Nice answer... bottom line of this conversation, however, was that the service Mgr did not know that access to the starter on a Commander is IMPOSSIBLE without first removing the shield you describe.
Your points about off roading are well taken, and usually there are folks that are out on the back side of the mountain from time to time. On this particular occasion, they left and it was just myself and my two sons. We could have walked out, but its not something I would expect from a 2 year old vehicle. As you so eloquently point out its not the age its the number of starts... Well I own 4 vehicles, all foreign, with well over 100,000 miles, here's a brief description, 2002 Maxima, used daily since purchase, still on initial starter, 1992 Alfa Romeo, used less often, but was daily driver for a decade, still on initial starter, 1992 BMW 325i, Daily driver, over 100k still on first starter, Honda del Sol, over 100k daily driver still on initial starter motor... Ok I think you get the drift... If you read through the Jeep threads, you'll see that starter failure is not uncommon, yet all my foreign vehicles don't have the same problem.
Yea, stuff breaks, but for something TRAIL RATED, I expected essential stuff ( a starter on an auto transmission is critical) to be heavy duty and not prone to such a high failure rate.
As for the Svc Mgr telling me mud could get on the armature... please, as you state, there's a whole skid plate assembly in the way, and the Sealed unit is bolted such that mud is not going to enter the transmission. That's just weak and I'm not that simple.