Clarification: This story was revised at 12:13 p.m., June 28, 2011, to clarify the casualty rate for Maine. It is 1.44 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Considering the size of its population, Maine is paying a deadlier price for the war in Afghanistan than any other state.

According to figures released last week by the Department of Defense and analyzed by The Guardian newspaper of England, Maine’s casualty rate of 1.52 deaths per 100,000 residents is the highest in the country. (Because of a residency mistake, Maine’s actual figure is 1.44.)

Only one other state – Wyoming at 1.10 – has a rate above one death per 100,000 residents from Operation Enduring Freedom, now in its 10th year.

“I think about a small state like ours,” said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District. “Virtually everybody knows someone who is currently serving, who’s been lost, who’s been injured, who has a family member who is affected, and it’s really taken a big toll.”

Pingree spoke by cellphone Monday afternoon from York County. Her office issued a news release Monday morning about the Guardian story, along with a statement reiterating her desire to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as quickly as possible.

“I’ve been opposed to the war for a long time,” she said. “Particularly since the death of (Osama) bin Laden, it’s time to remove our troops more aggressively than even the president has proposed.”

Peter W. Ogden, director of the state Bureau of Veterans’ Services, said the figures supplied by the Department of Defense are off by one.

“They show 20 (casualties) but we actually only have 19,” Ogden said. “One of the people they have listed is actually not from Maine. He’s from New Hampshire.”

That would be Master Sgt. Jared Van Aalst, 34, of Laconia, N.H. He died in action in Kunduz province last August.

Correcting for the error, New Hampshire’s rate rises to 1.06 and Maine’s falls to 1.44, which remains the country’s highest. Delaware is ranked 50th, with 0.22.

California and Texas have suffered the highest number of casualties – 152 and 127, respectively – but their rates in terms of state population are 0.41 for California and 0.50 for Texas.

“Maine’s a small state, but it has a great military tradition,” Ogden said. “People serve, and they serve with units that put them in harm’s way. … They’ve never looked to stay in the back. They’ve always wanted to be in the front.”

The number of Mainers currently on active duty is difficult to determine, Ogden said. The Department of Defense doesn’t release such figures.

“We think somewhere around 15,000 people from Maine are on active duty,” he said. “That’s just my take on it. It’s not a very scientific figure.”

According to an Army report, Maine ranked third behind only Alabama and Nevada in the number of recruits in fiscal year 2009, with 213 per 100,000 young men and women.

Both Ogden and Pingree cited Maine’s tradition of military involvement, and each mentioned economic factors as playing a role in joining and staying with the service. Each also mentioned the absence of a draft.

“So we’ve had a huge dependence on the National Guard,” Pingree said. “We have a lot of Maine citizens who participate in the National Guard and many of them have been deployed multiple times, which is different from other wars where we have a draft or more people enlisting.”

Nineteen deaths in a decade-long war in Afghanistan can be measured against Maine casualties in other wars. In World War I, 1,026 Mainers lost their lives out of more than 35,000 who served. In World War II, the numbers were 2,551 of nearly 113,000. The Korean (233) and Vietnam (343) wars saw fewer deaths of Mainers. Four died in the Persian Gulf War and 25 in Iraq.

A Pew Research Center poll released last week showed, for the first time, that a majority of Americans – 56 percent – say troops in Afghanistan should be brought back as soon as possible.

“I definitely hear that from average citizens in Maine, from veterans, from people who are currently in the military,” Pingree said. “We had a mission, and that was to capture bin Laden.

“The other side of it is to continue making America more safe. Well, we have pockets of terrorism all over the world, and only a hundred members of al-Qaida left in Afghanistan, yet we’re spending $8 billion a month, much of it on nation building in Afghanistan. That could be used here in America.”

To critics who would paint her as an isolationist, Pingree pointed to the current U.S. presence around the globe and a defense budget that topped $685 billion in 2010.

“We’re maintaining a very strong military in this country,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean we have to spend $8 billion a month in Afghanistan.”

 Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]


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