By: E&P Staff
With the toll of U.S. deaths in Iraq likely to pass 3,000 before the new year, The Washington Post on Sunday explored the surprisingly obscure subject of female casualties in that war.
The number so far, 62, not only shatters previous marks, but unlike previous conflicts, where most women died as nurses or in other support roles, many of those who had been killed in Iraq were in combat roles.
Post reporter Donna St. George looked at the lives of several of the women, after opening with the following passage.
In a little-known museum tucked away on the grounds of an Army post near Richmond, a memorial wall just inside the door quietly announces a profound change in the nation’s fighting force.
Name upon name, the wall honors soldiers who have died in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan: PFC Lori Piestewa, CPT Kimberly Hampton, SPC Lizbeth Robles, SGT Jessica Housby. . . . All 59 are women.
They are casualties in a conflict that has seen women serving in larger numbers than before, in a wider array of jobs, amid violence that heeds no front line.
As the U.S. death toll in the Iraq war approaches 3,000, the memorial at the U.S. Army Women’s Museum is a solemn acknowledgment that women have quietly taken a place in the nation’s procession of flag-draped coffins and military funerals.
In all, 62 service women from all branches have died in Iraq, about two-thirds of them in hostile fire. By comparison, in World War II, historians say, 16 women were killed in action. In Vietnam, one woman’s life was claimed by enemy fire; in the Persian Gulf War, five.
Most previous female casualties were nurses. Now the female dead include military police, truck drivers, intelligence analysts, helicopter pilots, medics, mechanics, media escorts and kitchen managers. At least 13 left behind children. More than half were younger than 25.
It is a scenario that experts once predicted would lead to a public outcry against “women in body bags.” Instead, the casualties appear to have melded into the nation’s experience of war.
“I think people have come to the sensible conclusion that you can’t say a woman’s life is more valuable than a man’s life,” said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation. “We don’t want to lose any of them.”