All-Volunteer Military Has Led to Older Casualties in Iraq

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

( - The average age for U.S. casualties in the first five years of Operation Iraqi Freedom was higher than the average age for U.S. casualties in the Vietnam War, according to a comparison of Defense Department data on Iraq and National Archives records on Vietnam.

Some experts attribute this to the fact that the military serving in Iraq is an all-volunteer force. In Vietnam, most troops were also volunteers; 25 percent, however, were draftees, according to the National Archives.

The average age for U.S. casualties recorded in the first five years of Operation Iraqi Freedom was 26, according to a Cybercast News Service analysis of Defense Department records. The average age for casualties in Vietnam was 23.1, according to the Combat Area Casualty File (CACF) maintained by the National Archives. These averages include both combat and non-combat casualties for both wars.

The presence of draftees in Vietnam contributed to the tendency for those who served there to be younger, single men. This is less true for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lt. Col Les' Melnyk, a Defense Department spokesman, told Cybercast News Service.

"We are not surprised to see a higher age range because this is the first lengthy war we've fought in the era of an all-volunteer military," he said. "We've made the military more attractive as a career, so we have folks who are older now, raising families and staying in the military longer. Going back to the draft era the bulk of the military was young and single."

There are distinct advantages associated with having an older force, which are directly applicable to the mission in Iraq, Melnyk said.

"Having a more mature force in terms of judgment is particularly important in the kind of scenario we are fighting in now where the quickest reaction does not necessarily determine the most positive outcome," he said.

"You want people with mature judgment who can assess a complex situation on the ground and determine who is friend and who is foe -- what kind of factors," Melynk continued. "Shooting first is not the best answer. You can lose an entire village with one mistake."

The older age range of the troops serving in Iraq is also indicative of the heightened profile National Guard units have assumed in the conflict, defense experts say.

The average age for a reservist in fiscal 2007 was 33, Melnyk said.

Capt. Sean Michael Flynn, who served as a company commander with the 69th Army National Guard Infantry Regiment in Iraq, concurs with those who see age and maturity as key factors on the battlefield.

"They are all volunteers, serving at their pleasure, and made conscious decisions to join because they are passionate about what they're doing," he said. "When you combine this volunteer spirit with age and maturity, you get phenomenal results at any level of warfare."

As was previously reported by Cybercast News Service, New York City residents have suffered 58 casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the greatest number of any American city. Six of these were members of the Fighting 69th Army National Guard Regiment.

Sgt. Henry Irizarry, a 38-year-old married father of four, was one of the casualties from the 69th . He was killed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Taji, Iraq in December 2004.

"He had a smile for everyone," said Flynn, who served as Irizarry's company commander. "I still remember the advice he gave when I became a father for the first time. I remember him pulling me aside and saying when he was away for a long time he would take off one of his tee shirts and put it in the crib with the baby so the baby would recognize his smell from the shirt, and I started doing that the next day. I thanked him for that profusely."

Flynn is the author of "The Fighting 69th," which tells the story of the National Guard unit's journey from "Ground Zero" on 9/11 to combat in Iraq.

Average Age for Casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom
(From March 20, 2003 to March 20, 2008)
26.9 years old
2004: 25.6 years old
2005: 26.7 years old
2006: 25.7 years old
2007: 25.6 years old
2008: 26.7 years old

Casualties by Age Group
18-19: 6.4%
20-29: 70.4%
30-39: 17.7%
40-49: 4.9%
50+: 0.6%

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