New body armor, new tactics and new medical procedures are producing much lower death rates in combat, and changing the way American troops fight. During the recent Iraq fighting, only 14 percent of those injured in combat were killed. In World War II, 30 percent of those hurt in combat died. In Korea, where body armor was first introduced, and helicopters first used to rapidly get wounded troops to a hospital, it was 25 percent. It wasn't much better in Vietnam, at 24 percent, and was about the same in the 1991 Gulf War. Note that the World War II rate was same as it was during the American Civil War (1861-65) and the 1847 war with Mexico. During the American Revolution (1776-81), 41 percent of those hit in combat died. So what has happened in Iraq is a major shift in how troops are protected in combat? The better protection for the torso and head has meant that 80 percent of the wounds are in the arms and legs. During World War II, 65 percent of the wounds were in the arms and legs. Military doctors saw this trend coming, and provided additional training in treating arm and leg wounds for doctors and nurses going to Iraq.
This change in the nature and lethality of wounds is also having an effect on how infantry fight. Despite being told that arms and legs are still very vulnerable, troops are being bolder in combat. It's thought that some of this may have to do with years of realistic training with MILES ("laser tag") equipment. Troops now have a more realistic idea of what to expect in combat before they actually get into their first fire fight. It's long been known that after troops have been in combat few times, their effectiveness increases considerably. This process of "blooding" the troops is now apparently doable in peacetime. Add to that a tradition of battlefield success, new protective vests and constantly improved weapons and equipment, and there is a growing trend for lower casualties and quicker victories. Even the continued ambushes and sniping in Iraq are producing lower casualties than in previous conflicts of that type.