By Erin McKeon
Published December 4, 2008
With more than 800 deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom attributed to non-hostile accidents or suicide, military personnel said steps are being taken to reduce and eliminate non-combat injuries and deaths.
As of Nov. 29, two deaths of Brazoria County soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom were classified as non-hostile.
The Aug. 3 death of Army Spc. Kevin Dickson of Angleton was attributed to a non-combat incident, but autopsy results providing the exact cause have not been disclosed. Army First Lt. Robert Tipp Jr. of Lake Jackson died in an all-terrain vehicle accident on March 27, 2005, three days after arriving home from Iraq.
They are among 74 non-hostile deaths of Texas soldiers and 811 non-hostile deaths nationwide, according to Defense Department statistics.
Army Capt. Charles Calio at the Multi-National Forces Media Operations Center in Baghdad said non-hostile deaths could be anything from vehicle or weaponry accidents to drownings.
“There’s extensive training that the soldiers go through when they deploy on everything,” Calio said. “For example, an accidental discharge would be a non-combat death, but it’s weapons-related, as opposed to a vehicle rollover.”
Statistics connected to Operation Iraqi Freedom include casualties that occurred on or after March 19, 2003, in the Arabian Sea, Bahrain, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Persian Gulf, Qatar, Red Sea, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, according to the Department of Defense Web site.
Of the 811 non-combat deaths, 439 have been Army members, 116 have been Army National Guard and 44 have been Army Reserve. Marines have accounted for 159 of the deaths, Navy for 33 and 20 have been Air Force personnel.
As of Nov. 29, there have been 4,198 military casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 12 from Brazoria County.
According to the Pentagon site, as of Nov. 1, 218 non-combat military deaths have occurred by vehicle accidents, 114 by aircraft crashes and 123 from gunshots.
Calio said military personnel are trained on how to maintain the vehicles and given instruction on the dangerous parts of each vehicle. They’re also told to drive slowly and take turns carefully, especially on loose gravel.
“Units have several safety programs — education and equipment — in place to reduce and prevent mishaps,” Assistant Secretary of Defense Pubic Affairs spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.
Calio said all military vehicles are equipped with seat belts and places to secure guns, water and or other supplies to keep them from injuring someone in the event of a rollover.
In addition, suicides have accounted for 167 of military non-combat deaths, according to the site.
Calio said military procedures also are a major factor in decreasing non-combat injuries or deaths.
“A lot of it is the procedures that each unit has developed,” he said. “Depending on where they are, I mean, if I’m back in my hooch or on base, the procedures are going to be a little different than if I’m in the middle of Baghdad actively patrolling, so a lot of it is going to be situationally dependent.”
But that’s not all the military does to decrease such events, making it second-nature to secure equipment or maintain weapon safety also decreases injuries and death, he said.
“A lot of it is kind of like muscle memory, it’s got to be drilled into the soldiers, ‘muzzle awareness, muzzle awareness, muzzle awareness, don’t do it, don’t do it,’ so it’s second-nature,” Calio said.
“One of the things you can prevent is a non-battle death by making sure that a soldier is always doing the right thing.”