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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel September 10, 2006

Report: About two-thirds of Wis Iraq deaths caused by explosions

By Tom Kertscher

Riding in a Humvee that is hit by an improvised explosive device is the most common way Wisconsin troops are killed in Iraq, and those deaths have occurred more frequently in the past year, figures show.

The statistics might simply confirm what is already known about combat in Iraq. But they could also lend weight to questions of the U.S. military being pressed by Stephen L. Castner of Cedarburg.

Castner, whose son died in Iraq after his Humvee was hit by an IED, said the figures bolster his contention that Humvees do not provide adequate protection against roadside bombs.

"The guerrillas have been making their IEDs more powerful and more lethal, and the Army has failed to keep up with the enemy," Castner said.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin Army National Guard countered Castner's arguments, however, and the head of an organization of Wisconsin families that have lost relatives in Iraq was far less critical.

The military must strive to make its troops and equipment safer, but no improvements will provide total safety, said Beth Karlson of Clintonville, president of Being There - Reaching Out.

"I truly believe that the military does the best that it can possibly do," she said.

Using information from the Department of Defense, the Wisconsin Army National Guard and news reports, the Journal Sentinel examined the circumstances of the deaths of Wisconsin troops in Iraq.

Sixty-one members of the armed services from Wisconsin have been killed in Iraq since May 2003.

According to the newspaper's analysis:

• 41 of the 61 deaths were caused by an IED or another type of explosion.

• In 24 of the 41 explosion-related deaths, the person killed was riding in a vehicle.

• In at least 12 of the 24 vehicle cases, the person killed was riding in a Humvee.

(In some cases, the military reports a death in a vehicle but does not identify the type of vehicle.)

• Seven of the 12 Humvee deaths have occurred in the past year.

The most recent Humvee fatality was Stephen W. Castner, 27, of Cedarburg, who was killed July 24 in Tallil, Iraq. His Humvee, part of a convoy, was hit by a roadside bomb.

Two months earlier, Castner's father, a lawyer and former newspaper reporter, began raising questions with U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) about the training and equipment given to his son's Army National Guard unit before its deployment to Iraq.

Sensenbrenner and Gov. Jim Doyle asked the military to conduct a complete investigation after Stephen W. Castner was killed.

Most recently, Sensenbrenner's office last week submitted to the Army a Freedom of Information Act request from Castner and asked that officials expedite answers to more than 120 questions. The questions ask about the circumstances surrounding his son's death, as well as the training of his unit and the use of Humvees.

"We've made it quite clear" to the military "to try and bring this matter to an end," said Tom Schreibel, Sensenbrenner's chief of staff.

Castner said that, even though the military has added armor to Humvees as IEDs in Iraq have become more powerful, troops riding in them are "extremely vulnerable." The military should be using M1117 Guardians for convoys in Iraq, he said.

"It's simply a matter of priorities, where they put them," he said of the M1117 Guardians.

The Guardian is an armored, wheeled vehicle equipped with a turret and armament system designed to meet the security mission requirements of military police, according to the Web site GlobalSecurity.org.

As for the Humvees, the military has continued to upgrade their armor, said Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, spokesman for the Wisconsin National Guard. He said their safety is shown, in part, by the fact that three or four people ride in them at a time and it is rare, in a fatal bombing, for more than one person to be killed.

Donovan also pointed out that troops are killed by IEDs even when riding in much more heavily armored vehicles.

In fact, the two most recent deaths of Wisconsin troops in Iraq, both on Aug. 27, occurred in such vehicles - a Stryker Mobile Gun System vehicle and a Bradley fighting vehicle.

Regarding the increase in the past year of Humvee deaths, Donovan said the trend could be related to more Wisconsin troops being sent to Iraq and more of them being on more dangerous missions.

"The more soldiers performing dangerous missions, the more risk they face," he said.


Copyright 2006, Journal Sentinel Inc., a subsidiary of Journal Communications.