The toll represents an aspect of the Iraq war that is rarely brought to public attention, overshadowed by the much higher number killed in combat as well as the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on reconstruction.
Richard Thomas “Rick” Hickman, 52, of Cave Spring, was in Iraq as a civilian contractor working for Texas-based DynCorp International, training and equipping Iraq’s police.
He was embedded with British troops near Basra on Jan. 18, 2006, when an IED blew up under his vehicle. He was on his way back from an embassy in Basra, about a half mile away from his forward operating base, when the charge exploded, killing Hickman instantly.
Hickman’s widow, Betty Sue Hickman, operates the Cave Spring Day Care Center. “Rick absolutely loved doing what he was doing,” she said. “He could have come home any time that he wanted to, yet he chose to stay.”
She said that a couple of days before he died, he had told her during a phone conversation that his perfect world would be doing what he was doing in Iraq, with his wife there by his side.
She said her husband had expressed concerns about the dangers of his job in Iraq, but he felt like he was making a difference and felt there was a reason to be there.
“He felt like they were training them from the ground up,” Hickman said. “Their police were not very strong, and they would go from station to station to station.”
Gary Lemley, of Rockmart and also employed by DynCorp, was in the vehicle directly behind Hickman’s and saw the explosion, then made an attempt to rescue Hickman despite suffering a serious knee injury in the explosion.
“It’s like any war zone, if you’re not scared there’s something wrong with you. You need that adrenaline to stay alert anyway,” Lemley said.
Roland Carroll Barvels, 42, of Aberdeen, S.D., was in the vehicle with Hickman and died as he was being airlifted by a medical helicopter unit to a military hospital.
Lemley escorted Hickman’s body back to Georgia, then had surgery on his knee before returning to Iraq about two months later.
There is no confirmed total number of Iraq war deaths. The U.S. military lost 4,488 in Iraq, and its allies a little more than 300. The number of Iraq deaths has not been established but is thought to exceed 100,000.
Navy Cmdr. Duane G. Wolfe was among the 719. He was not fighting the insurgency, but it was fighting him.
He was among the army of lawyers, engineers, contractors and others who paid a heavy price trying to put a broken Iraq and its shattered economy back together. Their deaths were recorded among the war’s combat fatalities, but until now no one has carved out the “rebuilder” deaths as a subset of the overall casualty list.
Wolfe was killed on May 25, 2009, in a roadside bombing while returning to Baghdad after inspecting a waste water treatment plant under construction near Fallujah in Iraq’s western province of Anbar. The $100 million project endured long delays and large cost overruns, and a U.S. federal audit last fall concluded that it probably was not worth the cost. The audit said “many” people died getting it built, but it did not say how many.
The 54-year-old Wolfe, a Navy reservist, was running the Army Corps of Engineers’ office in Anbar at the time of his death; in civilian life he worked at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Two other U.S. civilians — Terry Barnich, 56, of the State Department, and Maged Hussein, 43, of the Army Corps — died in the same bombing.
Wolfe’s wife, Cindi, said in a telephone interview last week that he knew the dangers of working in Iraq but made a point of not talking about security or any close calls that he might have had in violent Anbar province.
“He was careful not to worry us with information like that,” she said.
The actual number of people killed doing reconstruction work is probably much higher than 719 but cannot be reliably determined, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said in releasing its estimate Friday. The U.S. government has no central database for this category of war casualties, and even within the U.S. military, the records on hundreds of troop deaths are too imprecise to categorize, the report said.
“We know our number is understated,” Glenn D. Furbish, the deputy inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in an interview.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called the report a “reminder that attempting to build roads, schools and other infrastructure in the middle of a war zone not only carries with it an increased frequency of fraud and waste, but also a devastating price in human life.”
The 719 include U.S. government civilians, private contractors, military members, Iraqi civilian workers and third-country nationals. They were trainers, inspectors, auditors, advisers, interpreters and others whose mission was directly tied to the largely ad hoc reconstruction effort that began early in the war. They helped restore Iraq’s dilapidated electrical grid, improve its oil infrastructure, develop a justice system, modernize a banking system, set up town councils and reopen hospitals, training centers and schools.
They also helped recruit and train Iraqi police, and they advised the Iraqi army. These trainers and advisers — mostly U.S. military members — were considered part of the reconstruction effort if their mission was development of the Iraqi security forces, which had been disbanded by the U.S. occupation authorities in May 2003.
None of the 719 was named in the report, but some of the Americans have been recognized publicly by the government.
“A completely exact calculation is not possible,” the report said, One reason is that the U.S. military’s reports on 1,009 casualties were so thin on detail that the type of mission could not be determined. As a result, the investigators could not count any of those in the reconstruction death total.
The 719 killed include 318 Americans, of which 264 were military members and 54 were civilians. The total also includes an estimated 271 Iraqi civilians and 111 third-country nationals, as well as 19 people of unknown nationality.