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The Star-Ledger July 11, 2004

Death toll rising for part-time U.S. forces

Guardsmen and reserve troops make up 24% of Iraq fatalities

By Wayne Woolley

Nearly a quarter of the service members killed in action since Feb. 1 in Iraq were from the Reserve or National Guard, according to a Star-Ledger review of Defense Department records.

In the past five months, the proportion of all part-time soldiers killed is nearly six times higher than before President Bush declared the end of major combat on May 1, 2003.

For the Army, the proportion of deaths among hostile fire casualties since Feb. 1 -- the period since the last major troop turnover -- was even higher: one-third of those killed were "citizen soldiers," who traditionally train one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer.

At the same time, part-time troops now constitute more than 40 percent of the occupation force in Iraq, up from roughly a quarter of the troops who were part of the invasion force.

Part of the increase in deaths can be attributed to the fact there are more part-time soldiers in Iraq. Also, defense analysts said a simple explanation is that more reservists are in the combat zone.

"Having more people on the ground creates more targets," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow and defense analyst for the Brookings Institution in Washington, a think tank that focuses on public policy. "The reserve components are the ones with the boots on the ground now."

According to the Defense Department, there are about 37,000 Army National Guard troops and about 17,000 Army reservists in Iraq to supplement roughly 60,000 soldiers from the regular Army. An additional 20,000 active-duty Marines and about 5,000 Marine reservists make up the rest of the troops in Iraq.

POLITICIANS ALARMED

Pentagon officials announced this week that the Reserves and National Guard will continue to make up about 43 percent of occupation force for at least the next year.

That news alarmed some lawmakers.

Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said the National Guard and Reserve are "nearly at the breaking point."

A Republican on the committee, Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, said "when you have a number that's in the 40 percent-plus range in (Iraq), that is just too high."

The commitment in Iraq has been especially difficult for the 350,000-member Army National Guard, which also mobilizes under the command of state governors for homeland security duty, natural disasters and civil unrest.

Although the National Guard makes up 56 percent of the Army's total combat strength, it receives less than 12 percent of its budget and is chronically short of equipment, according to Defense Department figures.

A DRAIN AT HOME

Federal call-ups of the National Guard left 15 states with fewer than 60 percent of their forces at home and available for emergencies. In Idaho, the hardest-hit state, 81 percent of the Army Guard has been mobilized for federal duty. In New Jersey, about 70 percent of the 6,300-member force will be serving overseas by the end of the fall, with the majority headed to Iraq.

The strain is beginning to show in New Jersey.

Troops mobilized here for a terrorist alert in December were short Humvees, night vision equipment, cold weather gear and chemical protective suits, according to the GAO report. National Guard officials told the GAO some New Jersey units had fewer than 65 percent of their wartime equipment stock of spare parts, utility trucks and pistols.

Although the first wave of National Guard soldiers sent to Iraq often lacked up-to-date body armor and armored Humvees, the troops who have arrived in recent months have mostly been outfitted with the more modern equipment used by the active-duty Army.

But even better equipment is sometimes no match for insurgents who continue to study coalition troops in search of new ways to inflict casualties, said Daniel Smith, a retired Army infantry colonel who served in Vietnam and taught at West Point.

"If you study something long enough, you can ferret out the weaknesses of your enemy," said Smith, who now follows military affairs for the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington. "These Guardsmen are going into this situation, bearing the brunt of what the Iraqis have learned about American forces."

More than 2,000 of the National Guard members in Iraq are armor and field artillery soldiers who spent 40 days retraining before deploying to learn how to conduct military police missions such as convoy security.

The Army calls these soldiers "in-lieu-of-MPs" and their ranks include about 150 members of the 3rd Battalion of the 112th Field Artillery in Morristown.

Four members of the unit -- Sgt. Frank Carvill, 51, of Carlstadt; Spc. Christopher Duffy, 26, of Brick; Sgt. Humberto Timoteo, 25, of Newark and Spc. Ryan Doltz, 26, of Mine Hill -- were killed in two separate ambushes a day apart in Baghdad last month.

The four New Jersey soldiers were among 10 "in-lieu-of MPs" to die in Iraq since April, according to Defense Department records. The other soldiers were from Pennsylvania and Vermont.

'SET UP FOR FAILURE'

Some question whether these soldiers received enough training before embarking on a mission so different from their military specialty: pounding the enemy with 155 mm cannons.

"What does a cannon cocker know about being an MP?" asked Lt. Paul Rieckhoff, a New York Army National Guard officer who commanded an infantry platoon in Iraq for 10 months. "They're setting these guys up for failure."

Officials with the National Guard Bureau and in New Jersey say these troops were ready for the new mission because they were already versed in combat skills such as marksmanship and communication. The training schedule was adequate, they said, because these soldiers were expected to learn only a small portion of MP skills.

Lt. Col. Robert Schoefield, the commander of the New Jersey unit, said in a recent interview that in addition to training for four weeks at Fort Dix, his troops received an additional two weeks of training in Kuwait and were not allowed to enter Iraq until they were certified as being "ready to go."

Schoefield said he expects new missions for the National Guard. An additional two companies under his control are expected to retrain for military police missions, and several members of the unit will go for advanced training in California this summer.

"This is a different conflict than what the military has trained for," Schoefield said. "This is so different, many units are being asked to focus in areas we didn't expect to focus on to train for war."

Some military analysts doubt reservists' deaths are linked to lack of training.

Although inadequate training of Army Reserve troops may have contributed to the abuses of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison, there is no way for reservists to protect themselves from the indiscriminate violence throughout Iraq, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a nonpartisan military think tank in Virginia.

"A mortar attack does not respect the military occupational specialty or whether a soldier is a reservist," Pike said.


Copyright 2004, The Star-Ledger