While we were distracted by conventions, the Olympics and one more trip to the shore, more than 1,000 Americans were wounded in Iraq last month. Some of them will be dealing with the after-effects of their wounds for the rest of their lives. What this will cost them, we will never fully realize. That it will cost them, and us, is certain.
If you were to ask people; “during what month did the United States military suffer its highest number of injuries?” More than likely, most will guess sometime in the spring of 2003, before President Bush pronounced the end of “major combat operations.” They would be wrong. U.S. forces suffered more injuries in Iraq last August than any other month.
While combat deaths did not top their record high of 135, set in April 2004, the number of wounded is estimated to be more than 1,100 last month.
On average, about half of the wounds inflicted on soldiers are serious enough to prevent the person who suffered them from returning to duty for 72 hours or more. Some of the injured will require months of hospitalization. These soldiers have suffered broken bones and internal injuries, with some losing arms, legs or their sight.
John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, says September may be worse than August. As I write this, there have been 29 combat deaths in Iraq this month; so on it goes.
There are several important reasons for bringing this to attention. The first is that in the aftermath of June 28, 2004, when official sovereignty was handed to an Iraqi government, U.S. casualties have increased.
We were told they would drop after big events. In fact, within a few months of each event, casualties were higher than before. We were told that the July 22, 2003 death of Saddam Hussein’s sons would end the fighting and that didn’t happen. The number of Americans injured for July 2003 was 226. After a dip in August, September saw the number increase to 247.
We were told the December 13, 2003 capture of Saddam himself would end the fighting, and that didn’t happen either. The number of Americans wounded in December 2003 was 261. By March 2004, the number had reached 318.
June 2004 saw 566 wounded, and now we realize that August saw that number double.
There are many reasons for the high number of wounded soldiers. Perhaps the largest reason is that fighting is still going on. Pentagon spokesmen admit that insurgents are in control of significant parts of Iraq. On Sep. 5, the Washington Post quoted Lt. Col. Albert Maas, operations officer for the 2nd Medical Brigade, as saying of U.S. forces, “They were doing battlefield urban operations in four places at one time. It’s like working in downtown Detroit. You’re going literally building to building.”
We have been told more than once that the end of the Iraq war was in sight, but so far the end has been at best a lull in the carnage. Soldiers are still receiving painful wounds they will have to live with for the rest of their lives.
Pfc. Manuel A. Rodriguez III of Maine has shrapnel in his right leg and face and has to undergo six months to a year of rehabilitation. Jim Vandenheuvel, a Minnesota native who served as a military police officer with the California National Guard, suffered a brain injury, a shattered left femur, severe tissue injuries and shrapnel wounds. Marine Cpl. Matthew Boisvert of Massachusetts lost his right leg below the knee when his Humvee hit a mine.
The totals: American combat deaths in Iraq have grown to over 1,000, and the number of Americans injured in combat are closing in on 7,000. Unfortunately, September may be no better a month than August for U.S. casualties.
No one knows what the final cost of this war will be. But one thing is for certain: the cost is growing. And the United States, one way or another, will have to pay.
William Lodge can be reached at email@example.com.