Perhaps the most depressing aspect of Thursday’s shoot-out at Fort Hood is that none of the 12 people who died in the melee will be counted as casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These soldiers – "brave Americans," President Obama called them – will join an unknown number of American soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines, who are not among the 5,267 the Defense Department counts as having died in our most recent wars, but who have perished nonetheless.
It will take days or weeks to learn what really happened at Fort Hood and why, but even at this early moment, we can make one statement for certain. The government’s refusal to accurately count the sacrifice of these young men and women dishonors not only these soldiers’ memories, but also obscures the public’s understanding of the amount of sacrifice required to continue wars in two countries, simultaneously, overseas.
Go on the website, icasualties.org, which regularly publishes the names the Pentagon reports as having died in two wars, and a discerning eye will see a lot of other names are missing.
Missing are the names of service members, like Sgt. Gerald Cassidy, First Warrant Officer Judson E. Mount, or Spc. Franklin D. Barnett who died stateside after receiving substandard medical care for wounds sustained in the war zones. Cassidy sat dead in a chair for three days at Fort Knox before anyone noticed that he had passed away from complications related to a brain injury sustained in Iraq. Mount died in April 2009 at San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center after taking shrapnel from a roadside bomb in November 2008. Barnett died in June 2009 from wounds he sustained in Afghanistan earlier in the year.
Missing, too, are the names of American soldiers and veterans who have killed themselves after serving a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, people like 19-year-old Spc. John Fish of Paso Robles, California who told his superiors he was thinking of killing himself after his first deployment, but was ordered overseas a second anyway. While he was training for that second deployment to Afghanistan, Fish walked out into the New Mexican desert after a training exercise for his second deployment and blew his brains out with a military issued machine gun. Or Sgt. Brian Jason Rand of North Carolina, who was found under the Cumberland River Center Pavilion near Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in February 2008 with a bullet through his skull and a shotgun by his side.
The Army reports 117 active duty Army soldiers killed themselves in 2007, the year Fish took his life. At the time, it was a 26-year high. But that record was quickly eclipsed by the 2008 Army figure of 128 suicides. In January 2009, more American soldiers committed suicide than died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, but none of these deaths are listed in the official casualty count.
Neither are the dozens of soldiers who have been killed in altercations with law enforcement brought on by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder incurred during deployments overseas – people like 19-year-old Marine Corps veteran Andres Raya who was shot dead by police in California’s rural Central Valley after returning home from Fallujah; or Minnesota Iraq war veteran Brian William Skold, who got drunk and then lead deputies on a late night chase before stepping out of his pick-up, firing a birdshot into the air, before kneeling on one knee and leveling his shotgun at authorities. Moments later he was fatally shot by two police officers. It’s unknown how many Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have died this way, but like the 12 soldiers gunned down at Fort Hood this week, their deaths would not have occurred if not for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Regardless of what you think of these wars, it’s absolutely necessary that the American public be fully apprised of their cost. After all, how can we even begin to honor their memories, if we don’t even track their sacrifice.