Marines Take More Casualties

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

The U.S. Marine Corps is trying to play down reports that its troops suffer higher casualties than their army counterparts — but that’s what Marines do:

Analyzing the raw numbers it was found that, .47 percent of all marines who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were killed, and 4.28 percent were wounded. The U.S. Army, in comparison, suffered .38 percent killed and 2.75 percent wounded.

The differences result from two unique aspects of the marines. First, they don’t have as many support troops as the army. The navy provides a lot of logistical and other support for the marines, and its sailors doing this work. A higher proportion of marines are combat troops. But even taking that into account, the marines have a higher rate of combat casualties. That is largely caused by a different approach to combat. Marines are trained as assault troops, especially amphibious assault. When attacking a defended beach, you have to push the enemy back, so you can bring in your own support forces, or be at a deadly disadvantage. Retreat is not an option.

Even before the marines began expanding and specializing in amphibious warfare a century ago, they were aggressive. That’s because their main job was close combat. This was in the age of sail, when ships often crashed into each other and the crews fought it out hand-to-hand. The marines were expected to specialize in that kind of combat. The marines were also expected to carry out or lead (sailors armed with rifles) raids ashore. Again, this required aggressive behavior in order to succeed.

The army was trained to carry out more deliberate, less risky, combat. The army fought longer, and larger, battles. Nevertheless, the army could carry out raids, and often did in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the marines rarely adopted the deliberate, “keep our casualties down” type warfare the army favored. The marines believed their aggressive behavior was an asset, and as far as the enemy goes, it was. The marines terrified the enemy more than the army did. But facing either force, Islamic militants found themselves dead or running for their lives.

Marine commanders want to keep their casualties down, but not at the expense of the aggressive style of combat that has long been what made the marines different from the army.


  1. TFG says:

    The Marines obviously attract a different personality type than the Army. There’s a large about of selection bias since prospective soldiers are not randomly distributed between the two services.

  2. Isegoria says:

    Indeed, all the soldiers are in the Army. More seriously, I’m not sure how different the combat troops are between the two services, which are now both full of volunteers.

  3. Jim says:

    As a former Marine and currently deployed Army National Guardsman, the disparity in casuality rates is likely partially due force structures. Marines are leaner due to being at the tip of the spear; most logistical support comes from the other services due to the mission focus of the Corps. Army forces include both fighting units and support units, as well as a larger percentage of headquarters, advisory and mentoring units and more duplicate headquarters; thereby driving the casuality percentage down due to the ratio of forces in contact to fobbits. Also driving casuality disparities is the location and type of fighing based on where the Marines are fighting versus where Army units are fighting. When it comes down to infantry squads, the mettle of the men are comparable.

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