Background: Complete and accurate ascertainment of mortality is critically important in any longitudinal study. Tracking of mortality is particularly essential among US military members because of unique occupational exposures (e.g., worldwide deployments as well as combat experiences). Our study objectives were to describe the early mortality experience of Panel 1 of the Millennium Cohort, consisting of participants in a 21-year prospective study of US military service members, and to assess data sources used to ascertain mortality.Methods: A population-based random sample (n = 256,400) of all US military service members on service rosters as of October 1, 2000, was selected for study recruitment. Among this original sample, 214,388 had valid mailing addresses, were not in the pilot study, and comprised the group referred to in this study as the invited sample. Panel 1 participants were enrolled from 2001 to 2003, represented all armed service branches, and included active-duty, Reserve, and National Guard members. Crude death rates, as well as age- and sex-adjusted overall and age-adjusted, category-specific death rates were calculated and compared for participants (n = 77,047) and non-participants (n = 137,341) based on data from the Social Security Administration Death Master File, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) files, and the Department of Defense Medical Mortality Registry, 2001-2006. Numbers of deaths identified by these three data sources, as well as the National Death Index, were compared for 2001-2004.Results: There were 341 deaths among the participants for a crude death rate of 80.7 per 100,000 person-years (95% confidence interval [CI]: 72.2,89.3) compared to 820 deaths and a crude death rate of 113.2 per 100,000 person-years (95% CI: 105.4, 120.9) for non-participants. Age-adjusted, category-specific death rates highlighted consistently higher rates among study non-participants. Although there were advantages and disadvantages for each data source, the VA mortality files identified the largest number of deaths (97%).Conclusions: The difference in crude and adjusted death rates between Panel 1 participants and non-participants may reflect healthier segments of the military having the opportunity and choosing to participate. In our study population, mortality information was best captured using multiple data sources.