The other day I shared with you all how I’ve worked backwards in my attempt to rebuild my deployment for the purposes of explaining the type of role, responsibility, and burdens of that service to the VA. I understand informing you about the total number of casualties doesn’t give you enough clarity alone. While it is hard enough to go through the daily burden of receiving casualty information knowing we couldn’t undo those situations, it also made me stressed about people I knew going outside the base and my own safety on the few occasions I traveled outside Blue Diamond. (It’s going to sound a little crazy but while on deployment, mortar attacks were pretty normal. It’s only been in the last few years being close to fireworks again that my body had developed an adverse response to what I know is not a threat but my brain treats differently.)
War is a combination of intentional actions and just as our military employs various weapons our service overseas exposed us to dangers of all kinds from enemy combatants. Small arms fire (SAF), rocket-propelled grenades, (RPG’s) improvised explosive devices (IED’s), vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED’s), and mortars. At the end of the day, our maps would be marked by various patterns of heinous activity and accidental circumstances.
I’ve mentioned previously I am only scratching the surface of the deployment by presenting data for deceased U.S. service members. There are real barriers to getting a true representation of my deployment and I do not wish to do a disservice to the many persons wounded on my deployment. Their stories are equally as important as the many service members who were killed, but I have such an incomplete picture of this time period based on how different sites collect and present data related to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Here are some key differences to shed light on this matter (and like one of my former professors mentioned, it’s important to not ignore inconvenient data). The table, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) U.S. Casualty Status, presents a challenge as it included the entire conflict from the early stages, including areas outside of Iraq.
Other sites also try to appropriate inform by collating the recorded numbers in a different format, but again, it’s hard to separate out the casualties that would have occurred on our watch from the ones my counterparts would have dealt with for their service in other command centers during other portions of OIF. iCasualties.org helped me a bit to get a better idea of how this part of my deployment could have looked through various sorting categories. The table below from iCasualties.org has an option to look at wounded data by month and service branch but it is not province specific. Even if we look at just the Marine Corps and Army for this time period (keeping in mind August and February were not full months in country) our activity reports would have covered some portion of the 4,936 personnel belonging to these service branches.
I have some other grievances with the iCasualties.org website including how the filters aren’t functioning and sorting the way they should. I recognize the sight picture of my deployment will be incomplete but at least looking back, I have tools to help me explain my deployment to others.
Getting back to the data I can truly work from, below I have provided a chart I created covering the types of incidents within the Al Anbar province from August 8th, 2004 to February 22nd, 2005. I chose to combine various types of enemy action under ‘enemy action’ than to list each subcategory I discovered in the Military Times records. When I tried to be more precise in the pie chart, it was far too cluttered. For this reason, I am also providing a better snapshot of the complexity of the recorded violent events and breakdown of the non-combat related fatalities.
Thanks again for your patience regarding this difficult subject.
It is my hope that what I’ve worked through for personal reasons can help others understand a different side of war that is underrepresented in discussion. I do not wish to tread on anyone’s feelings regarding personnel who go out of the wire on conveys or vehicular and foot patrols but it does help to recognize what burdens are placed upon support personnel. We have an opportunity to revisit training and support services for our service members who handle information for the killed and wounded and/or their personnel belongings/effects. I would also hope civilians can see why we need more nuanced discussion about war and its consequences in the classroom.