Only A Quarter Of US Service Member Deaths Since 2006 Occurred At War

Bullet Points
An overhead view of Arlington National Cemetery in 2016
Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/ Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique Pineiro

In some ways, the aviation mishap crisis that's roiled the Pentagon in recent months only underscores something U.S. service members have known for years: Military service can be damn dangerous even if you never see combat.


That's the alarming reminder from a June analysis of active-duty military deaths published by the Congressional Research Service, which revealed that of the 15,851 active-duty and mobilized reserve military personnel who died between 2006 and 2018, only 28% lost their lives during formal armed conflicts, usually defined by Congress as "Overseas Contingency Operations."

  • 72% of U.S. military deaths — around 11,341 personnel, or an average of 920 annually — occurred "under circumstances unrelated to war," defined in the CRS report as "Non-Overseas Contingency Operations;" OCO deaths declined since their peak in 2007, but non-OCO deaths have remained relatively stable.

Congressional Research Service

  • A third of non-OCO deaths were determined to be "accidental," although those do not explicitly mean training accidents or aviation mishaps: Some 14% of those accidental deaths were directly related to substance abuse, while another 4% were "self-inflicted."

Congressional Research Service

  • When it comes to OCO deaths — defined as those "in which members of the armed forces are or may become involved in military actions, operations, or hostilities against an enemy of the United States or against an opposing military force" — Iraq was actually deadlier than Afghanistan, despite the longer U.S. presence in the latter.

Congressional Research Service

While we often think of U.S. service members as sacrificing their lives in the heat of a firefight against some faceless villain, many give their lives well behind the front lines of armed conflict — and that's a worthwhile reminder for both civilians and veterans.

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Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario has seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya, and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.

Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.

The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.

Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead

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Opinion

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.

They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.

As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.

But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.

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Photo: ABC News/screenshot

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Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

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"Get over it," Maj. Gen. William Mullen, the head of Training and Education Command told Military.com on Thursday. "We're still making Marines like we used to. That has not changed."

Mullen, a career infantry officer who has led troops in combat — including in Fallujah, Iraq — said Marines have likely been complaining about falling standards since 1775.

"I'm assuming that the second Marine walking into Tun Tavern was like 'You know ... our standards have gone down. They're just not the same as it they used to be,'" Mullen said, referring to the service's famous birthplace. "That has always been going on in the history of the Marine Corps."

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