There’s a report this week that the current U.S. military engagement in Iraq is the first time the nation’s guard and reserve troops have suffered a higher fatality rate than fulltime military soldiers. Iowa National Guard spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Greg Hapgood says it’s a tough statistic to get a handle on, for many reasons. One reason, he says, is simply the sheer number of guard and reserve soldiers — airmen, marines, and naval personnel deployed to support the war on terror. Another reason’s the length of the engagement. The first Gulf War was over in a few months, he points out, whereas it’s been more than a year that soldiers, regular or reserve, have been on the ground in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over that long a time, there’s more risk of danger and casualties, Hapgood says. He also says this is a different kind of combat. Hapgood says it’s not a “symmetrical war,” where forces meet head-to-head. In this assymmetrical war, there are a series of random attacks or ambushes or incidents that aren’t one soldier facing down another but rather I-E-Ds, Improvised Explosive Devices, and ambushes on convoys. For that reason the fatality numbers may not only be higher, but reflect the deaths of people who aren’t officially combatants. These kind of things affect people who aren’t combat troops, but do support missions — like truck drivers, helicopter pilots, people in other support roles. He says that’s one reason the figures may be higher for the guard and reserve troops. USA Today reported this week that 145 Guard troops have died in Iraq in less than two years compared with fewer than 100 killed in the 12 years of the Vietnam war. The paper’s report says Army Guard and Army Reserve soldiers are assigned some of the most dangerous missions in Iraq, like guarding bases and traveling on convoy duty.
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