Vermont assumes a heavy burden in Iraq war
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Vermont, a bastion of ex-hippies and Ben & Jerry liberals, has another distinction seemingly at odds with its peace-loving, tie-dyed politics: It has suffered more deaths per capita in the Iraq war than any other state. Beginning with Chief Warrant Officer 4th Class Erik Halvorsen on April 2, 2003, a total of 22 Vermont men have perished in roadside bombings, firefights, sniper attacks and helicopter crashes during the six-year-long war. "The losses we've had in Vermont have touched most of the state because we're so close-knit," said Maj. Gen. Michael Dubie, commander of the Vermont National Guard. "Almost everyone knows someone — or they know someone who knows someone — who's been affected by our losses." The casualties give Vermont, pop. 621,000, a rate of 3.54 deaths per 100,000 people. The high rate speaks more to Vermont's small size than it does to the actual number of deaths. With such a small population, it doesn't take a large number of deaths to produce a high per-capita rate. Vermont is followed on the list by Montana (2.87), Wyoming (2.57), Nebraska (2.50, and South Dakota (2.46). In raw numbers, Vermont's losses pale in comparison to those of much bigger states — California has lost 469 members of the military in the war (1.27 deaths per 100,000 population), Texas 409 (1.65) and New York 186 (0.95). The Pentagon does not provide state-by-state breakdowns of troops sent overseas, so it is unclear how many Vermonters are in the war zones. But less than 1 percent of the U.S. military is made up of people who list Vermont as their home state. Another factor may be the Vermont Gis' assignments. Nearly half the 22 killed were members of the Vermont National Guard, a contingent of which served in Ramadi, a hotspot in 2005 and 2006. Six Vermont Guardsmen were killed there. The Vermont National Guard is heavy with cavalry and infantry operations and has the U.S. military's only mountain infantry brigade, specializing in mountaineering and small-unit tactics. "We have been assigned some very tough missions," Dubie said. "Unfortunately, we've paid the price." Halvorsen paid it about two weeks after the "shock and awe" invasion of Baghdad. The 40-yearold career Army aviator was piloting a Black Hawk helicopter near the city of Karbala when it crashed, killing six. An Army investigation concluded the deaths were non-hostile, attributing the crash to pilot error.