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Skelton sees burden of war in rural U.S.

[ From the piece:

47.8 percent of the soldiers and Marines killed in Afghanistan came from towns of fewer than 20,000 people. In Iraq, 43.2 percent of the American war dead were from those smaller communities. Nationally, 22.5 percent of the population lives in towns under 20,000 in population.

Thanks to the Oklahoma Committee for Conscientious Objectors forwarding the article. –BL ]

8 July 2004 | Kansas City Star

They’ve felt the pain in Marshfield, Mo., home of the late Spc. Michael C. Campbell. So have the folks of Ottawa, Kan., where Lance Cpl. Christopher B. Wasser grew up.

The same applies in Hammond, Ill.; Shelbyville, Tenn.; Bluefield, W.Va.; Winterville, N.C.; Cleburne, Ark.; Harris, Texas; and Prosser, Wash.

To some degree, the war on terror is fought by country folk.

Though barely more than one in five Americans come from small towns, nearly one in two of the American military men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan came from rural stock, U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri pointed out last week.

The casualties, also disproportionately Southern and Midwestern, reflect the success that military recruiters find in small towns that they don’t see in cities and suburbia.

?Rural America is certainly paying a very high price for freedom against the guerrillas in Iraq and terrorists in Afghanistan,? said Skelton, a Democrat from Lexington. ?They are more than carrying the burden on their shoulders.?

In a telephone news conference set up by the Democratic National Committee, Skelton said 47.8 percent of the soldiers and Marines killed in Afghanistan came from towns of fewer than 20,000 people. In Iraq, 43.2 percent of the American war dead were from those smaller communities. Nationally, 22.5 percent of the population lives in towns under 20,000 in population.

People who study military personnel issues aren’t surprised. Those casualty numbers roughly reflect the overall military. For a range of reasons — most experts start with the dwindling employment prospects of rural America — the appeal of joining the country’s all-volunteer armed forces runs stronger in the countryside.

?It all starts with economic opportunity, and there’s not much of it in some of these places,? said David R. Segal, the director for the Center on Military Organization at the University of Maryland. ?You also have stronger traditions of patriotism and service to country. The American Legion is central to community life.?

Analysts see the over-representation of rural communities in the military as but one of a series of ways in which the switch to an all-volunteer force has made the military look less and less like the country at large.

?The volunteer military, by definition, is not going to be spread out across the spectrum,? said John Allen Williams, a scholar of military culture at Loyola University in Chicago. ?It’s the people who want to be there.?

Alan Gropman, a professor at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, said: ?I don’t think (the large numbers from rural areas) means anything. Most people come in for one opportunity or another. Let them choose.?

He said white soldiers, for instance, were more likely to join the Army for adventure than black soldiers, who he said came for career opportunities that would lead to administrative specialties and the medical corps.

Inner-city residents tend to trail next behind rural enlistees, with suburban dwellers least likely to sign up. And the extremes of America’s social strata are the rarest.

People from the top 20 percent of the country’s economic class typically don’t sign up, because they find private careers much more attractive, said Cindy Williams, a defense analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She said the bottom 20 percent tend to get shut out, because they fail to earn high school diplomas or score too poorly on military tests of verbal and mathematical skills.

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