As I write, President Bush is likely preparing for his fly-in photo-op to shore up support for the Iraq war which will be held at Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne and other units heavily deployed overseas.
North Carolina may call itself "the most military-friendly state," but today's News & Observer shows there's trouble on the homefront:
More North Carolinians are questioning whether the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, a poll shows, just as President Bush plans a prime-time visit to Fort Bragg today to rally support for his Iraq policies.
The statewide survey, conducted over the weekend for The News & Observer and WRAL-TV, found that 42 percent of active voters agree the war has been worth it, but 49 percent say it has not.
That's a sharp erosion in support for the war since January 2004 ... Back then, the survey showed that 58 percent of Tar Heel voters said the war was worthwhile.
North Carolinians also remain almost "evenly divided" on whether or not to set a timetable for bringing the troops home. These findings may surprise many, but not if taken in the context of what the state has suffered as a result of the war.
Today, the Institute for Southern Studies released a short report on the state's disproportionate loss from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here's a press release with the key details:
For Immediate Release: June 28, 2005
NORTH CAROLINA SHOULDERS LARGER SHARE OF WAR BURDEN
DURHAM, N.C. - As President George W. Bush prepares to issue an address in Fort Bragg, N.C. tonight to shore up flagging public support for the Iraq war, a new analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies finds that North Carolina is shouldering a disproportionate burden of the war's costs in fallen troops.
"North Carolina takes pride in being the country's 'most military-friendly state,'" said Chris Kromm, director of the non-profit, non-partisan Institute. "Unfortunately, our analysis shows that soldiers deploying from North Carolina - as well as their families and military communities - have paid dearly for the association." Among the findings drawn from news reports and Department of Defense data:
* Of the over 1,930 U.S. troops that have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 230 have been based in North Carolina - over 12% of the nation's war fatalities, or nearly one out of eight U.S. soldiers killed overseas.
* Over 100 Army soldiers and 120 Marines from North Carolina bases have died in the two conflicts. Thirty-five of the troops that have died in Iraq were born in North Carolina.
* Over 2,200 of the Army's 82nd Airborne, based at Fort Bragg, are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The division has seen over 40 soldiers killed and 450 injured in the two wars.
* North Carolina has sent one of the largest detachments of National Guard troops to Iraq: deployment peaked at 6,000 in January 2005, the largest mobilization for the state since World War II. With the recent return of the National Guard's 30th Heavy Separate Brigade, the deployment now stands at 2,700.
* The North Carolina presence in Iraq will remain significant for the foreseeable future: The Pentagon recently announced that 7,500 to 8,000 members of Fort Bragg's 18th Airborne Corps will be deployed early next year to take over day-to-day operations in Iraq. They will replace the 3rd Corps from Fort Hood, Texas in directing the Multinational Corps-Iraq. In addition, part of the 82nd Airborne's 2nd Brigade is slated to deploy to Afghanistan in May.
North Carolina's close military ties reflect a pattern seen throughout the Southern U.S. A 2002 study by the Institute for Southern Studies found that 42% of U.S. troops were born in 13 Southern states, and 56% were housed at military bases in the region.
This has led North Carolina and the South to be disproportionately dependent on a military presence. A Military Impact Study conducted by East Carolina University in 2004 found that over 333,300 jobs are tied directly to the military, and four percent of the population is here because of the military presence in the state. The military has an $18 billion economic impact on the state - over 6% of the state's gross product.
The military's driving role in North Carolina politics and economics is unlikely to change anytime soon. The Pentagon's proposed base closure and re-alignment plan announced this May, while including changes at several N.C. bases, would have little net effect on the state's military stature. The plan calls for an expansion of 4,325 personnel at Fort Bragg, which is balanced by a recommendation to cut 4,145 positions at Pope Air Force Base.
"When the Pentagon announced in May that it planned to close some 180 installations, the story nationwide was one of gloom and doom," says Kromm. "But the South's role as a military stronghold will continue -- and in many states, it will grow."
An Institute analysis of the base realignment plan in May 2005 found that 13 Southern states stand to gain over 15,000 base personnel under the proposal, and five of the 10 states whose military presence will grow the most under the plan are located in the South.