Military Has Lost 2,000 In Iraq
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
The number of U.S. troops who have died in the Iraq war hit 2,000 yesterday, a toll felt deeply at big military bases across America that active-duty soldiers and families call home, as well as in hundreds of communities where the National Guard and reservists work, live and train.
The threshold was crossed with the Pentagon's announcement that Staff Sgt. George Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen, Tex., had died at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas on Saturday of injuries suffered in Iraq earlier this month, when a bomb planted by insurgents exploded near his Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
Since the March 2003 invasion and quick march to take Baghdad, U.S. troops have been dying at about 800 a year, with most killed in action by crude but powerful roadside bombs and in firefights against an unrelenting insurgency. More than 90 percent of the deaths have come after President Bush declared an end to "major combat operations" on May 1, 2003.
The deaths in Iraq are relatively few compared with other wars in U.S. history, and they pale dramatically in comparison with the losses in the two world wars, when the United States saw a combined total of more than half a million fall. The Iraq death total also falls far short of the worst nine years of the Vietnam War, from 1964 to 1973, when more than 58,000 U.S. troops did not return, an average of more than 6,400 deaths a year.
Unique to the war in Iraq, however, is the way in which the combat deaths are hitting home, with the Guard and reserves paying a high price because of their unprecedented involvement overseas. While accounting for about a quarter of those killed, such citizen-soldier units in recent months took especially heavy losses, sending the shock of death throughout cities and towns in most every state, sometimes in devastating clusters.
"This is exponentially beyond anything we've seen since World War II," Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in an interview. "The casualties are felt not only in the immediate family but in the community . . . so the loss is shared and felt even beyond the lives of the normal tragedy. When you call up the Guard, you call up America. It's significantly why the American people continue to support the soldiers even though they may not support the way the war is executed or even [that] we went to war."
The daily casualty tolls are not usually big enough to jar the American public as a whole, apart from events such as helicopter crashes, a suicide bombing at a chow hall or rare heavy losses in battle. Yet flag-draped coffins arriving from Iraq at the rate of two or three each day visit grief upon one town after another -- posing in intimate terms stark questions about the war.
The past two months have been particularly cruel to Pennsylvania, which has lost 15 National Guard soldiers in a series of catastrophic incidents. In one 60-mile stretch of rural northeastern Pennsylvania, tiny towns dotting the Blue Ridge mountains lost several men from one platoon of the local Guard unit -- Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry Regiment -- in 10 days of fighting last month in Ramadi.
The death of Spec. William "Bil" Evans, 22, on Sept. 19 in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, ripped through Hallstead, Pa., early the next morning. Immediately, the town of about 2,000 rallied behind his parents, Judy and Bill, as everyone struggled to comprehend it.
Evans joined the National Guard as a way to pay for college. An aspiring photographer, he had his eye on a school in Ohio and strove for a job at National Geographic, his parents said. Evans never figured he would get sent off to combat because the unit had recently served a tour in Bosnia, and he found great camaraderie in the Guard.
"None of them ever thought that they would actually go to war," said Bill Evans, an Air Force veteran, glancing at his son's array of posthumous medals and the flag that draped his casket. "None of them ever dreamed that some of them wouldn't come home."
As the Evans family prepared to put on a viewing for their oldest son on Sept. 29, tragedy hit the region again, the news spreading from house to house in towns such as Carbondale to the south, Athens and Montrose to the west, and in tiny Great Bend, which neighbors Hallstead across the north-flowing waters of the Susquehanna River.