US Rural Soldiers Account for a Disproportionately High Share of Casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan

December 14th, 2008 - by admin

William O’Hare & Bill Bishop / The Carsey Institute – 2008-12-14 23:08:49

(Fall 2006) — In time of war, all Americans are expected to sacrifice and rural Americans have always stepped forward to do their part in past wars and national emergencies. However, as the data presented here attests, today rural Americans are paying the ultimate sacrifice in disproportionately high numbers.

Examination of deaths based on hometown in the Department of Defense records shows soldiers from rural America are dying at a higher rate than soldiers from big cities and suburbs. In all but eight states, soldiers from rural areas1 make up a disproportionately high share of casualties.

Th e high death rate for soldiers from rural areas is linked to the higher rate of enlistment of young adults from rural America.2 The higher rates of enlistment in the Armed Forces among rural youth are possibly linked to diminished opportunities there.3 Transitioning from youth to adulthood is more problematic in rural US because there are fewer job opportunities.

Young adults in rural areas are less able to secure a foothold in the economy. Among employed young adults (age 18 to 24) only 24 percent of those in rural areas are working full-time year-round, compared to 29 percent of those in cities and suburbs.

Industries that have traditionally sustained rural people and places — farming, timber, mining, fishing and manufacturing — are employing fewer workers than they have in the past. Communities distant from urban areas and with few scenic amenities are struggling with low incomes, a low skill labor force, limited access to services, and weak infrastructure.

Competition accompanying globalization increasingly moves jobs overseas or stimulates increased productivity — in both cases, eliminating the “good jobs” that sustain communities and historically promised young people a future.

For decades, rural communities have lamented the loss of young people to urban areas where education and employment opportunities seem brighter. Many who stay, especially in poor areas, are those whose low level of education and skills give them little reason to anticipate better opportunities elsewhere as well.

Enlistment in the Armed Forces can provide rural youth with a path to greater future opportunities that includes gaining new skills and learning about other places and cultures.

As we observe Veteran’s Day this year, it is important for Americans to recognize that rural families are paying a disproportionately high price for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dr. William P. O’Hare is a visiting senior fellow at the Carsey Institute. ( Bill Bishop is a journalist living in Austin, Texas, who is writing a book on political segregation. (

(1) Here, “rural” refers to nonmetropolitan counties as classifi ed by the US Offi ce of Management and Budget. “Urban” here means “metropolitan,” which includes both central cities and their surrounding suburbs.

(2) National Priorities Project data on hometowns of active duty army recruits ( &id=254) show a distribution between metro and non-metro counties that is similar to the distribution of the hometowns of soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, see Kane, Tim. 2005. Who Bears the Burden? Demographic Characteristics of US Military Recruits Before and Aft er 9/11. Heritage Foundation, Center for Data Analysis Report #05-08. http://www.

(3) For example, Bachman, Jerald, David Segal, Peter Freedman-Doan, and Patrick O’Malley. 2000. Who Chooses Military Service? Correlates of Propensity and Enlistment in the US Armed Forces. Military Psychology 12 (1): 1–30.