Ron Paulson, 52-Year-Old Reservist, Killed in Iraq

Ron Paulson, a 52-year-old Individual Ready Reserve soldier from Washington state, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Ron Paulson spent 14 years in the Army and then another 13 years as an inactive reservist. At 52 years old, he was called up for active duty.

Ron Paulson Killed in Iraq (Photo) When Paulson finished his service in 1992, soldiers were given a choice – take a lump sum of $30,000 and be done, or take an annual payment of $7,000 with a catch. He said he went for the annual, but that meant he had to stay in the inactive reserve to get it, which is why he ended up getting called back in to service.

Paulson said that roadside bombs were his biggest concern. His family confirmed his death Wednesday.

Portland’s KATU has a short video report, which requires listening to a commercial first.

The story is carried by AP but the link above is, thus far, the only mention in GoogleNews. I got it via Bilmon, who titles his post “Catch-52” and remarks with incredulity, “We’re sending 52-year-old soldiers to die in Iraq.”

While it is often lamented that old men send young men off to die in wars, there are pretty good reasons to send our young if we must fight. Not only are young men generally more able to withstand the physical rigors of military service, their mental attitude is much more conducive. Certainly, I have a much different perspective on things like dangling from a helicopter from a rope, jumping out of perfectly good airplanes (while in flight) and going into situations where angry foreigners with guns want to kill me at 40 than I had at 20, 22 and 25, respectively. Moreover, as tragic as the loss of a 19-year-old is to his parents and friends, they at least seldom have wives and children who depend on them.

On the other hand, Paulson made a not-unreasonable decision at the age of 39 that he would live more than four more years and that therefore $7,000 a year until he reached retirement age was a better deal than $30,000 in cash. He decided, even after the 9-11 attacks in 2001 and our going to war in Iraq in 2003, to remain in the IRR rather than resign. Certainly, he’d more than fulfilled the eight year obligation he’d incurred by volunteering.

Having only the evidence linked here (the video and AP report), I have no basis for knowing whether he remained in mostly because his family needed the $7000 to supplement his paycheck or because he was seriously willing to serve if called up. I don’t even know what rank he held. Still, Paulson wasn’t some 18-year-old with no propects but a grown man with a steady job.

This isn’t Nazi Germany in the last days of WWII or the Confederate States of America circa 1864, conscripting children and old men. Indeed, we haven’t had a draft since 1973–five years before Paulson first entered the Army as a 25-year-old. Those serving in Iraq all volunteered for military service. Once you do that, you go where you’re ordered.

All we can hope is that the cause for which they fight and die is just and that we can accomplish what we sent them over there to do. If we do that, at least Paulson won’t have died for nothing. If we don’t, Paulson’s death will be no less more or less tragic than all the others.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    I was presented with the same choice in 1994 – take a lumpsum of $40k or $10k for the next 20 years but with the IRR commitment. I didn’t want any more than the 10 year reserve and IRR commitment and took the lumpsum payout, figuring Uncle Sam would find a way to screw me if I hung on for the annuity.

  2. lily says:

    Hope that the cause is just? What is the cause? There never were any weapons of mass destruction. Saddam wasn’t linked to 911 or Al Quaida. The war has been a net again for terrorists. The idea that we could set off a chain reaction of democracies in the Middle East was a misapplication of the historical lesson of the fall of the Soviet Union, perpetuated by ignoramuses who didn’t know a Sunni from a Shiite. The original plan for Iraq wasn’t to create a democracy there anyway. That rationalization was made up after the fact when it became clear that the Shiite leadership wouldn’t accept anything else.
    So what cause can we hope for?
    Well we can hope the son of bitches that got us into this rot in hell in the long term and in the short term get voted out of office. We can hope that our fellow citizens grow up and get over their tendency to vote out of fear and jingoism rather than reason. We can hope that those who opposed will be credited with patriotism rather than smeared with “You made us lose.”
    The only thing soldiers are fighting for in Iraq at this point is their commitment to serve. They are honoring their vows. I respect them for that, but there is no intellectually honest way to call their commitment a commitment to any thing else. We are responsible for every death in Iraq since the administration decided to barge in, clueless, corrupt, and arrogant,and upset things. The recent batch of be headings followed by a round of gunshots and head drillings should be on the conscience of every American who has one.
    I suspect that your last sentence is an expression of your desire that somehow this tragedy gets a happy ending. I understand and share the point of view that says it’s our mess and we can’t just walk away. Well we sure as hell can’t stay the course either. The one thing we can do is repudiate the blinkered nationalism and party loyalty that got us into this. And vote the sons of bitches out.

  3. whatever says:

    Yeah, let’s pull out and let the real blood bath begin.

  4. Steven Plunk says:

    I have to respectfully disagree with Lily.

    Each of her points have been refuted previously. From WMD’s to the spread of democracy I and many others believe she is wrong. I do not wish those who disagree with me to someday “rot in hell”. If they get voted out of office so be it, that’s our system.

    Paulson made a decision to stay in the military and fulfilled his duty. I respect his choice and respect his sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice.

  5. Doug says:

    Why is it a shock that a 52 year old died any more so than a 19 year old? The man of his own free will cashed checks worth in the neighborhood of $100,000. Nobody forced him to take the cash.

    It’s sad that he did die, but not anymore so than a 19 year old that didn’t have a chance to see 52 birthdays.

  6. Boyd says:

    Minor mathematical quibble, James. If Paulson initially enlisted at age 19 in 1978, five years after the draft ended in 1973, that would make him roughly 47 years old at his death.

    Instead, I believe he was about 24 when he enlisted in 1978, give or take a bit depending on exact dates of his enlistment and his birthday.

    Yeah, it has nothing to do with your points, but what can I say? I can be anal-retentive about these things.

  7. spencer says:

    You do know and understand the concept of sunk cost, right?

    Your final comment that implies that we should continue fighting so he would not have died for nothing is a prime example of not being willing to write off sunk cost.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Spencer: Not at all. I merely contend that, given the negative consequences of surrender, we should make sure that we have exhausted all reasonable hope of achieving our objectives. See this post from earlier this morning for more discussion.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Boyd: Good point. I was trying to do too much math in my head! Post fixed.

  10. spencer says:

    But this one individuals death should not be a consideration in how we proceed.

    You are arguing that we should continue to fight to give Paul son’s death meaning.

    That is sunk cost.

    What we should do is a matter of considering what the on going or future cost and benefits
    will be.

    When this war started you should have considered the possibility that this President sending the military into a war without giving it the resources needed to win would have lead to the possibility of a Tet Offensive situation.

    Now that we are losing because of Bush’s bad decisions the death of Paulson is still a sunk cost that should not play any role in deciding what we do next.

    You do not understand where I am coming from.
    I have no objection to the war.
    I object to losing the war with all the adverse consequences you have in mind. I agree with you completely about the consequences.
    That is why I have opposed this war from before the first shot was fired. I expected it to develop as it has and it for to be one of the worse and costly mistakes the US has every made.
    And I have not seen this administration do a single thing that has changed my original judgement.

  11. civilbehavior says:

    Amazing, utterly and completely amazing. There are people in this country who still see the deaths in Iraq as a matter of free will and free market economics.

    That somewhere along the line our great and glorious leaders of the current administration told us that we would have to live in fear of constant terror threats or expunge ourselves of the scourge. What they neglected to tell us certainly couldn’t be looked at as a sin of commission but as secret evidence that they knew something we didn’t thus we must send our children to die to protect and preserve it. All the while stripping us of each and every detail of our civil liberties and refusing to change the course so they might secure our national security.

    And just like in Germany in the pre WW2 era there were plenty of bungholes who continued to believe the government.

    For god’s sake people what exactly are you waiting for? How much are you willing to risk ($7000 a year?) to stand up and say what is right?