For many reservists, getting sent to Iraq can be fatal, even if you dont get shot at. The reserves have a lot more older troops than the active duty forces, and older troops develop more health problems under stressful conditions. While only about two percent of the troops sent to Iraq have been fifty or older, they have more frequently suffered strokes or heart attacks. Most of these older troops are in support, and supervisory jobs, so they are safer. But ten out of 5,570 over-50 year old reservists have died, seven from non-combat causes. These older troops have many more non-fatal injuries, most of them not combat related. The army accepts this problem, for the older troops have a lot of experience and are much more effective than younger ones. The army gives the reservists physical exams before they head overseas, and holds back any with problems (even if the soldier wants to go, as many do.) But as people get older, they are more prone to sudden problems that are not easily detected with a medical exam. Moreover, many of the male reservists have not been a doctor regularly, except the annual physical exams the army gives (which are not as thorough as you would get from a personal physician). So problems can develop undetected, until battlefield stress brings on a health emergency.
The health problems of the older troops have not been so great that they have discouraged older men from going to Iraq. Those that go looking for a medical condition are usually the ones who dont want to go. But for most of the older reservists, this may be the only war they will ever experience. Most of your older reservists came into the army after Vietnam ended, and missed out on the 1991 Gulf War. After youve spent 20-30 years getting ready for this, theres to do it for real. This angle doesnt get a lot of attention in the media, but its there.