Sunday, June 05, 2005

Guard, Reserve monthly death toll at high


Guard, Reserve monthly death toll at high

WASHINGTON (AP) — May was the deadliest month of the Iraq war for part-time American servicemen. Thirty-one of them died: 14 members of the Army National Guard, 12 from the Marine Corps Reserve, four from the Army Reserve and one Navy Reserve hospital corpsman attached to a Marine combat unit.

The overall U.S. death toll in Iraq last month — counting active-duty as well as mobilized reserve forces — was 80. That is the highest for any month since January, when 107 died as insurgent attacks rose sharply prior to the Iraqi election. Fifty-two died in April and 36 in March, when it appeared the insurgency was waning.

Iraqis bore the brunt of insurgent violence in May, but it also took a heavy toll on the approximately 140,000 U.S. troops there. The 80 deaths compares with a monthly average of 70 over the previous 12 months.

The death toll among the Guard and Reserve underscores an important aspect of their recruiting problems: More potential recruits, citing concern about being sent to the war zone, are opting for other careers. The Army Guard missed its recruiting target last year and has fallen even farther behind this year.

The previous worst months for Guard and Reserve deaths in Iraq were January, when 30 died, and last November, with 28. Those also happened to be among the deadliest months overall for American forces in Iraq.

The 12 deaths among Marine reservists in May was the most for any month of the war.

Eight of the 12 Marines were with the same unit — the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment of the 4th Marine Division. It participated in a weeklong combat operation dubbed Operation Matador that targeted hide-outs, staging areas and infiltration routes for insurgents and foreign fighters near the Syrian border.

Also killed while operating with that unit was Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeffrey L. Wiener, 32, of Louisville, a Navy reservist.

Previously, the deadliest month for Marine reservists in Iraq was last November, when an all-out offensive routed insurgent strongholds in Fallujah, west of Baghdad. Eleven Marine reservists died that month.

The National Guard and Reserve, which make up nearly half the force in Iraq, have generally had fewer than 20 deaths per month during the war, and it's not clear why their losses spiked to 31 in May.

The May total reached 31 when the Pentagon announced Friday that Sgt. Miguel A. Ramos, 39, of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, died May 31 in Baghdad when a rocket struck near his position. He was assigned to the Army Reserve's 807th Signal Company, 35th Signal Battalion, based at Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico.

Another of the month's 31 fatalities died in the United States. Staff Sgt. Tommy S. Little, 47, of Aliceville, Ala., died May 2 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, of injuries sustained on April 19 near Iskandariyah, Iraq. A roadside bomb detonated near his Humvee utility vehicle. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 114th Field Artillery Regiment of the Mississippi Army National Guard at Columbus, Miss.

May also was a costly month for the regular Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which had 10 reported fatalities. Since it arrived in Iraq in February to become the first Army division to return for a second combat tour, the 3rd Infantry has lost 34 soldiers, Pentagon figures. During its previous tour, which lasted eight months and included the initial invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the capture of Baghdad, the division lost 44 soldiers.

Last month also was a costly month for the Air Force, which plays a smaller and less publicized role in Iraq. On May 30, four Air Force Special Operations airmen were killed when the Iraqi aircraft in which they were flying crashed. The Iraqi pilot also died. It was the largest number of Air Force members to die in Iraq in a single month.