Female U.S. Casualties More Common in Iraq War

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

(Editor's note: Changes the number of non-combat incidents.)

(CNSNews.com) - More American servicewomen have been killed serving in Iraq than were killed serving in either Operation Desert Storm or in the Vietnam War, according to a Cybercast News Service database.

So far, 97 American women, including seven single mothers, have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The average age of these female casualties is 27.

Non-combat incidents such as suspected suicides, physical stress, accidental gun wounds, helicopter crashes and vehicular accidents account for 39 (or about 40 percent) of the female causalities in Iraq, while 58 of the female casualties (or nearly 60 percent) have been caused by hostile action, the analysis shows.

The U.S. Defense Department confirmed these figures in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) by Cybercast News Service.

Twenty of the U.S. servicewomen killed in Iraq were killed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or by explosions that were probably IEDs, the Cybercast News Service database shows.

Other female soldiers perished when their units came into contact with small arms fire, rocket propelled grenades, mortar fire and suicide bombers.

The female casualty numbers reported thus far in Operation Iraqi Freedom outpace other recent conflicts. In the Gulf War, for example, there were 16 female casualties among the 41,000 female service members deployed as part of Operation Desert Storm. In Vietnam, there were 8 female casualties among the 7,465 women who served in theater.

The Department of Defense told Cybercast News Service it could not immediately state the full number of servicewomen who have served in Iraq since the beginning of the war. However, as of this January, there were 10,262 female service members deployed there.

In the Korean War, there were 17 casualties among the 1,000 U.S. servicewomen who served in theater, DOD data shows. However, 11 of these casualties were Navy nurses who died in a single plane crash, according to Kristin Gilpatrick, a public relations assistant with the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation.

Defense Department records show that there were about 400,000 women who served in U.S. military worldwide during World War II and that 543 of these women "died in the line of duty," said Gilpatrick.

Aircraft accidents, vehicle accidents and illness were responsible for most of these deaths, but Defense Department reports also indicate that 16 female service members died as the result of enemy fire in WW II.

That means that the 58 U.S. servicewomen already killed by hostile action in Iraq equal almost four times the number of U.S. servicewomen killed by hostile action in all of World War II.

The casualty figures reported for female service members in Iraq should be a major source of concern for policymakers on Capitol Hill, Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness (CMR), told Cybercast News Service.

Although it is widely understood that women will be deployed in "harm's way" at the brigade level, existing rules preclude them from being placed "at the tip of the spear" in ground combat, she explained.

Nevertheless, Defense Department officials and the U.S. Army in particular are violating current regulations that require combat battalions to be all male, she said.

Existing rules have been "stretched, re-defined, blurred and disregarded" without congressional authorization to the great detriment of female soldiers, Donnelly maintains. While she ardently supports female participation in the armed forces, Donnelly is opposed to intermixing males and females in combat battalions where unit cohesion is vital.

"The situation is totally out of hand," she said. "There are no regulations that have any teeth at all in the army, they are being routinely ignored and Congress is allowing this to happen without exercising any oversight."

However, Donnelly did offer praise for Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who launched his own investigation into the issue of women in combat in 2005. Hunter essentially ended a 15-year lapse in congressional oversight on the deployment of female service members, Donnelly said.

The congressional committee did consider legislation that would have provided for stricter enforcement of existing regulations in 2005. However, the Defense Department persuaded committee members to refrain from moving the legislation to the floor in exchange for the Defense Department doing a study.

The end result was a report produced through the RAND Corporation that essentially "rubberstamped" U.S. Army practices, Donnelly contends.

The demands and expectations now attached to female service members already are having an impact on family dynamics that should greatly concern policy makers, she continued.

"There is a vast social experiment now underway in the Army, and it's alarming to see how far this administration has allowed it to go," Donnelly argued. "What's happening now is not normal. It is outside of the law and official policy, and our female soldiers deserve better."

Female soldiers have come under attack in Iraq, not because of any unofficial shift in Pentagon policy, but because "the nature of the conflict" positions them in harm's way in certain instances, Les' Melnyk, a Defense Department spokesman, told Cybercast News Service.

"We don't have fixed front lines [in Iraq] because of the manner in which the war is being conducted," he explained. "This sometimes means those units that do not have a direct combat mission do come under attack, and of course women are going to defend themselves and they have acquitted themselves quite well."

Even so, the rules of service dating back to 1994 that exclude women from being assigned to combat units below the brigade level continue to be observed, Melnyk maintained.

"They are not being assigned to infantry battalions or armor battalions where the primary role is to engage the enemy," he said.

But Donnelly is not convinced that the U.S. military is upholding regulations that are designed to safeguard women. She also is concerned about the impact military service is having on family relations.

The instances of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are much higher for women than they are for men, according to the CMR. Moreover, female soldiers suffer from a "great deal of pain and grief" as a consequence of separation from children and other family members, Donnelly said. It is necessary for young mothers to become "emotionally distant" from their children as a survival mechanism that enables them to endure the deployment, she said.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to "bridge the gap" and re-establish relationships when they return home, Donnelly added.

Twelve female casualties in Iraq left behind one or more children, according to the Cybercast News Service database. Seventeen of the female casualties were married and seven were single mothers, the analysis showed.

The District of Columbia's non-voting congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) held a forum in April highlighting the contributions that female National Guard members have made in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although she is critic of the Iraq War and Bush administration polices, Del. Norton said she had "deep love and respect" for those who volunteer to serve in the armed forces.

Stephanie Wade, a member of the 547th Transportation National Guard Unit in Washington D.C., took part in the forum. She served from September 2006 to September. 2007 at the Tallil Airbase outside the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

Wade was deployed during the height of the insurgency and experienced several mortar attacks on her base. After each attack it was her job to be sure everyone was accounted for and to help assess any damage.

"You never know where a rocket is going to land -- it could land right next to your trailer," she said.

She also was responsible for intelligence-gathering efforts for the benefit of convoys traveling "outside the wire" into combat areas where IEDs were positioned.

Although the time away put a strain on her family life, Wade said she did not have any trouble re-connecting with her two young girls and is very active in her community.

"I keep a house full of kids," she said. "I keep myself surrounded with my two girls and their friends from school."

The larger issue at work here concerns recent policy changes that now result in women "assuming heavier burdens and greater risks" than at any time in U.S. history, Donnelly said.

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