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War toll is heaviest in poor, rural areas

Research links poor economy to Iraq deaths

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ALLENDALE, S.C. --- Rodricka Youmans got tired of borrowing money from his father to pay the rent. It hurt his pride.

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Bricks for Iraq war casualties Orenthial J. Smith and Algernon Adams are among many that line a path at Veterans Memorial Park.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Bricks for Iraq war casualties Orenthial J. Smith and Algernon Adams are among many that line a path at Veterans Memorial Park.

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."

Sacrifice so others could live

The theme of self-sacrifice played heavily in Chief Warrant Officer Jason DeFrenn's eulogy.

Two weeks after his death in a fiery helicopter crash in Iraq in 2007, about 450 people packed into First Baptist Church for one of the biggest funerals in his hometown's history.

"My son did something remarkable," Garth DeFrenn said from the podium. "While in combat, he was fired upon. My son decided to come in between the fire. In those few seconds, my son decided to lay down his life so others could live."

For the poorest of the poor, a higher sacrifice

Allendale and Barnwell counties have suffered South Carolina's highest and second-highest death rates per capita during the Iraq war. At the same time, they are among the state's most sparsely populated areas and make several top 10 lists for poverty and unemployment rates.


SC's top poverty rates

County/Percent of households below the poverty line

1. Allendale, 45.8

2. Williamsburg, 40.0

3. Bamberg, 39.7

4. Lee, 36.2

5. Marion, 35.7

6. Marlboro, 35.3

7. Dillon, 35.3

8. Clarendon, 34.8

9. Barnwell, 34.3

10. Hampton, 33.3

15. McCormick, 31.9

26. Edgefield, 25.4

34. Aiken, 22.6

Statewide: 22.1

Source: DemographicsNow market analysis service (2009 estimates)


Lowest household incomes

County/Median household income

1. Allendale, $25,282

2. Williamsburg, $29,565

3. Bamberg, $29,630

4. Marlboro, $32,628

5. Marion, $32,728

6. Dillon, $32,902

7. Lee, $33,362

8. Clarendon, $34,149

9. Hampton, $35,408

10. Barnwell, $35,489

18. McCormick, $39,931

30. Edgefield, $44,809

37. Aiken, $48,251

Statewide, $47,684

Source: DemographicsNow market analysis service (2009 estimates)


SC's top unemployment rates

County/July unemployment rate

1. Marion, 19.9

2. Marlboro, 19.7

3. Allendale, 19.3

4. Union, 18.2

5. Chester, 17.9

6. Barnwell, 16.9

7. Bamberg, 16.4

8. Lancaster, 16.1

9. Orangeburg, 15.9

10. York, 15.7

13. McCormick, 15.0

39. Edgefield, 9.6

45. Aiken, 8.3

Statewide: 10.8

Source: South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce


Georgia's top unemployment rates

County/July unemployment rate

1. Hancock, 19.8

2. Jenkins, 19.8

3. Warren, 17.4

4. Coffee, 16.5

5. Telfair, 16.4

6. Chattahoochee, 16.1

7. Baldwin, 15.6

8. Washington, 15.2

9. Screven, 15.0

10. Jeff Davis, 14.7

13. Jefferson, 14.5

40. Taliaferro, 12.1

46. Johnson, 11.9

57. Glascock, 11.7

59. Burke, 11.6

61. Wilkes, 11.5

66. Emanuel, 11.2

73. Richmond, 10.9

79. Lincoln, 10.8

88. McDuffie, 10.6

155. Columbia, 7.2

Statewide: 9.9

Source: Georgia Department of Labor


SC's smallest populations


1. McCormick, 10,140

2. Allendale, 10,195

3. Calhoun, 14,621

4. Bamberg, 15,005

5. Saluda, 19,094

6. Lee, 19,722

7. Hampton, 21,014

8. Barnwell, 22,688

9. Jasper, 23,221

10. Fairfield, 23,343

12. Edgefield, 25,752

37. Aiken, 156,017

Statewide, 4,561,242

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 estimates


Highest war deaths per capita

South Carolina

County/Estimated population/Iraq war deaths/Death rate per 10,000 people

1. Allendale, 10,195, 2, 1.96

2. Barnwell, 22,688, 3, 1.32

3. Orangeburg, 90,112, 4, 0.44

4. Jasper, 23,221, 1, 0.43

5. Chester, 32,410, 1, 0.31

6. Berkeley, 173,498, 4, 0.23

7. Spartanburg, 286,822, 6, 0.21

8. Georgetown, 60,703, 1, 0.16

9. Anderson, 184,901, 3, 0.16

10. Lexington, 255,607, 4, 0.16

15. Aiken County, 156,017, 2, 0.13

* Edgefield and McCormick counties had no deaths.

Statewide, 4,561,242, 55, 0.12


County/Estimated population/Iraq war deaths/Death rate per 10,000 people

1. Schley, 4,325, 1, 2.31

2. Warren, 5,755, 1, 1.74

3. Clinch, 6,988, 1, 1.43

4. Treutlen, 7,058, 1, 1.42

5. Seminole, 9,094, 1, 1.1

6. Wilkes, 10,268, 1, 0.97

7. Charlton, 10,725, 1, 0.93

8. McDuffie, 21,862, 2, 0.91

9. Butts, 24,392, 2, 0.82

10. Lowndes, 106,814, 8, 0.75

23. Emanuel, 23,075, 1, 0.43

34. Richmond, 199,768, 6, 0.3

59. Columbia, 112,958, 1, 0.09

* No deaths in Burke, Glascock, Hancock, Jefferson, Jenkins, Johnson, Lincoln, Screven, Taliaferro and Washington counties.

Statewide, 9,829,211, 140, 0.14


Top U.S. states for Iraq war deaths per capita

State/Estimated population/Iraq war deaths/Death rate per 10,000 people

1. Vermont, 621,760, 22, 0.35

2. Montana, 974,989, 29, 0.3

3. Wyoming, 544,270, 14, 0.26

4. Nebraska, 1,796,619, 45, 0.25

5. Alaska, 698,473, 17, 0.24

6. South Dakota, 812,383, 19, 0.23

7. North Dakota, 646,844, 14, 0.22

8. Arkansas, 2,889,450, 62, 0.21

9. New Mexico, 2,009,671, 42, 0.21

10. Hawaii, 1,295,178, 26, 0.2

33. Georgia, 9,829,211, 140, 0.14

42. South Carolina, 4,561,242, 55, 0.12

Source: U.S. Department of Defense casualty data, as of Aug. 31, 2010; U.S. Census Bureau 2009 population estimates; Chronicle analysis

Honoring the war dead

Though Barnwell County has lost the second-most service members per capita to the Iraq war in South Carolina, its most prominent memorial for a soldier killed in the war on terrorism -- or any war -- is for someone who never set foot there.

A large granite stone in the center of Veterans Memorial Park, next to Barnwell Regional Airport, honors Army Staff Sgt. Jared C. Monti, of Raynham, Mass., who was killed in Afghanistan in 2006. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, for trying to rescue a wounded soldier during a firefight with Taliban forces in Nuristan province.

Dedicated in April, the monument was donated by an anonymous Vietnam veteran who lives in the region and was looking for a place to locate it, according to reports by The (Barnwell) People-Sentinel.

"How many small towns have a memorial for a Medal of Honor winner in them?" said Danny Black, past president of the Blackville-based Vietnam Veterans of America, Salkehatchie Chapter 828.

But Barnwell isn't neglecting its own, Black said, nor those who died from Aiken and Allendale counties.

Also in the park, Staff Sgt. George Edward Buggs, of Barnwell, has a granite marker at the base of a palm tree, courtesy of Guinyard-Butler Middle School. Palm trees form a semicircle on the back edge of the grounds, and numerous other markers honor mostly veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Bricks on a walkway near an elevated Huey helicopter used in Vietnam carry the names of veterans and casualties. Among those named are Buggs, Chief Warrant Officer Jason DeFrenn and Spc. Jason Moski of Barnwell County; Sgt. Orenthial Smith and Marine Pfc. Rodricka Youmans of Allendale County; and Pvt. Algernon Adams and Marine Cpl. Matthew Dillon of Aiken County. Buggs, DeFrenn, Dillon, Moski, Smith and Youmans are also among the names on dog tags hanging from 40 white crosses in a far corner of the park.

Both the bricks and the crosses were put there by the local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter.

On Memorial Day, the city of Allendale dedicated a small park near the railroad tracks in the center of town in honor of its county's two losses. The space around the base of an American flag pole, already set up to honor Desert Storm veterans, was renamed Smith-Youmans Park, though a sign saying so has yet to be put up.

Smith and Youmans attended Allendale-Fairfax High School together, and Smith's mother and Youmans' father now work together at Dayco Products auto parts plant in Williston.

Comments (19) Add comment
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corgimom 09/01/10 - 07:58 am
The military has always been

The military has always been heavily skewed towards Southerners from poor, rural areas. The military knows this. The conservative Southern rural culture means that the servicemembers fit in well with the military culture, too.

This is nothing new.

seenitB4 09/01/10 - 08:09 am
Sad but true

Sad but true Corgi......sometimes they see the military as the only way out of poverty.

southernguy08 09/01/10 - 09:28 am
Thanks AC, your article

Thanks AC, your article certainly shows another sad fact of war, economics is a factor.

JohnRandolphHardisonCain 09/01/10 - 10:11 am
I commend The Chronicle, its

I commend The Chronicle, its news editors, and staff writer Johnny Edwards for this excellent piece of insightful reporting. It aligns closely with this article by Oxford Analytica:

"The True Costs Of The Iraq And Afghanistan Wars: The U.S. has lost more than money." | Oxford Analytica | 01 September 2010


usafvet 09/01/10 - 10:31 am
Thank you Corgimom, for

Thank you Corgimom, for restoring my faith in womankind. That is the most sensible post from you that I have read recently and you didn't have to dig up statistics.

seabeau 09/01/10 - 11:31 am
It is just not the rural

It is just not the rural poor. Southerners in general have allways served at greater numbers than other regions of the country.

gaspringwater 09/01/10 - 12:34 pm
Poverty more than patriotism

Poverty more than patriotism puts people in the military. And the military compounds the problem too. They over recruit in poor schools and neighborhoods. Ride through the poor section of town and look at the billboards glamorizing the military's uniforms, pictures of aircraft carriers, submarines and neat looking aircraft.

Even the National Guard has a drop out youth program. Minor age students complete mini boot camp training and earn their GED's.


PWRSPD 09/01/10 - 01:53 pm
It has been like this since

It has been like this since the very first army was formed I suspect.

gaspringwater 09/01/10 - 02:03 pm
PWRSPD - Thanks. That

PWRSPD - Thanks. That crossed my mind when I was typing. Things haven't change since the Roman Army.

I've read where the British navy would go into a tavern, knock the drunks in the head, load them aboard a ship and sail. When they woke up, they were the crew.

justthefacts 09/01/10 - 02:14 pm
It's great that they have an

It's great that they have an option.

sgmret 09/01/10 - 02:26 pm
What else is new, that's why

What else is new, that's why we have a darn good military.

gaspringwater 09/01/10 - 02:38 pm
Good military? We have the

Good military? We have the most expensive club on earth. We spend as much on our military as the all the rest of the world combined. And we've got the national debt to prove it.

Our healthcare system is similar. We spend twice as much as the country in second place.

gijoe7898 09/01/10 - 03:25 pm
gaspring, do you even know a

gaspring, do you even know a service member? I see by reading many of your posts that very few things please you.

you said "Even the National Guard has a drop out youth program. Minor age students complete mini boot camp training and earn their GED's."

...but you'd rather have these drop outs on the streets rather than building self esteem and a sense of hope and accomplishment? 19 y.o. soldiers have more maturity and responsibility than any college graduate.

here's something else your liberal mind needs to wrap around. Minorities make up in the military is twice their representation of the general population. I know. I was an Equal Opportunity Advisor for 3 years and tracked the statistics. I also recruited for 4 yrs.

Minorities attained leadership positions and positions of responsibilities not by affirmitive action programs, but by merit and accomplishment. Here too, they were over represented. Is it a problem that a young person can achieve, advance and lead others way before a civilian counter part could? Is it a problem that they can enjoy great benefits? Their chance of dying in combat is less than their chance of dying back home from an auto accident.

I see an underlying tone that the military "preys" on poor youth. So what now? Need more regulations & for the govt to step in to make decisions for them? You lament this but do not offer any solution. Perhaps because there is no problem. Let enlistees and their families handle it. They know more of their situation than you or the govt.

BTW, gaspring, does it bother your liberal mind that of all govt and national institutions, that people most admire and trust the military?

gaspringwater 09/01/10 - 04:23 pm
gijoe7898 - Thanks for the

gijoe7898 - Thanks for the response. I assure you I support minority programs and I even support giving breakfast, snack and lunch to every child attending school regardless of their economic status. I'm firmly for feeding and educating them. I won't go off on a tangent about liberals paying for education and the needy.

But I'm dubious about your claim that soldiers are more mature and responsible than college students. That's just baseless boast.

You pointed out that I didn't offer a military solution and please let me do so. Get out of the empire business, stop running the world, bring the troops home and guard our borders, cut their numbers by three-quarters. Term limits are not only a good idea for politicians but they're needed in the military too. Military service should be limited to eight years for all personnel except the most senior officers. And even their numbers need to be limited because they tend to multiply like rabbits. A limit on military service would eliminate the professional military class retiring on the taxpayer.

sgmret 09/01/10 - 08:25 pm
How about getting rid of the

How about getting rid of the police and fireman also. That should provide more tax money for welfare programs. Sounds dumb huh!

gaspringwater 09/01/10 - 08:49 pm
sgmret - On the contrary.

sgmret - On the contrary. We need more policemen, firemen and may I add teachers to that list. They're the real unsung heroes of our society. And we could get more of them if we changed our spending priorities.

gijoe7898 09/01/10 - 09:34 pm
gaspring, you talk about

gaspring, you talk about spending on the militarty. how is it that spending on education is fine with you when we already spend more than any other country in the world, per pupil, and results are heading south? come on over and join the crowd that says throwing more money on education is not the answer. cutting through unions to fire underachieveing teachers and administrators is. special interest groups rewriting history books is. teacher evaluations is. there are many avenues to look at to improve education that don't cost a cent.

omnomnom 09/01/10 - 10:11 pm
GiJoe, GaSpring, I say we hit

GiJoe, GaSpring, I say we hit two birds with one stone. combine public education with the military. make each soldier a teacher. have them stand behind the children with an ak-47 to their neck. watch school violence sink, test scores triple (in some schools), and soldier turnover rates skyrocket. I love speaking in hyperbole. I mean, I would just jump off of a cliff if I couldn't speak in hyperbole.

gaspringwater 09/01/10 - 11:01 pm
I'm sure there are some no

I'm sure there are some no cost actions that'll improve education. But money will accomplish more. I don't disagree that unruly kids in Middle school and up can be put into Disciplinarian School. Full room and board, schools uniforms and order kept by a tough cop. Family can visit on weekends. And they stay there until they get a C+ average grade or graduate from high school whichever comes first. Lot of single occupant rooms too. Neat appearance gets TV and internet time. Slough behavior gets a lot of quite and introspection time. Everybody can benefit from healthy and clean and a good routine. Plenty of counselor service too.

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