Conflict with Iraq: Study shows 20 percent of war deaths are blacks
By THOMAS HARGROVE, Scripps Howard News Service
Nearly a fifth of the fatalities among U.S. troops in the current war
in Iraq are black, which will be the highest cost African Americans have
paid in any of America's
wars if the trend continues.
There are also indications that Hispanics may be over-represented among the war dead, according to a Scripps Howard News Service study.
This isn't the result of minorities being assigned to dangerous duty
in front-line units. Elite combat troops like Special Forces units and
the Green Berets are
disproportionately white, military experts said. The U.S. Army's dash to Baghdad forced supply convoys occasionally to traverse enemy-held territory in southern
and central Iraq, leaving minority troops assigned to logistical units vulnerable.
"We opened ourselves up to this by driving forward, leaving long logistical
supply lines that must travel territory that we do not militarily control,"
said David Segal,
director of the University of Maryland's Center for Research on Military Organization. "But our combat doctrine is one of deep intrusion after all, to go after the
command-and-control centers of our enemies."
The study was based on an analysis of the 105 fatalities identified
by the Defense Department as deaths related to the war as of April 10.
Scripps Howard was able
to determine the race of 98 of these, of whom 19 were African American.
"I was not aware of this and am surprised by it," said Julian Bond,
national chairman of the NAACP. "I knew that black soldiers were concentrated
non-combat positions of the military, which makes this all the more surprising. But clearly, these support troops were subjected to battle conditions unexpectedly."
The study found the race of 19.4 percent of all fatalities in which
race was able to be determined was black. African Americans represent 13
percent of the U.S.
population and 20 percent of all military personnel.
"African Americans are, relatively speaking, over-represented in the
military. But the real point of the spear, groups like Special Ops, are
almost lily white," Segal
said. "It is just that in the kind of war we are fighting, there is no insulation for people in the rear areas from death or injury."
Three of the dead black soldiers — Spec. Jamaal Addison of Roswell,
Ga., Pfc. Howard Johnson of Mobile, Ala., and Pfc. Brandon Sloan of Bedford,
were killed March 23 when a convoy of supply troops from the Army's 507th Maintenance Co. were ambushed Nasiriyah, Iraq.
Those three and nine others were killed either by enemy gunfire during
convoy duty or by accidents while driving military vehicles. The remaining
seven are reported
to have died in what appear to be non-convoy related combat encounters.
The study also found that 14 of the dead troops (or 14.3 percent) have
Hispanic surnames and may consider themselves to be Hispanic. Fewer than
8 percent of all
military personnel are Hispanic, according to the Defense Department. However, military experts warn that this is a difficult statistic to prove unofficially since
ethnicity is self-defined.
For example, Mexican-born Marine Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez del Solar of
Escondido, Calif., who died March 30 when the First Light Armored Reconnaissance
Battalion encountered enemy fire, is officially Hispanic only if he identified himself on military records as Hispanic.
It seems likely, however, that fatalities among black and Latino troops
will hit new highs in the second Iraqi war since both groups experienced
percentages of combat-related deaths in recent wars.
Very few blacks and Hispanics were assigned to front-line combat units
during World War II. According to a study released by the Pentagon's Directorate
Information Operations and Reports, blacks accounted for 8.4 percent of all military deaths during the Korean War.
"Korea was the war during which we racially integrated the military
and so African American casualties started to increase," Segal said. "They
parity (with population percent) during the Vietnam War."
The Pentagon estimates that 12.4 percent of the combat deaths in Vietnam
were among blacks, almost exactly the percentage of blacks in the American
In the 1991 Persian Gulf War blacks accounted for 17.3 percent of fatalities.
Hispanic casualties, although difficult to calculate exactly, also appear
to be rising. Soldiers who identified themselves either as Hispanic or
represented 2.4 percent of deaths in Korea, 0.6 percent in Vietnam and 4.1 percent during the first Persian Gulf War.