National Guard disputes troop casualty report

  By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com
  Army National Guard dispute of a media report regarding the ratio of Guard soldiers serving in Iraq and fatalities has prompted a statement from Tennessee Department of Military's Adjutant Gen. Gus Hargett.
  Gen. Hargett issued a statement Friday afternoon disputing a media report that the ratio of National Guard soldiers killed in the Iraq theatre was higher than that of active Army troops. USA TODAY reported Tuesday that Army National Guard acknowledged it had given the newspaper TODAY an inaccurate count of the total number of Guard troops in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003, but still could not provide a precise count.
  "The fact is that the National Guard suffers losses at a rate currently lower than that of its active Army counterparts in Iraq," Maj. Hargett stated. "Comparing our losses with other reserve or active components is neither useful nor normal practice."
  Through Dec. 10, the National Guard Bureau reported 250,000 active Army soldiers had been deployed since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom with 659 fatalities reported in theatre - a ratio of 1 to 402 active duty soldiers.
  The bureau reported 142 fatalities in theatre among the 86,000 Army National Guard troops deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, representing roughly 1 in every 606 Guard members deployed according to the NGB.
  Tennessee Guard has deployed more than 5,000 soldiers and airmen to Iraq and Kuwait, with more than 3,200 currently deployed. The death rate from hostile action of Tennessee Guard soldiers before the 3,000-soldier deployment of the 278th Regimental Combat Team was 1 in 2,700, according to Hargett.
  USA TODAY reported Monday it had used the inaccurate Guard numbers to construct an analysis that showed part-time troops from the Army National Guard were more likely to die in Iraq than their counterparts in the active-duty Army.
  The Guard reported last week that 37,000 Guard troops had set foot in Iraq since the start of the war. On Monday, a Guard spokesman said 90,972 Guard troops had been ordered to Iraq, but he could not say how many had actually gotten there, and how many were in mobilization stations or on their way. Guard spokesman initially said the NGB made an internal mistake compiling the numbers, but later said he had misunderstood the question posed about the number of National Guard troops deployed.
  Three soldiers from Tennessee Army National Guard have been killed in the theatre during Operation Iraqi Freedom with only one dying from hostile action. Sgt. Roger Rowe of Bon Aqua serving with the 1174th Troop Command was killed in Iraq by hostile fire in July 2003. Sgt. David Lloyd died from a heart attack and SSgt. Nathan Bailey of Nashville serving with the 1175 Transportation Company was killed from a non-hostile gunshot wound in November 2003.
  Maj. Hargett stated: "Today's Tennessee National Guard is the best trained military force this state has ever sent to war. Their professional competence has been measured in the crucible of combat and their demonstrated performance is second to none. That said, the conduct of war is a dangerous business. Tragically, it results in the loss of lives of our young men and young women."
  A Tennessee National Guard member made headlines around the world earlier this month when he questioned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the lack of armor on military vehicles.
  Spc. Thomas Jerry Wilson of the 278th Regimental Combat Team grilled Rumsfeld, asking him whether he was aware that soldiers had to scrounge in trash dumps to find material to armor their vehicles.
  Hargett said in a statement released shortly after that Wilson's question was a legitimate concern. He also said he was "surprised" by statement from an Army general that he was not aware of the soldiers using scrap medal and used ballistic glass to up-armor the vehicles.
  "I know that members of his staff were aware and assisted the 278th in obtaining these materials," Hargett's statement read. "Our own 230th Area Support Group from Dyersburg, now stationed in Kuwait also assisted in this effort." Randy Harris, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of the Military, said Friday afternoon that Wilson's question of Rumsfeld came as a surprise to National Guard brass.
  "We did not suspect that," Harris said, "but we stand behind his right to ask that."
  Since Wilson's remarks, the Army has issued additional armor for vehicles in Iraq, which has been an issue since the beginning of the war for both active and reserve component soldiers.
  Hargett said he was advised all 278th vehicles that were not armored would not be occupied by soldiers.
  The 776th Maintenance Company based in Elizabethton was called to active duty in January 2003 with the majority of the unit stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., until they were returned home in December 2003. Several Carter County residents who were members of the Lima Company of the Marine Reserves were called to active duty in Iraq for several months until returning home in October.