To the Point for 7/28/05

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THERE IS AN ONGOING DEBATE in our country about the validity of our involvement in the war in Iraq and the ongoing battles in Afghanistan. As a society it is our right to question our leadership on such issues, but it is also our responsibility to support the troops who are currently standing in harm’s way in a far off land.

Whether or not you support our efforts, I recently found some statistical information that I think is interesting in light of the number of young men and women that this county and the surrounding area should be aware of.

The Austin American-Statesman newspaper in Austin, Texas, recently compiled data about the soldiers who are participating in the Iraq War and where they come from.

In what I consider to be very relevant information, the newspaper has produced statistics that small, rural communities such as Switzerland County are paying a disproportionate price in the war. Soldiers from small, rural communities are dying in the war at a much higher rate than those soldiers who come from cities and wealthy suburbs.

In statistics released by the U.S. Department of Defense, soldiers who come from a community of 25,000 or fewer people have a death rate more than double the rate of soldiers who come from big cities.

The study shows that an equal percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 54 live in counties of less than 10,000 people and in counties of more than one million people. So if we’re looking at equal numbers coming from both ends of the population spectrum, then the statistics do reveal some very interesting facts.

Of the first 875 soldiers who died in Iraq, 342 came from big cities and 536 came from rural communities — but percentage wise both ends of the spectrum had the same amount of soldiers there.

Small rural counties have a death rate that is almost twice that of small counties that are part of a metropolitan area — so not only does size matter, but also where those communities are located.

Statistically, for every 100,000 soldiers, the death rate in cities of more than one million people is 1.01; while the rate jumps to 1.81 in communities with less than 25,000 people.

Now before everyone jumps to conclusions, I am not saying that there is a conspiracy here. Obviously the Iraqi rebels have no way of knowing who’s from what place; and officers are not putting rural soldiers in harm’s way — but the statistics are interesting to look at.

In the series, the data holds true even with a single incident. When a helicopter carrying 16 soldiers was shot down in 2003, all of the crew perished. Of those 16, two came from counties of more than one million; while eight — half of the crew — came from counties of less than 25,000 people.

So why is this trend going on? No one can answer that.

One answer is that more men and women in rural areas are coming from economically depressed areas, so they are more likely to enlist in the armed forces in order to better themselves.

Another option is that statistically soldiers from larger cities are more likely to be officers rather than foot soldiers. A poor economy usually means a recruitment rise for the service in rural communities.

But remember the statistics: there are equal numbers on the big and small ends of the list; so if rural men and woman are more likely to enlist, then that should sway the statistics — but it doesn’t.

Perhaps it’s because rural men and women are more likely to volunteer for heroic missions, and that their overwhelming patriotism often results in them giving the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom.

Although no statistics are available for past wars, my feeling is that those same statistics ring true then, too.

Just as small communities like Switzerland County have monuments to fallen soldiers from past wars; here’s hoping and praying that small communities won’t have to be erecting new monuments once the current conflict concludes.