An analysis of non-combat injuries sustained by American military personnel while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over 12 years has revealed some illuminating trends that may aid in establishing new standard procedures that will keep service members safer while doing their job in theater.
According to the report, which was published in the medical journal JAMA Surgery on Wednesday and headed by Dr. Tuan D. Le of the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, around a full third of all injuries sustained by deployed service members were non-combat related, and more than 1 in 10 deaths that occur while deployed are the result of ordinary accidents. These nonbattle injuries (NBI) are an important piece of the Pentagon’s overall readiness push, as NBIs add to the burden of forward medical treatment facilities, contribute to attrition rates do to injury separations and death, and lead to higher disability claims over the lifespan of service members. It’s no surprise that men and women in uniform can get hurt while performing their ordinary duties, but by further examining the ways in which personnel sustain different types of injuries, changes can be made that may limit the number of accidental injuries sustained per deployment — improving unit level readiness and overall force level readiness all at once.
“Nonbattle injury among deployed forces may have different possible causes, deplete medical resources, increase costs, decrease mission capabilities, and result in long-term disability for injured service members,” the report claims.
While the debate between gun rights and gun control advocates continues to rage within America’s borders, some of the researchers findings may come as a surprise to those that argue the presence of firearms is the catalyst for a recent surge in mass shootings and gun violence within the United States. Deployed service members carry firearms with them everywhere they go, and often, they carry live ammunition along with them. Despite the high prevalence of loaded weapons on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, firearm related injuries came in second to last on the list, with only “sports” accounting for fewer accidental injuries throughout the study’s scope.
One could argue that this is because American military personnel are “highly trained” in the safe operation of their firearms, but most service members and veterans would be happy to reel those sorts of claims in. While special operators and experienced infantry personnel may feel perfectly at home with a weapon slung over their shoulders, many support personnel receive little more than annual refreshers with their service rifles. An argument could easily be made using these statistics, however, that the limited amount of training all service members receive, combined with a culture of understanding firearms, has led to a relative small number of firearm related incidents, even in what would otherwise seem like an environment that could be prone to them.
“Not to be overlooked are successes identified in this analysis, such as the relatively low rate of unintentional firearm injury,” Dr. Todd E. Rasmussen, an associate dean of research at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland said of the study. “The fact that only 728 service members sustained an inadvertent firearm injury during a 12-year period in which hundreds of thousands of troops were deployed with a great assortment of weaponry is notable.”
The biggest culprit when it came to NBIs sustained on deployments were falls, accounting for 21.3% of all non-combat related injuries. Motor vehicle crashes came in second with 18.8%, third was machinery or equipment accidents at 12.6%, followed by blunt object injuries (10.8%), gunshot wounds (7.1%) and sports related injuries (6.8%). The remainder of injuries fell outside those primary mechanisms as miscellaneous.
Other interesting figures that surfaced through the study were how non-combat injuries broke down between genders (females were about twice as likely to report non-combat related injuries than males) and branch (with the Air Force reporting the most NBIs at around 66% and the Marine Corps reporting the fewest with around 26%).
In case your competitive nature is demanding that you know where the Navy and Army came in – the Navy reported the second most at just over 48% and the Army came in third from the top with close to 35%. These percentages, it’s important to note, are out of overall injuries per branch, rather than out of total personnel in country.
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense