Background: This study was undertaken to determined the differences in injury patterns between soldiers equipped with modern body armor in an urban environment compared with the soldiers of the Vietnam War.
Methods: From July 1998 to March 1999, data were collected for a retrospective analysis on all combat casualties sustained by United States military forces in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3 and 4, 1993. This was the largest and most recent urban battle involving United States ground forces since the Vietnam War.
Results: There were 125 combat casualties. Casualty distribution was similar to that of Vietnam; 11% died on the battlefield, 3% died after reaching a medical facility, 47% were evacuated, and 39% returned to duty. The incidence of bullet wounds in Somalia was higher than in Vietnam (55% vs. 30%), whereas there were fewer fragment injuries (31% vs. 48%). Blunt injury (12%) and burns (2%) caused the remaining injuries in Somalia. Fatal penetrating injuries in Somalia compared with Vietnam included wounds to the head and face (36% vs. 35%), neck (7% vs. 8%), thorax (14% vs. 39%), abdomen (14% vs. 7%), thoracoabdominal (7% vs. 2%), pelvis (14% vs. 2%), and extremities (7% vs. 7%). No missiles penetrated the solid armor plate protecting the combatants' anterior chests and upper abdomens. Most fatal penetrating injuries were caused by missiles entering through areas not protected by body armor, such as the face, neck, pelvis, and groin. Three patients with penetrating abdominal wounds died from exsanguination, and two of these three died after damage-control procedures.
Conclusion: The incidence of fatal head wounds was similar to that in Vietnam in spite of modern Kevlar helmets. Body armor reduced the number of fatal penetrating chest injuries. Penetrating wounds to the unprotected face, groin, and pelvis caused significant mortality. These data may be used to design improved body armor.