Monday, December 31, 2007

Small-town National Guard Prepares for Surge

We have perhaps all read enough on the demographic profile of U.S. soldiers dying in Iraq to know that many are young men and women who join the military due to lack of other opportunities, and that a disproportionate number are from rural places. But this story in the National Journal on December 14, 2007 discusses yet another angle on the phenomenon -- the role of the National Guard. Turns out that the National Guard, which is set to increase its numbers in Iraq by about 10,000 in 2008 (over the current 46,000 level, that is), flourishes in small-town America. Generally speaking, according to the report, a state with a lower population density and a lower percentage of minorities will have a higher percentage of its populace serving in the Army National Guard. In North Dakota, for example, 52 of 10,000 persons is serving in the Guard; in California, it is only 4 in 10,000.

Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., who wrote the story for the National Journal, explains this phenomenon by reference to the nature of small towns: "Since the first colonial militia mustered on the village green, National Guard units have been hometown troops. ... An Army National Guard unit recruits from its local community and may keep the same soldiers together for decades. That those communities keep producing volunteers six years into a global war speaks to the depth of their military traditions." He also points out that the ties among a guard unit's members -- and to its community -- are strongest in small towns, more so than in both more rural areas where people are more spatially dispersed and in "large cities, with their abundance of social an economic alternatives." He quotes David Segal, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland: "Being in the guard is how one earns one's bona fides as a member of the community."

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