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04/10/03 - Harmony

War Hits Small Town America Close to Home

The soldiers who fight for American freedom often come from small-town America, according to a Scripps Howard study. The study claims a disproportionate number of troops and reserves were called-in from rural areas in the south and mid-west.

Some towns in East Texas fit the profile.

Residents of Harmony, a community outside Gilmer, see a significant percentage of their graduating seniors enlist in the services each year. Administrators predict 10 out of only 61 seniors signed up in 2002.

Ashley Langford, a current senior, joined the National Guard nine months ago.

"We have 66 in our class, and there are four that have already signed up," she says. "And there's maybe one or two thinking about it."

Teachers say most students enlist to pay for college. Others join because job prospects are scare in rural areas.

"A lot of these students don't have the financial resources," says English teacher Melinda Green. "So one of the options is to join the military, and that helps with their education."

Harmony High School math teacher, Ralph Cooper Jr. has a son serving in Iraq. Cooper can stop by his son's picture everyday. Students at Harmony Schools have put up displays with the names of local soldiers tied to their community. Cooper is proud, Ralph Cooper III is one of them.

"My son has been in the Panama invasion," says Cooper, who served in Vietnam. "He was then in Desert Storm, and now he's in Iraq."

Many of the other students on the school's Wall of Honor took courses from Cooper.

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