Military Deaths in Iraq: One-Fifth were Underage for Drinking

About one of every five American military service men and women who have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom was under the minimum legal drinking age, according to a report by the Department of Defense. 1

These young Americans, aged 18, 19 and 20 could not legally enjoy a drink, yet they made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country.

Wisconsin State Representative Mark Pettis thinks the drinking age for those serving their country in the U.S. military should be lowered. He proposes that a two-year pilot program be enacted permitting adults over 18 serving in the active military to consume alcoholic beverages. Lawmakers could then determine if young adults serving in the military are mature enough to drink in moderation legally. 2

However, if Wisconsin passes the legislation it could lose millions of dollars in federal highway aid. Therefore, the legislator says the bill wouldn’t become law unless the state could get a waiver from the government to protect that aid.

Similarly, a prominent Vermont State legislator, Rep. Richard Marron, insists that because adults 18 or older can serve in the military and they should be old enough to buy a drink

Vermont governor James Douglass has discussed the idea in the past. His spokesman says the governor reports that “philosophically he agrees that if 18 is the age at which all citizens are bestowed full rights and privileges of American citizenship it ought to be the legal drinking age. However, he’s very concerned with the loss of federal transportation funds if this effort were successful.” 3

In 1984 the federal government threatened to penalize financially any state that did not raise its minimum legal alcohol purchase and possession age to 21 or higher. That threat remains in force and Vermont could lose $9.7 from its transportation budget if it exercises its legal right to lower the drinking age.

“I think we would all be better off if the drinking age were 18," says the President of Dartmouth College, Dr. James Wright. He says "I think it's unfortunate we find ourselves in the position that we enforce a law that most of us believe doesn't treat students as adults." 4

President Wright emphasizes that “if the nation could send 18-year-olds to Iraq and if the College could send its students to off-campus programs in places where drinking was not regulated below age 21, then it should be deemed reasonable that students be able to drink legally at age 18 in the United States.

He would agree with Dr. John McCardell, the President Emeritus of Middlebury College, who notes that “state legislators, many of whom will admit the law is bad, are held hostage by the denial of federal highway funds if they reduce the drinking age. Our latter-day prohibitionists have driven drinking behind closed doors and underground.” 5


  1. Personal communication from Jeanne B. Frites, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Program Integration, April 7, 2005.
  2. Military drinking age bill. WKOW TV News Headlines, March 1, 2005, 6:33 pm.
  3. Call to lower drinking age. WCAX-TV Channel 3 News, Burlington, VT, January 25, 2005; Lower drinking age, says legislator. Times Argus, January 26, 2005.
  4. Tejera, Dax. Adm. view: Wright speaks on drinking, diversity. The Dartmouth, October 13, 2004.
  5. McCardell, Jr., John. What your college president didn’t tell you. New York Times, (September 13, 2004).