Anthony DeLeon made it through the four roadside bombs without a scratch.
The inside of his right ear, however, was not so lucky.
During his recent year long tour of duty north of Baghdad, the 20-year-old Texan picked up an increasingly common badge of experience from the war in Iraq: hearing damage.
“It just rings all the time,” he said, turning his head slightly so that his left ear — the good one — tilts toward the speaker.
“The first week I got here, was my first (roadside bomb),” said DeLeon, who was with the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Ky. “[My hearing] got a little better. But then the second one hit, the third one hit, the fourth one hit.”
While loud noise has been part of military life since muskets and cannons were part of the arsenal, Iraq is proving one of the noisiest battlegrounds yet. Roadside bombs — the signature of the country’s insurgency — regularly hit patrols, popping eardrums in their wake.
Also, more soldiers are being exposed to noise: According to a 2004 study by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, 82 percent of soldiers in Iraq engaged in combat, versus an average of 15 percent in other wars.
According to Veterans Affairs data, major hearing loss disability cases held steady through the late 1990s. The number rose markedly from nearly 40,000 cases in 2002 to about 50,000 in 2005, the latest year for which data was available.
In 2005, Veterans Affairs spent nearly $800,000 treating major hearing loss — a nearly 20 percent jump from 2004. Over half of that money was spent on members of the Army.
Medics say roadside bombs regularly rob soldiers’ hearing in Iraq.