Human Rights

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'We're only a pawn'

"They've taken husbands and wives and sons and daughters over there, and we're working and struggling to make up for it," said Temple, noting that a new contingent of reservists from the St. Marys area will soon ship out. "Somebody's got to help these people."

Then there's the constant worry that all this work will disappear as quickly as it materialized. A machinist at the Goodyear plant, whose son drives an Army truck in the volatile area west of Baghdad known as the Sunni Triangle, fretted that Goodyear has put too many eggs in the military basket.

"We're only a pawn. You know that. Everybody in this community hopes like hell that Goodyear keeps this plant here. If the military drops out, we could be done. It's a bad deal," he said.

But for now, it's a good deal for thousands of workers. The Red River Army Depot, near Texarkana, Tex., has hired 400 people -- 27 percent of its current workforce -- in the past four months to repair and rebuild wheeled vehicles laid low by the war, said Jimmy Shull, the depot's chief of staff. Sixty new security guards will be coming to work this month.

Columbia Sewing Co., in nearby Magnolia, Ark., lost its main customer in 2001, when Bass Pro Shops took its business to China, said Brian Smith, the company's vice president. Columbia nearly closed. Then came the war, and the firm's first military contract, to sew battle-dress trousers and woodland camouflage coats. Employment is up 30 percent over last year.

"We needed business, they needed small businesses and it fell in just right," Smith said. "If it wasn't for [Defense Department] contracting, we would not be here, and 200 people would be out of a job."

American Apparel Inc. of Selma, Ala., the largest military uniform supplier, is sewing 50,000 uniforms a week, said Jim Hodo, the company's chief operating officer. To keep up with demand, the firm invested more than $1 million to open two new plants in the impoverished Alabama towns of Opp and Roanoke, and hired 300 workers; 150 more could be added soon.

"We had so many minorities out of work," said Roanoke Mayor Betty Slay Ziglar. "These people have grown up sewing in textile plants, and there are so few now. They were desperate to have jobs, and it's going to expand again. I am just so grateful."

For the South Carolina textile mills supplying the fabric, the impact may have been even more dramatic, Hodo said.

"They were sitting down there, staring at the empty walls, wondering what was next," he said of his suppliers, Delta Mills Marketing Co. and Milliken & Co. "It's been a godsend to them."