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Terrible toll from the new wars

May 12, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

The signature human damages from Iraq and Afghanistan are the head wound and the amputation.

She never intended to be the answer in a trivia question. Sharon Ann Lane of Canton, Ohio, just wanted to be a nurse.

After a brief career in civilian medicine, she joined the United States Army and as a First Lieutenant stationed with 312th Evac at Chu Lai was familiar with the death and destruction of battle.

On June 8, 1969, she became the only woman killed in combat in Vietnam when she was hit by shrapnel in a rocket attack.

It's a well-kept secret at the Pentagon, but during the last 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan more American women have been killed in combat than in the combined history of our nation dating back to 1775. In all, 700 women have died in battle since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It may come as a surprise to many but 200,000 female soldiers and Marines and another 80,000 women from the National Guard have already served in our latest war.

While the deaths of 700 young Americans is tragic, the injuries suffered by those surviving battle in the high desert of Afghanistan are approaching astronomical levels.

Women are wounded or killed at a much higher rate than their male counterparts in the Marines, Army and other services wandering on patrols across the vast isolation that is Afghanistan

Some would quickly say that the 30 percent casualty rate of women in combat zones is proof that women should not be allowed near an area when the shooting starts. The truth, as usual, has a very different tone to it.

Officially, American women are still not allowed combat status. As a result, women don't get advanced infantry training, they don't learn tactics, strategy, target identification, or how to handle the military's multitudes of diverse weapons.

They don't get to train for combat, but they do get to die in combat.

The Civil War is considered the first "modern" war. It was at Petersburg, Shilo and Antietam that the industrial revolution found its way to the battle field. Doctors and nurses have been trying to catch up to the carnage ever since.

Wars have many signatures. In World War II it was the iconic image of the Marines on Iwo Jima, the soldiers and sailors fighting at Omaha Beach, or the waist gunners on a B-17 in the air high above Germany.

What isn't mentioned often is that wars also have signature wounds.

In World War II it was burns and shrapnel that killed over half of the 407,000 who died in combat.

In Korea it was frostbite and small arms fire that produced the most damage. Vietnam was a war designated by the bullet wound, largely from large-caliber AK 47 gunfire.

Since 2003 the signature wound in Iraq and Afghanistan has been brain damage. Soldiers and Marines are being blown up almost on a daily basis. In Iraq it was the roadside bomb, the IED (improvised explosive device) or simply explosives set off remotely as a squad walked or rolled by.

There is a battle going on in the highest echelons of the Veterans Administration. It is estimated that 98 percent of all combat veterans serving in our latest wars have been struck by high explosives. Whether the explosion results in death, amputation or just getting the wind knocked out of you, the damage is real. Patrols acting as decoys to engage the Taliban invite this type of attack.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is now so rampant among the active and reserve duty military that many doctors are pressing to have everyone serving in Afghanistan diagnosed with this difficult condition.

Afghanistan is so poor, so rural and so tribal that the traditional American method of bribing locals for information doesn't work. These people have never had anything, so money is something they don't value. They're related along tribal lines and won't crack their secrets no matter how hard they're pressed.

It makes for an untenable position for the brave men and women pressed into this nightmare. Why we're still there is anyone's guess, and no politician or Pentagon official can ever come up with a viable answer.

So, they walk out on patrol hoping to engage the enemy and still survive. Thousands have gambled and lost as hidden explosives, bombs or mines explode and tear off both legs and their genitals.

The military has developed a new "Combat Action Tourniquet" or CAT that can be quickly attached to a severed arm or leg to stop the injured from bleeding to death. It is not something they write home about, and it's not required equipment, but most soldiers carry a couple of them tied loosely to their belts.

In spite of the early bad press, body armor is now so effective that when these legless victims reach aid stations, the nurses and surgeons discover that they have no internal organ damage. The same can't be said of the head wounds and amputations have become commonplace in American hospitals in Germany.

What was the government's answer to this? They only allow airplanes carrying the wounded from Germany to arrive in the middle of the night at Dover, Del., so no one can see.

The latest tally is 30,000 of these flights so far, with a minimum of five servicemen or women on board with the skilled nurses and physicians.

Hiding it from the American people has worked so far. Most of us are too busy waiting for the latest sale to pay attention to what these people endure.

It's a lot easier to put a "Support the Troops" bumper sticker on your car and go shopping.

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