” says Joshua Key, detailing a recurring nightmare that features a scene he stumbled into shortly after the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. “It’s a road right in the city of Ramadi. We turned a sharp right and all I seen was decapitated bodies. The heads laying over here and the bodies over there and US troops in between them. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, what in the hell happened here? What’s caused this? Why in the hell did this happen?’ We get out and somebody was screaming, ‘We f***ing lost it here!’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh yes, somebody definitely lost it here.’” Key says he was ordered to look for evidence of a firefight, for something to explain what had happened to the beheaded Iraqis. “I look around just for a few seconds and I don’t see anything.”
    Then he witnessed the sight that still triggers the nightmares. “I see two soldiers kicking the heads around like soccer balls. I just shut my mouth, walked back, got inside the tank, shut the door, and thought, ‘I can’t be no part of this. This is crazy. I came here to fight and be prepared for war, but this is outrageous.’”

  15. taters says:

    Col. Lang,
    My father missed his Army Air Corps days. Well – air bases are on the ground. I guess your point settles that. And there is nothing that comes close to a VA ham. This is a fact. I can think of nothing else I’d rather eat at this point and I weasn’t hungry until you mentioned it. On my way to the local honey baked up the street but it won’t be like the ones I had by my dear friend’s mom, the late Mrs. Sue Cousins, A Virginian.
    I did a local gig in Greektown here in Detroit last night, this was with my band, not Etta. At about 2 am a nasty fight involving about 30 young men broke out across the steet from the Atheneum, one of the nicer hotels here. It was between Arab kids ( young adults) and black kids and got quite ugly. How tribal are we?

  16. taters says:

    Well Colonel, if you feel that there are like-minded people there as yourself, I’d be nuts not to really check it out. ( Cato ) The logic being how comfortable I am here. Do you think a New Dealer would be OK there? How do you think Ike’s politics would fit today? I know Goldwater referred to him as a dimestore FDR. As far as Republicans go, I like Hagel the most. I’m only guessing but sometimes I think Tony Zinni speaks through him.
    As far as Democrats, it’s Wes Clark, who until 2003/2004?
    was an independent. I posted a thread once about Charles Liteky, former priest and MOH recipient – and anti war activist on a fairly liberal site. Now I’m fully aware that I’m not a great writer – by any stretch – but I thought since it is such a compelling story it would get some kind of response. Zip, nada. I started with Liteky and I wanted to continue with other clergymen who had been awarded the MOH. Well it never happened and after my first lead balloon, I stopped. I’ve mentioned before that it is an oasis for me here and it continues to be so. Thank you for welcoming me and allowing me to partake of this most excellent site.
    With Utmost Respect,
    Robert M. Murray
    aka taters

  17. matt says:

    funny that you should mention the “…Country Ham” post. I remember actually clicking through (via a google search)to some Virgina gourmet web-based mail order site and ordering a Smithfield ham. I didn’t follow the directions exactly (soaking overnight…!!!!)but it was still excellent and was a hit at the party that we brought it to.

  18. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Good. You have to start either with un uncooked Smithfield or uncooked country ham not precisely the same things but close enough. The soaking thing is important but you have to judge for yourself. pl

  19. W. Patrick Lang says:

    The only thing I ever did with Cato is eat chicken salad at one of their luncheons, but the IDEA of libertarian conservative sounds good.
    No macaca in that. pl

  20. walrus says:

    On the subject of veterans benefits and care, the Australian Government did something nice (for once) about seven years ago.
    They declared that all health care for veterans over eighty was now free. That includes the best specialists, private hospitals, the works. No “managed care” your doctor thinks you need something – you get the best.
    My Dad was a beneficiary of this policy. All he had was a little gold card with his name and Army number on it.
    During his last, and sadly final, illness earlier this year, I presented his card at hospitals and specialists offices many times, and all they ever did was copy his number and that was that, no if’s, no buts, no forms to fill out, no criteria to meet, no intrusions, no questions asked.
    I’d like to see all veterans everywhere receive the same treatment.

  21. zanzibar says:

    “Libertarian conservative” appears to be an oxymoron to me. Modern day conservatism at least from the Nixon era on has been more corporatist than fiscal conservative – Nixon began the debasement of the “full faith and credit of the USA” as a policy objective and conservative economic policies have veered away from anti-trust and the creation of level playing field for open competition and more towards consolidation and “cartels”. We see the results in many industries from media to telecom to oil. Social conservatism seems very interested in legislating morality. Both social conservatism and corporatism IMO are the antithesis of libertarianism.
    In my youth I was deeply influenced by Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and Hayek’s Austrian School economic concepts as well as Schumpeter. With age my youthful dogmatism has been tempered by experience in the real world. There is no “pure” capitalism and market forces are subject to the vagaries of politics. After the sovereign debt default in Russia I was involved in the recapitalization of some privatized Russian oil & gas assets. Western commercial bankers wanted western taxpayer supported loan guarantees; quasi-government supported entities like the IMF wanted social changes prior to their investment while private equity investors were primarily focused on undervaluing the assets. When the deal got done western taxpayers were on the hook for failure while private investors would walk away with the profits. This is not unlike many such deals here where losses are socialized while profits are private. The S&L/RTC scheme exemplifying that maxim. Getting back to Russia – with the run-up in oil prices Russia has now one of the strongest “balance sheets” and has repaid most of its special purpose foreign debt – IMF, World Bank, etc. And Putin has turned around and effectively “Kremlinized” the major oil & gas assets. Curious what folks think were the reasons why the Soviet Union collapsed? Historically low commodities pricing; “Soviet” communism as an organizing principle; Reagan arms build up; democracy movements.
    I believe there is a role for government representing the collective. DARPA research led to the current day internet. But how to prevent it from becoming “pork” for the well heeled? How should we think about depleting natural resources – ground water, air we breathe? Would a nationwide “pooling of resources” financing model reduce health care costs and increase coverage? This is where “pure” ideology breaks down and the difficulty I have with Cato. Although David Boaz’s book Market Liberalism lays out the Cato raison d’etre well.

  22. fasteddiez says:

    Hello Zanzibar,
    I think the testimonials in the Sunday Times you quote are over the top. The reporter, no doubt, had his bullshitometer misconfigured. I have, alas, seen this movie before; the Kerry – Winter Soldier testimonies brought out during his appearance before Congress in 1971. No doubt, some of those stories were real, but with any kind of mea culpa road show such as Winter Soldier, the crazed wannabes and other assorted riff-raff will emerge from the depths.
    The story of the torsos and heads (shortly after March 2003), sounds made up. For one thing Ramadi was not on either route of advance. If it did not take place during the invasion, but after, you could not keep a thing like this secret. Too many gossips and busybodies as well as the enraged Sunnis would film the carnage and show it on Al Jazeera. The story has a little bit of the Francis Ford Coppolla “je ne sais quoi” to it. Where are the Indigs dipped in talcum powder, gliding along in their pirogues?
    The other fellow, the combat engineer, and “trained terrorist” — Give me a break. This is the M.O. of a pencil neck pimple faced “pogue”, LOG Train Commando, and all around wannabe. Just my take, mind you, after having observed close up, over three engagements (Vietnam, Gulf I, Somalia) the various military and quasi-military specimens.
    Why would they do this? for one, if you desert, you have no paper trail with you. You could literally have failed either in Boot Camp, or your first school after. The Press, in this modern era, has many feckless, abjectly stupid, and naive folks working for them, especially at the beginner level. Canadian and British reporters would be at a disadvantage of US military Knowledge.
    From the deserters’ standpoint, if they merely failed to fit in, were overly fearful, or totally unsuited for this type of life…reasons such as this would no doubt not garner much succor from the government, NGO’s and volunteer lawyers from Canada. They would have to have survived something horrible and dehumanizing in order to gain entry to the country (refugee status?)…Would not be too hard to research.
    What the Iraq deserters/fantasists and their Vietnam confreres don’t realize is that they just normally evince pity, instead of sympathy…and pity is the most subtle form of hatred. As they said in the sixties and early seventies “I’m OK, You’re Not!”
    As for Kerry, I tagged him as doing it for the sake of scoring some high-class, would-be, hippie chicks. He did party down after his Congressional appearances.
    I feel bad for any genuine combat veteran, then and now who feels he/she has to go through some sort of media circus in order to gain solace.
    For any readers who want to read up on the types of characters that emerge from our fun little wars, please read Stolen Valor, Link
    Just as an aside, the Colonel, having been SF in Vietnam might have some comment on this phenomena, and if not, he might have some interesting stories of going “up river.”

  23. W. Patrick Lang says:

    zanzibar and fasteddiez
    The Ramadi thing sound phony to me as well. War is difficult to deal with for relatively stable people. When someone unstable is exposed to it even peripherally, wounds open up, some of them may already have been there and are made worse.
    Men want solace when they return and the real or semi-real hurts they may have suffered demand civilian sympathy, especially female sympathy. To try to explain to a civilian why one hurts is very difficult. It is just easier to start making things up, making them worse and worse until an acceptable level of sympathy is achieved. There is a lot of that, and it gets worse for folk like that as they age.
    I used to be told by; waiters, telephone solicitors, etc. that they had served in VN. They all seemed to have been marines, SF, airborne, etc. My MO is to start talking to them about their unit, CO, specific operations, etc. In 90% of the time it is all BS.
    Most of the guys who talk like that are former “morning report clerks” if they served in combat areas at all. Some have never been in the military. Their discussions of all that would be comic if not so sad. “Stolen Valor.” Great book.
    “Up the River?” Reference to “Heart of Darkness?” or the movie? I never saw anything remotely like the Kurtz thing. Just people doing their jobs, that’s what I saw. John Paul Vann was a nut, but he was a pretty benevolent nut. pl

  24. mike says:

    Col Lang:
    Shinseki lost part of his foot and not his whole leg. Now I am not a doctor and do not know Ric personally but I suspect that prosthetics (both now and then) were a lot better for amputees than those who lost heels or toes or ….
    And regarding your War College classmates in the mid 80s who had lost legs in VN: Do they still walk without a limp now that they are in their sixties?

  25. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Probably and I haven’t seen any of them for a long time. I don’t walk so well myself. pl

  26. taters says:

    I was mistaken in my original post by even stating prosthethics – I really meant to say orthopedics ( the current state of the art, or relatively recent ) – and the reason I said so was I had an ankle shattered in an accident and my ortho surgeon said at the time, even a few years ago I would have had a limp – now it’s better than the other one. I do know that Gen. ( ret. ) Shinseki has a slight limp. I do not know if there is a prosthetic device.

  27. Got A Watch says:

    Walrus, the Australian veterans health care system sounds like a great idea that should be implemented in all NATO countries, and I would start it the moment they reach home from the war.
    One idea I had is that the government should make a commitment to employ returned wounded veterans as much as possible. The Pentagon, for example, has thousands doing office type work who could be veterans in wheelchairs or with prosthetics. Any armed forces base has administrative functions that could be performed by veterans. It would be vastly better than simply warehousing these poor souls in hospitals for the rest of their lives, or even worse, releasing them to a life of civilian poverty. I would argue the country should owe these maimed veterans the simple dignity of a paying job and top quality health care.

  28. fasteddiez says:

    Got a Watch
    Since the sixties/seventies warehousing individuals with mental and emotional, drug alcohol, etc. problems has gone out of style. The VA does reserve beds for more serious cases (threats to themselves, others), but as a default position, they now try to do out-patient counseling and medicine maintenance. With the advent of large numbers of GWOT veterans waiting to besiege VA facilities, they’ve instituted “gatekeeper” measures to weed out the riff raff.
    The second problem is PTSD. A PTSD sufferer who is deemed incapacitated to find and hold a job can receive about $2300.00 a month in disability pay. This is a demographic time bomb, since the VA will likely suffer cuts in the future.
    “Nothing’s too good for our lads in tan; and nothing is precisely what they’ll get.”
    I don’t have PTSD btw, nor would I frequent the VA for that type of help. I am trying to scam some high speed digital hearing aids from em’ though.
    “Got a Watch? … see if you had a watch, you’d know it was nighttime….and nighttime ain’t no tine to be in this yeheeaahh neighba-hood!!

  29. Jim Anderson says:

    Good blog….thank you. Can someone tell me where I can look to keep up to date on the numbers of casulties our Armed Forces have suffered?

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