How Many American Soldiers Have Died in the Middle East?

The American news media reports war casualties on a near-hourly basis, so you'd think that the American public would have easy access to accurate statistics about military deaths in Iraq and the other Middle Eastern conflicts. But, as it turns out, it's hard to get a straight answer.

Although many sources were releasing figures in the 4,300 range back in 2009, some believe that number was kept artificially low. The George W. Bush administration decided to tally casualties only if a soldier died with boots on the ground in a combat situation. This means that if a soldier died while being transported to a medical facility or while being treated at a hospital, his/her death was not counted as a casualty of the conflict. And since our evacuation capabilities are quite advanced, many, many more people died en route to or during treatment for their injuries.

A report released by the Department of Veterans affairs in 2007 stated that nearly 74,000 Americans were killed during Gulf War actions between 1990 and 2007. That's tens of thousands more than the 58,195 reported casualties from the Vietnam War. But that report began counting far earlier than most, back when George H.W. Bush was in office and sending troops to Kuwait. Wikipedia maintains that only 4,491 U.S. military personnel died between 2003 and 2010, the time period that most people consider to encompass the “Second Gulf War.”

And, of course, American military personnel have also been fighting in other areas of the Middle East, many of them in Afghanistan. Obama administration reports say that 2,325 U.S. soldiers had died in action as of October 2015, but a staggering 20,083 were wounded while fighting in Afghanistan. And it's hard to tell if the current administration is sticking to the boots-on-the-ground tally method, or owning up to deaths that occurred en-route to or during medical care.

These deaths are tragic, and the idea that there may be more of them to mourn than we will ever know for sure is infuriating. But many of the injured service-people are the ones who continue to suffer even after they've returned home from violent conflict. The 2007 report stated that a horrifying 1,620,906 disability claims were filed by Gulf War veterans, and thousands upon thousands more have filed in the decade that followed. Many are also attempting to get by without disability pay, relying on their loved ones for support and care, sometimes for life-changing injuries.

In many cases, this means wives and spouses who are thrust into caregiving roles the moment their warriors return from battle. These partners are unspeakably relieved that their beloved soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines weren't added to the long (if confusingly tallied) lists of lost lives … but they often have no idea how to cope with the injured and altered versions of their husbands and wives who've returned home to them.

It is essential that we honor the brave women and men who gave their lives protecting our freedom in these brutal and seemingly endless Middle East conflicts. I hope, though, that you'll remember to pay your respects to the injured warriors who returned to us, and the admirably brave caregivers who stand with them. We may never know for sure how many American fighters have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we certainly that the ones who came home wounded have sacrificed and suffered. And that both they and the loved ones who keep them healthy and well are heroes living in our midst.

A Time for Compassion


Compassion is a recurring theme in my work with the wives of wounded warriors. I've watched dozens of women care for injured spouses who are severely disabled and angry about it, grappling with the demons of post-traumatic stress, in need of around-the-clock care and despondent at their new lot in life. In these families, compassion isn't optional, it's a matter of survival. Without sympathy, patience, kindness, and care, marriages would dissolve in tears and screams. Husbands and wives would lose hold of each other and drift apart.

And, of course, some do. The life of a spouse to a wounded veteran is tough and trying on a daily basis, and some simply can't hack it. But I've met many more women who draw on their own stores of compassion again and again to keep their husbands safe and healthy, their families happy and well.

Turn on the news for 10 seconds and you'll realize that compassion isn't flowing everywhere in our country right now. Every day brings a fresh report of violence between police and black citizens, a new story about the deep ravines of mistrust dividing regular people from a governing body designed to protect them. Police officers are on high-alert, acutely aware that the black community as a whole is angry at and afraid of them. Black Americans live in constant terror of cops who might make assumptions, act in fear, shoot too quickly, and end their lives. Both groups are unsure how to react, how to rebuild, how to regain trust. Both groups also seem to be unable to access compassion for those standing on the other side of this fraught and horrifying crisis. These two groups of people aren't just divided by beliefs or preferences, they are divided by dread, panic, terror, and suspicion. Even if anyone were able to locate an olive branch, would a single representative from either side be brave enough to present it?

In some ways, the compassion needed to construct a happy, healthy life with a wounded warrior is different from the compassion needed to heal the rift between American cops and black American civilians. But in others, it's quite similar. Here are lessons that could apply to both situations:

Anger and fear should be met with patience.

As any wounded warrior's wife will tell you, reacting to an angry outburst or rush of terror with more anger or fear just aggravates the situation. Serenity and patience, calm words and the presence of mind to wait out the storm are much better remedies. When police patrol-people encounter angry, fearful black citizens, they must work hard to be patient, quiet, understanding. And when black citizens are confronted by angry, fearful cops, we can only hope that being calm and following orders will keep the situation from spiraling out of control. This may not always work, as last week's incident that killed Philando Castille proves. But to decide that Castille's death means patience will NEVER work can only lead to further chaos.

Listen. Even when it's hard to listen.

In a family with an injured veteran, there may be stretches of silence that last months or years. But when that wounded warrior is ready to talk, it's essential that family members listen. Even if what's being said is excruciating to hear. At this point, many black citizens feel they are not being listened to by the police who have been hired and trained to keep them safe. There will be a lot of fury and rage in any rhetoric from either side, but if no one is willing to listen, no progress can be made.

Do your best to see the other side.

When a wife and her injured husband disagree, it's easy for the wife to slip into feelings of superiority. She shoulders the responsibility, handles the decisions, knows best. But for relationships to survive, both spouses must attempt to see through each others' eyes. This tactic will likely be challenging, since both sides see little evidence of reasonable or respectful behavior. But if people from both groups refuse to acknowledge that they are ALL wedged between a rock and a hard place, they will fail to come together to work on a mutually beneficial solution.

Tolerance, mercy, and empathy are in short supply right now, and understandably so. It may be a long time before police officers and black Americans are ready to sit down together and hash out their differences. But if both groups can take a page out of the wounded warriors wives' book – if both can make small efforts toward understanding and compassion in the interim – they have a far better chance of reaching a peaceful, respectful solution together.