ALLENDALE, S.C. --- Rodricka Youmans got tired of borrowing money from his father to pay the rent. It hurt his pride.
Barely out of his teens and already tied down by the responsibilities of fatherhood, he tried in vain to find work at Savannah River Site and the textile plant where his father worked. He quit a job at a Dollar General store because it didn't pay enough to support his children, and a temp job at an Aiken tire company ended after three months, his family and friends said.
Youmans faced the harsh reality that in this rural community, career opportunities are limited. So he set his sights on an outfit that would take him, with benefits and steady pay: the Marine Corps.
Within a year he was dead, killed July 6, 2004, at age 22 when an anti-tank mine detonated on the outskirts of Fallujah, Iraq.
"He joined because he was looking for a job," said his father, Johnnie Youmans. "If he could have found a job, he probably wouldn't have gone in."
What happened to Youmans is a stark example of the heavy toll paid by Allendale County and other small communities in the Iraq war. Their price in flag-draped coffins, according to community leaders and demographic research, has been disproportionately high, attributable to the economic ills in much of rural America.
OF THE 18 SOLDIERS and Marines from the greater Augusta area who have died during the 7 1/2-year conflict, 10 came from towns of 7,000 or fewer and from counties of fewer than 25,000.
Allendale County and neighboring Barnwell County, both rife with poverty and unemployment, suffered South Carolina's highest and second-highest rates of Iraq war deaths per capita, according to an analysis of Pentagon and Census Bureau data by The Augusta Chronicle.
Allendale, statistically the poorest of the Palmetto State's 46 counties, had two losses -- Youmans and Sgt. Orenthial Smith -- which divided by its estimated 10,195 population gives it a death rate of 1.96 deaths per 10,000 people.
Barnwell County had the state's second-highest rate, losing three -- Sgt. George Buggs, Spc. Jason Moski and Chief Warrant Officer Jason DeFrenn -- for a rate of 1.32 losses per 10,000 people.
Allendale's figure was topped by only one county in Georgia: Schley, outside Columbus, which had one loss and a population of 4,325 to give it the state's highest rate, 2.31.
Three outlying Augusta-area counties ranked in Georgia's top 10. Warren County, home of Sgt. Foster Pinkston, ranked second with a rate of 1.74 deaths per 10,000 people. Wilkes County, home of Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Scarborough, ranked sixth with a rate of 0.97; and McDuffie County, home of Sgt. James Kinlow and Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Wilson, ranked eighth with a rate of 0.91.
Nationally, among the top 10 for losses per capita were such sparsely populated states as Vermont -- which had the highest rate at 0.35 deaths per 10,000 people -- Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Georgia ranked 33rd and South Carolina 42nd.
State Rep. Lonnie Hosey, D-Barnwell, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient whose district covers all of Allendale County and most of Barnwell County, said he doesn't know why such a high proportion of young men from his area died in Iraq, but why so many of them join the armed forces is obvious.
"A lack of jobs," Hosey said. "You've got to find a way to live."
THE NOTION THAT economic desperation leads to higher military enlistment, and therefore higher death rates, was borne out in a 2006-07 study by the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute, which concluded that rural America was shouldering an undue burden in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Using data from the Defense Department, the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Census Bureau, the study found that the death rate for outlying counties was 48 percent higher than in metropolitan or suburban counties. Though only 19 percent of the nation's adult population lives in rural areas, those areas suffered 26 percent of the casualties.
The imbalance was linked to a higher rate of enlistment from small communities, as the distribution of deceased troops' hometowns was similar to the distribution of metro vs. non-metro Army recruits as reported by the National Priorities Project.
Demographer and Carsey fellow Bill O'Hare, who co-wrote the study, said he doubts the figures have changed much in the past three years. His purpose in doing the research, he said, was to focus on the economic struggles of rural communities, specifically that low education levels and a dearth of jobs leaves young people with few options for earning a living, so they turn to the military.
Then when the nation wages war, poorer communities sacrifice the most, an echo of complaints from the Vietnam era, when sons of the affluent avoided combat through college deferments or strings pulled. Now the armed services are all volunteer.
"But when you don't have that kind of equal opportunity," O'Hare said, "the volunteerism isn't spread out equally across the country. It's not equal opportunity when one group has more opportunities than another group."
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., whose 2nd District includes Allendale and Barnwell counties, sees it differently. He said he doesn't view the disparity as unfair, but rather a positive for areas with weak job markets.
Wilson -- a retired Army National Guard colonel who has four sons in the service, two of whom have served in Iraq -- said the military offers rural youths the best career path available, a chance at an education and to travel the world, something many city dwellers might be missing out on.
Youmans told his father by phone about a week before he died that, despite seven days of fighting in Fallujah, he loved the Marines and planned to stay in until he retired.
THE LATEST FIGURES from the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce have Allendale County with the third-highest unemployment rate in the state, with a July rate of 19.3 percent, compared with a statewide rate of 10.8 percent. Barnwell County ranked sixth with 16.9 percent.
The community skirts the borders of SRS, but the former nuclear bomb plant can't hire everyone. Other major employers include the Dayco Products auto parts plant and the Dixie-Narco soft drink machine factory, both in Williston.
Last year, Barnwell lost both Milliken and Hanesbrands Inc. -- locally known as the Sara Lee sock plant -- eliminating 435 jobs.
Hosey said the counties have a hard time recruiting industry because no major highways pass through. Allendale, once a popular stop for tourists en route to the coast, started its downward slide in the 1960s when Interstate 95 was planned 35 miles east.
Now, Hosey said, a high school graduate without college prospects who can't find an assembly line job might have to choose between working on a hog farm or a chicken farm. Either that or dealing drugs.
Hosey said he believes so many people in Barnwell and Allendale are grappling with the effects of poverty, drugs and juvenile crime that they've had little time to consider the price their counties paid in Iraq.
Hundreds turned out for the funerals, but he suspects most of that was curiosity, much as they would feel for a shooting or auto accident victim.
"Deaths are a common thing in the community. I hate to say it," said Hosey, who was a fifth cousin to soldiers Buggs and Smith. "The impact is there, yes, but I think it's more families, individuals impacted, than it is the community. Because people just don't have that anymore, that sense of community."
DANNY BLACK, a Vietnam veteran and past president of the Blackville-based Vietnam Veterans of America, Salkehatchie Chapter 828, said the deaths brought the conflict home, teaching people to respect troops at war, even if they don't support it.
Though most have moved on by now, the losses touched everyone, Black said.
"In a small town, you know a lot of people," he said. "It's a major impact to lose one, much less two or three."