How dangerous is a soldier’s job?

This depends on the kind of job the soldier has and how often they’re sent to war, but the main risks aren’t what you might expect…

What are the risks?

There are three main risks in war:

  1. Being killed.
  2. Being injured (e.g. legs blown off).
  3. Mental illness after (e.g. after seeing someone killed). 

What are the threats?

These were the threats that soldiers faced most often in Iraq and Afghanistan:

  • Half saw someone killed, whether friend, foe, or a civilian. About a third had seen this more than once.
  • One in six saw a friend shot or blown up.
  • A quarter experienced an IED (a roadside bomb).
  • Three-quarters were attacked at long range with rockets or mortars.
  • Half were attacked at close range by machine guns or grenades.

British soldiers’ war experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan

How many soldiers are harmed in war?

Most soldiers were not injured while in Iraq or Afghanistan. For example, in 2009 there were 183,000 people in the regular armed forces.

  • 98 died in Afghanistan.
  • 508 were wounded in Afghanistan (158 seriously).

Soldiers are more likely to suffer harm to their minds. For example:

  • Experts believe that about 1 in 11 British veterans (9%) are suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) after returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • Problems like depression are twice as common in the army as in civilian life.
  • Mental health problems tend to get worse after soldiers leave the army.

Are some soldiers more or less likely to be hurt?


  • In Afghanistan, the chance of being killed or injured in the INFANTRY was six times greater than in the rest of the army.
  • PTSD is about twice as common among soldiers with direct combat jobs (including the infantry), compared with other army jobs.
  • Soldiers who come from troubled backgrounds are much more likely to have mental health problems while in the army and afterwards.
  • The long-term mental health impact on recruits who join at younger ages (under 17.5 years), is greater than those who join up at older ages.

So, in general, people who have had a tough time as a child and then join the infantry face the biggest risks, particularly if they join at a younger age.

On the other hand, soldiers working away from enemy forces (e.g. driving trucks, moving stores) were less likely to be harmed in Afghanistan. Even then, some of these support jobs can also be dangerous – an army dog handler can be killed while their dog is sniffing out roadside bombs, for example.

In summary

  1. Being a soldier is a dangerous job, although most soldiers have not been seriously harmed in recent wars.
  2. The risks are bigger for soldiers in the infantry or another front line job, and smaller for those with other kinds of army job.
  3. Mental health problems are more common than injuries to the body – particularly among young infantry who have had a tough childhood.
  4. There is no army job that is completely safe.

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Sources: Ministry of Defence, Kings Centre for Military Health Research, D Gee, ‘The Last Ambush’