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More Latino Blood Spilled In Iraq Numbers Shed Light On GI Deaths In Iraq; Victims Are Older And Often In Guard Or Reserves; Toll Is High Among Women And Hispanics America Short Changes Its Full-Time Soldiers
More Latino Blood Spilled In Iraq
By Jesus Davila for El Diario /La Prensa
September 14, 2004
Inter Press Service
NEW YORK, Sep. 14, 2004 (IPS/GIN) -- August proved to be a difficult month for Latinos with 12 dead reported from the war in Iraq. The number of soldiers wounded is not known at present.
To make the situation more dramatic, the most recent casualty is from New York, where Congressman Jose Serrano and Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila, representing Puerto Rico, have been insisting on a full report of casualties from the Pentagon.
A young man who celebrated his 19th birthday while deployed in Kuwait, Luis Perez, was killed in an explosion on the 27th of August, just days after he was transferred to the city of Fallujah in Iraq. Perez, who graduated from high school last year, was a resident of Theresa, a small hamlet with 353 families near Watertown, NY.
Perez's death closed the month of August. Now, Latinos greet September with the death of Armando Hernandez, from California. Hernandez, who was in the Fourth Cavalry, First Division of the U.S. Army and died in Samara when the site he was guarding was attacked.
So far this year, the Pentagon has identified 63 soldiers with Latino names among those who have died in Iraq. This represent close to 13 percent of the total fatalities for the year thus far, a disproportionate number when compared to the Latino population of the United States, which does not reach 10 percent of the total population.
The Latino casualties form part of a larger picture; in the 531 days since "Operation Iraqi Freedom" was launched, occupation forces headed by the United States have lost 1,200 lives. Of these, 975 were U.S. soldiers, 131 from countries allied to the coalition, and more than 100 from private or contract armies. These figures, however, do not include casualties suffered by allied Iraqi soldiers.
The Pentagon admits that there are close to 3,700 wounded and it is known that there are thousands of additional medical losses.
Numbers Shed Light On GI Deaths In Iraq; Victims Are Older And Often In Guard Or Reserves; Toll Is High Among Women And Hispanics
By James Janega, Darnell Little and Stephen Franklin, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune national correspondent Michael Kilian contributed to this report.
September 9, 2004
It was lunchtime in a war zone, a sunny autumn day near Baqouba when the U.S. military was one-third of the way to 1,000 American dead in Iraq.
Nine American soldiers traveling in a small, dusty convoy knew the battle they were fighting was unconventional. Even so, the balancing act that Iraq demanded--fight and rebuild, make friends and wage war--had become routine.
In less than a year's time--on Wednesday--the toll would reach four figures, casting into sharp relief who was dying in the war and how they met their end.
It's clear that the American troops killed in Iraq are older--averaging about 26, four years older than during the Vietnam War. While Vietnam relied heavily on the draft, this war is employing many members of the National Guard and reserves, perhaps explaining the higher age of those killed. Nearly half have left spouses behind.
More women have died than in any other U.S. war. Hispanics' share of the dying is high: While they represent 9 percent of the military, they have made up 12 percent of the deaths.
Most of the 1,000 were killed by an unseen enemy who used roadside bombs, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
Back near Baqouba last autumn, the three Humvees and nine soldiers from an Army civil affairs team bounced over roads in the baking countryside on their way back from a meeting at a chicken farm, headed for a military civil affairs operations center downtown.
As they rumbled into Baqouba, a bomb tied to a tree came to life with a dusty, muffled pop. Deadly shards of hot metal sang into the Humvee that 31-year-old Army medic Capt. John Teal had ridden to the end of his war.
At Forward Operating Base Warhorse, 15 minutes south of town, Teal's friend and fellow medic Capt. Jason Sepanic remembers the Humvee screeching to a halt outside his aid station, the frantic shouts for medics and the bloody, scripted frenzy that followed.
Only a book in Teal's pocket identified the dying man to Sepanic.
"This was a war of inches," Sepanic said, still shaken a year later. "Every one of us has had a close call where it could have gone one way or another way."
More than a thousand times over a year and a half, there was a knock at the door and a soft message, delivered to family members with heartbreaking formality.
"You're seeing more people and different kinds of people," said David Segal, who has studied morale issues for the Center for Research on Military Organizations at the University of Maryland. "In the first gulf war, the people engaged in combat were in combat units. There was a front line."
No more, he said.
Among those who died were 24 women--as many women as were killed in service during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Vietnam and Korea combined.
The nature of this war is different, said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation.
"I was in Vietnam after the Tet offensive," she said. "Never was Saigon as dangerous a place as Baghdad is today. In Iraq, you can be at risk anywhere."
Terrified of the dangers posed to supply convoys Master Sgt. Linda Tarango-Greiss, 33, who was assigned to a supply warehouse in Iraq, finally relented on July 11 of this year and hopped into one, fellow soldiers say.
It was the day she died.
"Her biggest concern was bringing her soldiers home," said Sgt. Belinda Harris, a National Guard veteran struck by Tarango-Griess' dedication to soldiers she had mentored in Nebraska and Iraq.
The National Guard had become a major part of Tarango-Griess' life since college, ending struggles with two part-time jobs and doubts she could afford school on her own.
With the National Guard's financial support, she finished. The Guard introduced her to her husband, Doug, whom she married 10 years ago.
When a roadside bomb ripped through the Humvee she and fellow Guard Staff Sgt. Jeremy Fischer, 23, were sharing in Samarra, they became the first Nebraska National Guardsmen killed in war in 60 years.
Grief consumed her hometown in Sutton, Neb., a quiet town of 1,400 with one traffic light, set back from a two-lane highway in the heart of the Corn Belt.
Tarango-Griess told family she was putting off having children in order to press ahead with her career in the Guard. Despite his loss, her husband has been called to active duty. He awaits orders to deploy to Iraq.
Though their ranks were small, the 24 women killed in Iraq changed U.S. history in another way: They were the first women to die in jobs other than nursing or bringing up rear lines, assuming roles the military expanded for women in 1994.
"Very clearly, it shows a difference in the way women are employed in the military today," Vaught said. "They are part of the unit now."
Though half the women killed were white, a heavy burden also fell on minority women. A quarter were Hispanic. Almost as many were black.
For a glimmer of what is driving Latino enlistment, visit a wooded trailer park in Bexar County, Texas. To get there, pass the newly renamed Staff Sgt. Michael P. Barrera Veterans Elementary School on Texas Highway 16, beyond the country graveyard with the tomb obvious from the road for the red, white and blue plastic angels stuck into fresh grass.
Tucked into a wooded lot beyond it, among shaded streets named for kings, is a chain-link gate covered in yellow ribbons and American flags. Rattling pickup trucks and dogs pass in the hazy distance.
"He wanted to pay for school. I said, `Well, son, what are you going to do out here [for money]?'" said Hilda Guardiola, whose only son, Barrera, 26, was killed when his M-1 Abrams tank hit a buried mine on a road north of Baghdad.
Statistics for Hispanic deaths in past wars are unreliable because they often were counted as white or black. Estimates of Hispanics' share of deaths in Vietnam have run as high as 25 percent, but studies have been based on counts of Spanish-sounding surnames and other shaky methodology.
But it's clear that Hispanics have been on the front lines in this war, representing 9 percent of the U.S. military and 12 percent of U.S. deaths in Iraq.
"You have a disproportionate share of Hispanics who volunteer for gun-toting occupations in the Army and Marines, and that's where the casualties have been," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington.
Barrera's grandfather served in World War II. Three of his uncles were in Vietnam. "Coming from all the military that we've got, I think that it's pride that we've got as Hispanics, Latinos," Guardiola said. Guardiola had started collecting angels in her living room. When Barrera died, she created a shrine to her son in the same corner.
The two displays mix now.
In the case of African-Americans, their share of the dead--13 percent--matches closely their participation in the armed forces.
Among those of all race and ethnicities who died, many joined the services out of post-Sept. 11 fervor, but a significant portion of America's fallen had joined much earlier, largely to pay for school or to learn a trade, their families said.
The military releases no reliable information about where its members grew up, or their economic background. But the five states with the highest per-capita death tolls in Iraq are mostly rural: Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont.
Many of the states bearing the biggest burden are those strongly supporting the Bush administration's policies.
The 20 states considered "red" or Republican in recent polling by PollingReport.com are home to 157 electoral votes and 334 troops who have died. The District of Columbia and nine states that are "blue" or Democratic--many of them populous states such as California, New York and Illinois--are home to 161 electoral votes and 275 of those killed.
A Defense Department tally through Aug. 28 shows the overwhelming cause of American casualties was "improvised explosive devices," often roadside bombs.
They accounted for 318 deaths, or 33 percent of all killed. All happened after major combat was declared over in May 2003.
Gunshots were the next most common cause of death, with 208 servicemen and women killed. Car accidents claimed 87 lives. Airplane and helicopter crashes, another 85. Mortars and rocket-propelled grenades killed 63 Americans. Another 29 died of heart attacks, strokes, the heat and other medical reasons.
In Carol Chaney's mind, Sgt. 1st Class William Chaney was not supposed to die.
Her husband, 59, was in his trailer in Iraq, wrapped up in a sleeping bag and shaking, when another soldier found him and took him to a doctor. Eventually he was sent to a Balad hospital.
An X-ray found an abscess on Chaney's appendix and he was rushed to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for further treatment. For the next few days, Chaney appeared to be recovering.
But one morning around 9:30 a.m., while standing in a bathroom, he told a nurse he couldn't breathe. He lost consciousness and was pronounced dead at 10:08 a.m.
A quarter of all those killed in Iraq were, like Chaney, in the National Guard or reserves. Among all those killed, only 3 percent of American deaths were due to illness.
To date, Chaney is the oldest American soldier to die in Iraq, a helicopter door-gunner performing the same duty he performed in Vietnam, and a Schaumburg resident who was a member of the Army National Guard's Chicago-based 106th Aviation Regiment.
But overall he reflects a growing trend toward an aging military that was underscored in the Iraq war.
"Many are brought in through the Guard and reserves. But their casualty rate is a reflection of this type of war," said Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University.
Still, he said, "the biggest effect may be that you're going to see a terrible downturn in re-enlistment."
Chaney himself had mixed feelings.
Some of his postwar experiences left him with a bitter feeling that his military service wasn't appreciated, though a 1986 Vietnam veterans parade in Chicago began to change his feelings about his service. In 1989 he joined the National Guard.
Three-and-a-half months after his death, Chaney's wife still is looking for answers on exactly how and why her husband died.
Carol Chaney said the airline pilot who flew her husband's body home pulled off his pilot's wings and gave them to his National Guard escort.
"He said, `Give these to the family. I'm also a Vietnam veteran,'" Carol Chaney said. "That was Bill's homecoming."
U.S. fatalities from the war in Iraq--which reached 1,000 Tuesday, according to some reports--have come from almost every state, tend to be 30 years old or younger and represent every type of military duty. On a percentage basis, the toll includes more deaths of women than in any previous war.
Deaths by age and sex
Note: Total does not add up to 1,000 because age and sex information was not available for 21 fatalities.
20 and younger: 187
21 -- 25: 377
26 -- 30: 181
31 -- 35: 111
36 -- 40: 70
41 -- 45: 37
46 -- 50: 10
51 -- 55: 5
56 and older: 1
As of Aug. 28
As of Aug. 28
Active duty: 76%
National Guard: 11%
Note: As of Aug. 28, 973 U.S. soldiers had been killed.
As of Sept. 7
Note: Deaths are by officially listed home state. Deaths do not add up to 1,000 because home states were not available for 17 soldiers.
Deaths per million population
PUERTO RICO 9
MARIANAS PROTECTORATE 1
AMERICAN SAMOA 2
VIRGIN ISLANDS 2
Sources: Associated Press, Defense Department
America Short Changes Its Full-Time Soldiers
May 31, 2004
Every month, about 10 young adults enter the military recruiting station at Tyrone Gardens shopping center on 58th Street N and sign up for a stint with the Army or Army Reserve.
The lucky ones may end up like Sgt. 1st Class Juan Diaz, a 34- year-old Persian Gulf War vet who joined the Army 16 years ago and now earns nearly $40,000 a year as a local recruiter.
He represents the best of the opportunities our all-volunteer military presents. As he might say himself, who else but the military would have taken a chance on Diaz in 1988, then an 18-year- old from Puerto Rico who spoke no English and had no appreciable job skills? Diaz plans to retire with a full pension at age 38.
Most recruits today begin basic training with a signing bonus and a salary of $13,000. They get free medical care, free on-campus housing, free chow and college tuition assistance.
"Where else can you find a deal like that?" an Army recruiting brochure says.
But the fact is, America's warriors aren't getting the pay they deserve. And everyone knows it.
The last time military pay was roughly equivalent to private- sector pay was 1982. Though the military pay shortfall has shrank to an estimated 5.4 percent today, it still may not be a fair comparison. After all, most private-sector workers don't risk their lives for their countrymen or separate from their family for long deployments.
And even though a 2003 study by the Department of Defense estimated that only 2,000 of America's 1.4-million full-time troops receive food stamps, many military families struggle on wages that hover near eligibility levels.
Besides, if military service is such a terrific career opportunity, why do only a handful of the 535 members of Congress have a son or daughter in the Armed Forces today?
You needn't look hard or far to find a better deal than the military's. At the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, for example, new deputies with qualifications not much greater than those of a military recruit start at a salary of $37,000 a year. It took Diaz almost 16 years to reach that level.
"Military pay in this country is outrageously low, it's a disgrace and it is immoral," said former Nixon speech writer, Wall Street Journal editorial writer and comedian Ben Stein last month on CNN.
To be sure, nobody admits that America's warriors are paid as they should be. In his campaign for the 2000 presidential election, George Bush pledged to spend $1-billion on troop pay raises. Likewise, many officeholders and challengers today see fit to publicly decry the scourge of low military pay.
The funny thing is, most seem focused on reservists, not full- time warriors.
Congress is mulling a bill that would reward businesses that help their reservist employees. Under the proposal, a company that paid the difference between an employee's civilian wage and military wage during her deployment, or continues to pay for her benefits, would receive special tax credits.
Florida is one of roughly two dozen states with a similar program for government workers. Thanks to a resolution passed by Gov. Jeb Bush's cabinet shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, state employees called up for reserve duty continue to receive their full civilian pay, with Florida taxpayers making up the difference.
Some states are experimenting with other benefits for reservists. In Utah, lawmakers are considering cutting the state income taxes of military reservists while on active duty. The argument in that state is the same as with all such legislation: A reservist's family shouldn't have to lose its house or suffer other economic hardship just because he or she is deployed.
It's not hard to see why reservists are getting so much support. Because there are relatively few reservists and because their deployments are temporary, it doesn't cost as much to boost their pay as it costs to raise the pay scale for the full-time military.
I also suspect that most politicians simply find it easier to identify with reservists. Unlike many full-time troops, reservists live in civilian neighborhoods and have civilian jobs. Though many are blue collar, they include doctors, lawyers and other highly paid professionals with whom lawmakers might rub shoulders.
By contrast, our 18- and 19-year-old recruits are voiceless, powerless. Young, often from low-income families, disproportionately minority, they lack the political pull that might otherwise force a big jump in their pay.
Diaz, the St. Petersburg recruiter, says he has no regrets about joining the Army. He has built schools and roads in post-Noriega Panama, learned how to rappel from a helicopter and fight fires in Virginia, built ice bridges in Alaska, and dug fighting positions in Iraq. Along the way, he and his wife had two children, ages 11 and 6.
His thoughts on helping military reservists is mixed. On the one hand, he says, reservists knew when they joined that their pay might drop during deployments. It's a sacrifice you accept for the privilege of protecting your country. On the other hand, Diaz says, you can't perform your job well if you're worried about your family.
For that reason, he's happy to see reservists get some financial aid.
Diaz's only request? That full-time troops get the same kind of support.
WHAT WE PAY OUR TROOPS
Below are selected monthly pay rates for enlisted members and commissioned officers of the U.S. armed forces, as of Jan. 1. Basic pay rates differ according to rank and years of service. Rank names are based on Army terminology, but pay grades and salaries are the same across all services.
Number of troops with this rank as of March 31.
Source: Department of Defense