Iraq toll falls heavily on Guard troops

The National Guard and Reserves are suffering a strikingly higher share of U.S. casualties in Iraq, their portion of total American military deaths nearly doubling since last year.   The statistic has hit home in Pennsylvania, which has lost 12 Guard soldiers in the war since Aug. 1.   One of them, Pfc. Nathaniel Detample, 19, of Morrisville, Bucks County, was a criminal-justice major at Shippensburg University. He was killed Aug. 9 when a mine exploded and insurgents attacked with small-arms fire in Bayji, Iraq.


Reservists have accounted for one-quarter of all U.S. deaths since the Iraq war began, but the proportion has grown. It was 10 percent for the five weeks it took to topple Baghdad in the spring of 2003 and 20 percent for all of 2004.

The trend accelerated this year. For the first nine months of 2005, reservists accounted for 36 percent of U.S. deaths, and for August and September, it was 56 percent, according to Pentagon figures.

The Army National Guard, Army Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve accounted for more than half of all U.S. deaths in August and in September -- the first time that has occurred in consecutive months.

Casualties in Iraq have shifted toward citizen soldiers as their combat role has grown to historic levels. National Guard officials say their soldiers have been sent into combat in Iraq in numbers not previously seen in modern times.

Among those Guard deployments are more than 2,100 soldiers from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, many from the midstate -- the largest unit of Pennsylvania soldiers sent to combat since World War II. They are deployed in Al Anbar province, where Sunni Muslim insurgents have clashed with U.S. troops. They are expected to serve in Iraq until next summer.

Charles Krohn, a former Army deputy chief of public affairs, said the reservists are taking up the slack for the highly stressed active-duty Army.

"Decisions made years earlier made going to war in any significant way impossible without Guard and Reserve participation. But I can't imagine anyone postulated the situation we face today. We don't seem very anxious to bring back the draft, and we can't get enough volunteers for a war that is not universally popular," Krohn said.

About 45 percent of all Guard and Reserve deaths since the start of the war -- 220 of the almost 500 total -- occurred in the first nine months of 2005, according to Pentagon figures. The deadliest month was August, when 49 Guard and Reserve members died.

The mounting casualties among reservists complicates recruiting for the National Guard and Reserve, which often attract people who think of the military reservists' role as something other than front-line combat.

In Iraq, the front line is everywhere -- on rural roads where Guard and Reserve soldiers drive supply trucks, at urban checkpoints, in remote villages and at major supply bases. Some units also have been attached to active-duty units with the specific mission of conducting offensive operations.

In addition to fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and helping secure the Balkans, the Guard in particular was called to action in large numbers for rescue and relief from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

At one point this year, more than half of the combat forces in Iraq were National Guard.

"That's a first," said Army Maj. Les Melnyk, historian for the Pentagon office that manages the Army and Air National Guard.

At present, of the approximately 152,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, about half are reservists: 49,000 Army National Guard, 22,000 Army Reserve and 4,000 Marine Reserve, according to figures provided by those organizations.

Since the Vietnam era, the military has given the Guard and Reserve more vital support functions, such as military police and engineers, so that any major conflict would involve more than just the active-duty force.

At least 300 soldiers of the National Guard, 78 of the Army Reserve and 93 of the Marine Corps Reserve have died in the Iraq conflict. The Navy Reserve has lost 13, the Air Force Reserve three and the Air National Guard one. Together that is one-quarter of the total U.S death toll, which stood at 1,947 at press time, by the Pentagon's count.

Von: 11 October 2005,

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