Fort Campbell casualties tie 2005-06 mark

NASHVILLE — A Missouri soldier has become the 105th member of Fort Campbell's 101st Airborne Division to die in Afghanistan in 2010, tying a casualty count set in 2005-06 in Iraq.

The 105 deaths in Iraq during the 2005-06 deployment were the unit's most in combat since Vietnam.

The Army says Sgt. Michael J. Beckerman, 25, of Ste. Genevieve, Mo., died New Year's Eve in Kandahar province of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.

Some 17,000 members of the post's 101st Airborne Division are deployed to Afghanistan. Redeployment will continue through the summer.

Dewey Browder, a professor of military history at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., near Fort Campbell, said Monday the figure is alarming but not too surprising.

"This indicates the big job the 101st has taken on in Afghanistan along with the other units," he said. "It's the price we pay to head off terrorism before it gets to our shores."

The 101st Airborne Division, known as "the Screaming Eagles," has become almost synonymous with the post. It has been a force in America's major conflicts since World War II and home to troops since 1942.

Last year turned into the deadliest year in the current war for the NATO coalition. The 101st's deaths have accounted for about one in five American casualties in Afghanistan.

"We expect casualties to go up because we are taking the fight to the enemy," Browder said. "They are doing the business of the free world."

The 20,000-strong division has been fighting in two of Afghanistan's most violent regions, the south and the east, since it began deploying in February under President Barack Obama's plan to roll back the Taliban with more troops. It is the first time the 101st has deployed in its entirety since Gen. David Petraeus led the division during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Last month the division lost six soldiers in a building leveled by an explosives-packed vehicle at a southern Afghanistan base. In November, six other soldiers were shot and killed by a gunman from the Afghan Border Police during a training mission in eastern Afghanistan.

An internal White House review of war strategy released last month showed that the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops in 2010 has halted Taliban momentum in many parts of Afghanistan, but tough combat is expected to continue for years.

"We are finding them where they are hiding," Browder said.

Meanwhile, about 275 soldiers who have been in Afghanistan for a year are headed back to Fort Campbell this week.

Fort Campbell is a 106,700-acre installation on the Tennessee-Kentucky line just northwest of Nashville, established in 1941 as the country prepared for war. Its Web site says it is home to the Army's most-deployed contingency forces. During the Vietnam War, more than 200,000 soldiers received basic training at Fort Campbell.

The 101st also has been used domestically. In 1957, 1,000 members were sent to Little Rock, Ark., to protect nine black students who desegregated Central High School.