Members of the National Guard are serving in unusually large numbers in Iraq — and doing so for an unusually long time, according to an article this week by Sydney Freedberg in the National Journal.
And those National Guard units come disproportionately from smaller towns, Freedberg reports. "As a rule of thumb, the lower a state's population density and the lower its percentage of minorities, the higher the percentage of its population likely to be serving in the Army National Guard," Freedberg writes. "Nationwide, the 350,000-strong Army Guard averages just below 12 soldiers per 10,000 people. In North Dakota, however, that ratio is 52 soldiers per 10,000; in California, it's only four."
Freedberg continues: "So although the Army National Guard is a consummately American institution, it does not reflect America as a whole. It reflects instead a certain slice of society from which it disproportionately draws, and on which the burden of Guard service disproportionately falls. Not all of America is at war."
(Freedberg's findings help explain the disproportionate number of casualties suffered by small towns. In the Daily Yonder's study of deaths in Iraq , Bismarck, North Dakota, had one of the highest rates of casualties of any U.S. city. And the general trend in casualties was the same as Freedberg's analysis of National Guard membership: generally, the smaller the town, the higher the rate of casualties in the Middle East conflicts.)
The National Guard's presence in Iraq has been unusually large and is expected to go up next year, even as the total number of U.S. troops is slated to decline. Today, 46,000 National Guard troops are mobilized, according to Freedberg. That number is expected to rise by 10,000 next year.
Units from Arkansas, Indiana and Ohio will go to Iraq in early 2008. In the second half of the year, brigades from Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington will deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some 450,000 Guard members have been to Iraq or Afghanistan since the attacks of 9/11. More than 800 Guardsmen have died.
In January of 2005, 34 percent of the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were from the Guard.
The Guard has a particularly strong place in a small town's social structure. "In some communities, the local Guard unit is one of the major sources of social cohesion," University of Maryland military sociologist David Segal told Freedberg. "Being in the Guard is how one earns one's bona fides as a member of the community."
As a result, said 1st Sgt. Darin Carlson, a 17 year veteran with the Indiana Guard, "In the Guard, you get that local family feel, where those guys become close. Then when that unit goes, that town goes."