‘weekend warriors’ become fast cannon fodder, report shows

Death rate for Guard tops that of full-time soldiers death rate higher in Iraq

The 'weekend warriors' suffer 35% more fatalities in Iraq than units in the regular Army.

WASHINGTON - In a reversal of trends from past wars, part-time soldiers in the Army National Guard are about one-third more likely to be killed in Iraq than full-time active-duty soldiers serving there, a USA TODAY analysis of Pentagon statistics shows.

According to figures furnished by the military branches, the active Army has sent about 250,000 soldiers to Iraq and 622 have been killed. That works out to 1 death for every 402 soldiers who have deployed. Some 37,000 Army Guard soldiers have been sent to Iraq since the war began and 140 have died there - 1 fatality for every 264 soldiers who have served, or about a 35 percent higher death rate.

There are several reasons for the greater death rates among so-called part-time soldiers, who generally drill one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer when there's no war. The Pentagon has called up thousands of part-time troops for tours of a year or more in Iraq. Some of the most dangerous missions, including driving convoys and guarding bases and other facilities, frequently are assigned to Guard and Reserve troops. Iraqi insurgents have attacked convoys with roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, and a Tennessee Guardsman publicly complained to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week about the lack of armor on some vehicles.

Active-duty casualties have spiked during major battles such as the attack on Fallujah, which was largely carried out by Army and Marine troops. But such large-scale engagements have rarely been waged since President Bush declared major combat over in May 2003.

Other branches with troops in harm's way in Iraq - the Army Reserves, the Marine Corps, the Air Force and the Navy - did not supply total numbers of their troops deployed to Iraq since the war began in March 2003, which would have made similar comparisons possible. But fatality numbers show the vast majority of U.S. deaths in Iraq come from the active-duty Army, active-duty Marines, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. The Marines have lost 350 troops, while the Army Reserve has suffered 59 deaths. The Air Force and Navy together have suffered 27 deaths.

The elevated death rates among part-time soldiers are a significant shift from historical trends. During most wars in the last century, the full-time military, including the Air Force and Navy, took the vast majority of casualties, and their troops were much more likely to die in battle than Guardsmen and Reservists.

In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, for example, the Army Guard suffered no fatalities out of 382 U.S. deaths. A total of 94 Army National Guardsmen and no Reservists were killed out of 58,209 U.S. deaths in Vietnam.

"It's a changed paradigm," says Richard Stark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "We have completely crossed the line in terms of what it is to be a citizen-soldier."

It's unclear what effect the elevated death rate will have on the part-time military's ability to recruit and keep soldiers. Although the Guard has met its goals for retaining soldiers since the war began, it missed its recruiting goal of 56,000 soldiers last year by about 7,000 and has fallen behind this year.


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