Iraq war less fatal for blacks than Hispanics

The war in Iraq has proved far less fatal for black soldiers than for those from other groups.

For Hispanics, it has been more deadly.

Those are the results of a Scripps Howard News Service analysis of the 1,500-plus deaths of U.S. service members in the war, which enters its third year today.

While blacks make up about 20 percent of the nation's military ranks, they have accounted for only about 12 percent of the fatalities, according to the data based on Pentagon casualty reports.

Hispanics, who comprise about 9 percent of the nation's uniformed military, account for more than 12 percent of the war dead.

Overall, while nearly 35 percent of America's 1.4 million, active-duty forces are racial minorities, just 30 percent of the war deaths - both those from combat and from accidents, illness and other non-hostile causes - are minority troops.

Military sociologists and experts on minorities in the military at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the University of California-Berkeley and the Center for Research on Military Organization said the findings match their research as well.

They say the disparity comes from the types of units that blacks and Hispanics join, as well as their motivation for signing up. Blacks tend to choose military positions traditionally considered behind-the-lines units with technical, communications, logistics and administrative support specialties, the experts said. These reflect the view of the military held by many blacks that a tour in uniform can be a stepping-stone to a good job in the civilian world.

"Blacks are disproportionally looking for skills," said Morton Ender, sociology project director at West Point.

Hispanics, on the other hand, generally volunteer for infantry and other front-line combat units more often than other groups. This probably stems from various factors including tradition; a desire for adventure and to be a warrior; family influence; and sometimes language or educational deficits that preclude them from more specialized fields, the experts said.

"Hispanics tend to be found at the pointy end of the spear," said David Segal, director of the military organization research outfit.

Brian Gifford, a sociologist at the University of California who has studied combat casualties and race, noted that during the first part of the war in Iraq - when U.S. troops invaded and pushed quickly to capture Baghdad - blacks and Hispanics fell in greater numbers than during the "occupation" phase that followed.

During the invasion period - from the start of the war March 19 until President Bush declared major combat over on May 1, 2003 - blacks made up nearly 17 percent of the deaths, while Hispanics accounted for almost 16 percent.

Since then, the proportion of fallen minorities has decreased while that of whites has grown, Gifford found in a study published in the Winter 2005 issue of the periodical Armed Forces & Society.

According to the Scripps analysis:

Blacks were more likely than other racial groups to die in Iraq from non-hostile causes and 50 percent more likely than whites to perish from motor-vehicle accidents, weapons mishaps or from medical causes such as heart attacks.

Fallen black and Hispanic troops were more likely than whites to be married and to have children.

Blacks who died were slightly older than whites. The average age for blacks at death was 26.8 years compared to 26.1 for whites. Hispanics were younger, still, at 25.6 years on average.

Minorities were over-represented in the ranks of enlisted troops killed. While just 48 percent of the whites who died were from the lowest ranks, 56 percent of blacks and 52 percent of Hispanics were enlisted personnel.

Scripps statistician Thomas Hargrove contributed to this report.


DEATHS BY RACE Racial breakdown of troop deaths in Iraq

Whites: 69.6 percent

Blacks: 11.9 percent

Hispanics: 12.3 percent

Asians: 2.0 percent

American Indians: 1.1 percent

Pacific Islanders: 0.9 percent

Multiple races or unknown: 2.2 percent

Source: Pentagon casualty reports and Scripps Howard News Service data.

By By Lisa Hoffman / Scripps Howard News Service
March 19, 2005

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