The National Guard and Reserve suffered more combat deaths in Iraq during the first 10 days of August — at least 32, according to a Pentagon count — than in any full month of the entire war.
More broadly, Pentagon casualty reports show that the number of deaths among Guard and Reserve forces has been trending upward much of this year, totaling more than 100 since May 1. That ranks as the deadliest stretch of the war for the Guard and Reserve, whose members perform both combat and support missions.
There is little evidence to suggest that part-time troops are being specifically targeted by the insurgents, since the Guard and Reserve troops are mostly indistinguishable from — and interchangeable with — regular active-duty troops.
The 42nd Infantry Division of the New York Army National Guard is commanding a combat force in north-central Iraq that includes two brigades from the active-duty 3rd Infantry Division, and a brigade from the Mississippi Army National Guard is operating with the Marine Corps.
'Fully trained and prepared'
The Pentagon rejects any suggestion the Guard and Reserve are more vulnerable in combat because they are part-timers.
“We will not deploy a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who is not fully trained and prepared for the mission,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “Combat operations are inherently dangerous and despite the best training and the best equipment, we will unfortunately have service members killed and wounded in action.”
Some see it differently. Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst with the Brookings Institution think tank, said Thursday that while the performance of reservists has been generally excellent, some are shortchanged on training prior to arriving in Iraq.
“If we really believe that military personnel need months of intensive training before being at their best — as logic suggests and other evidence would seem to prove — it is hard to believe that most reservists in Iraq are really as strong as active-duty troops, especially when they first arrive in country,” O’Hanlon said.
The 32 combat deaths in the first 10 days of August are in addition to one death classified as non-combat.
The previous highest monthly killed-in-action total for the Guard and Reserve was 27 in May, when there were also four non-combat deaths. In August 2004, there were six Guard and Reserve combat deaths and eight total.
The increasing death toll among reserve forces in recent months reflects, at least in part, their more prominent role in Iraq. They represent about half of all U.S. combat forces there, or double the share in early 2004.
The Army National Guard has brigade combat teams in Iraq from Idaho, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Hawaii, Texas, Georgia and Pennsylvania, and the Army Reserve and Marine Reserve also are represented.
By this time next year, if the Pentagon’s plan holds up, the number of National Guard brigades in Iraq would fall to two, as the regular active-duty Army redeploys two newly enlarged divisions — the 101st Airborne and the 4th Infantry.
The recent surge in Guard and Reserve combat deaths comes as the Army National Guard and Army Reserve are stuck in a prolonged recruiting slump that some attribute in large measure to young people’s fear of getting sent to Iraq. More than 1,840 U.S. service members — active and reserve — have died since the war began.
On Wednesday the Pentagon announced that as of July 31 the Army National Guard was running 23 percent behind in recruiting for the year and the Army Reserve was 20 percent behind. The Marine Reserve was right at its goal.
The combat deaths in the first 10 days of August came in bunches, starting with six Marine Reserve snipers who were killed by small arms fire during a Marine offensive near the town of Haditha in western Iraq.
Two days later, 14 Marine Reserve troops from Ohio were killed when their amphibious assault vehicle was blown up by a roadside bomb that U.S. officials said later was three land mines stacked atop each other.
Also on Aug. 3, three members of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade were killed in Baghdad when a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle near the soldiers’ armored troop carrier.
On Aug. 9, five members of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard were killed — four of them in a single attack near Bayji.
Two other Pennsylvania guardsmen were killed in an attack Aug. 6, and one Marine Reserve member died Aug. 4 of wounds sustained in combat last November.
One Army Reserve soldier was among the 32 killed in action during the first 10 days of the month; another died when a civilian fuel truck collided with the Humvee in which he was traveling on a convoy mission.