A descriptive study of US Special Operations Command fatalities, 2001 to 2018

Russ S. Kotwal, Edward L. Mazuchowski, Caryn A. Stern, Harold R. Montgomery, Jud C. Janak, Jeffrey T. Howard, Frank K. Butler, John B. Holcomb, Brian J. Eastridge, Jennifer M. Gurney, Stacy A. Shackelford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND Studies of fatalities from injury and disease guide prevention and treatment efforts for populations at risk. Findings can inform leadership and direct clinical practice guidelines, research, and personnel, training, and equipment requirements. METHODS A retrospective review and descriptive analysis was conducted of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) fatalities who died while performing duties from September 11, 2001, to September 10, 2018. Characteristics analyzed included subcommand, military activity, operational posture, and manner of death. RESULTS Of 614 USSOCOM fatalities (median age, 30 years; male, 98.5%) the leading cause of death was injury (97.7%); specifically, multiple/blunt force injury (34.5%), blast injury (30.7%), gunshot wound (GSW; 30.3%), and other (4.5%). Most died outside the United States (87.1%), during combat operations (85.3%), in the prehospital environment (91.5%), and the same day of insult (90.4%). Most fatalities were with the US Army Special Operations Command (67.6%), followed by the Naval Special Warfare Command (16.0%), Air Force Special Operations Command (9.3%), and Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (7.2%). Of 54.6% who died of injuries incurred during mounted operations, most were on ground vehicles (53.7%), followed by rotary-wing (37.3%) and fixed-wing (9.0%) aircrafts. The manner of death was primarily homicide (66.0%) and accident (30.5%), followed by natural (2.1%), suicide (0.8%), and undetermined (0.7%). Specific homicide causes of death were GSW (43.7%), blast injury (42.2%), multiple/blunt force injury (13.8%), and other (0.2%). Specific accident causes of death were multiple/blunt force injury (80.7%), blast injury (6.4%), GSW (0.5%), and other (12.3%). Of accident fatalities with multiple/blunt force injury, the mechanism was mostly aircraft mishaps (62.9%), particularly rotary wing (68.4%). CONCLUSION Most USSOCOM fatalities died abroad from injury in the prehospital setting. To improve survival from military activities worldwide, leaders must continue to optimize prehospital capability and develop strategies that rapidly connect patients to advanced resuscitative and surgical care. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE Epidemiological, level IV; Therapeutic level IV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)645-657
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Cause of death
  • manner of death
  • military
  • special operations forces

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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