Do you know anyone who has served in the United States Armed Forces? Have you ever considered enlisting?
Today, the U.S. military is an all-volunteer force, with about 1.2 million active-duty troops. But increasingly, new recruits come from a small demographic group. Is it healthy for our democracy? Is it fair?
In “Who Signs Up to Fight? Makeup of U.S. Recruits Shows Glaring Disparity,” Dave Philipps and Tim Arango write:
The sergeant in charge of one of the busiest Army recruiting centers in Colorado, Sgt. First Class Dustin Comes, joined the Army, in part, because his father served. Now two of his four children say they want to serve, too. And he will not be surprised if the other two make the same decision once they are a little older.
“Hey, if that’s what your calling is, I encourage it, absolutely,” said Sergeant Comes, who wore a dagger-shaped patch on his camouflage uniform, signifying that he had been in combat.
Enlisting, he said, enabled him to build a good life where, despite yearlong deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he felt proud of his work, got generous benefits, never worried about being laid off, and earned enough that his wife could stay home to raise their children.
“Show me a better deal for the common person,” he said.
Soldiers like him are increasingly making the United States military a family business. The men and women who sign up overwhelmingly come from counties in the South and a scattering of communities at the gates of military bases like Colorado Springs, which sits next to Fort Carson and several Air Force installations, and where the tradition of military service is deeply ingrained.
For years, military leaders have been sounding the alarm over the growing gulf between communities that serve and those that do not, warning that relying on a small number of counties that reliably produce soldiers is unsustainable, particularly now amid escalating tensions with Iran.
“A widening military-civilian divide increasingly impacts our ability to effectively recruit and sustain the force,” Anthony M. Kurta, acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service last year. “This disconnect is characterized by misperceptions, a lack of knowledge and an inability to identify with those who serve. It threatens our ability to recruit the number of quality youth with the needed skill sets to maintain our advantage.”
The article continues:
With the goal of recruiting about 68,000 soldiers in 2020, the Army is now trying to broaden its appeal beyond traditional recruitment pools. New marketing plays up future careers in medicine and tech, as well as generous tuition benefits for a generation crushed by student debt. The messaging often notes that most Army jobs are not in combat fields.
But for now, rates of military service remain far from equal in the United States, and the gap may continue to widen because a driving decision to enlist is whether a young person knows anyone who served in the military. In communities where veterans are plentiful, teachers, coaches, mothers, uncles and other mentors often steer youths toward military service. In communities where veterans are scarce, influential adults are more wary.
That has created a broad gap, easily seen on a map. The South, where the culture of military service runs deep and military installations are plentiful, produces 20 percent more recruits than would be expected, based on its youth population. The states in the Northeast, which have very few military bases and a lower percentage of veterans, produce 20 percent fewer.
The main predictors are not based on class or race. Army data show service spread mostly evenly through middle-class and “downscale” groups. Youth unemployment turns out not to be the prime factor. And the racial makeup of the force is more or less in line with that of young Americans as a whole, though African-Americans are slightly more likely to serve. Instead, the best predictor is a person’s familiarity with the military.
“Those who understand military life are more likely to consider it as a career option than those who do not,” said Kelli Bland, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Recruiting Command.
That distinction has created glaring disparities across the country. In 2019, Fayetteville, N.C., which is home to Fort Bragg, provided more than twice as many military enlistment contracts as Manhattan, even though Manhattan has eight times as many people. Many of the new contracts in Fayetteville were soldiers signing up for second and third enlistments.
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
Would you consider serving in the U.S. armed forces? Why or why not? Does reading the article affect your view?
How would you describe your views and attitudes toward the military? Do you see military service as an important patriotic duty? Or are you skeptical or critical of the military? What experiences have shaped your views?
What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks of enlisting? Are you drawn to the qualities of Army life that Sergeant Comes describes, such as the “camaraderie, stability and generous health, education and retirement benefits”? Or, are you fearful of long deployments in dangerous places like Iraq and Afghanistan?
What is your reaction to the disparities in Army recruitment across the country? Do you think it is wrong that Fort Bragg provided more than twice as many military enlistment contracts as Manhattan, even though Manhattan has eight times as many people?
Does your community or school encourage and support military service? For example, does your school have Army recruiters or an R.O.T.C. program. Does it encourage students to take the military’s aptitude exam? Would you like to see more or less of a military presence at your school?
In the opinion piece “John Kelly Suggests More Americans Should Have the Honor of Serving. He’s Right.,” Clyde Haberman writes:
Requiring everyone to serve in some fashion, other than those too physically or psychically impaired, would be a profoundly democratizing action. In time, it might even encourage more civilized political discourse in this atomized land, by putting young people in proximity to those with roots in different ways of life and thinking. It’s harder to sneer at the “other” after you’ve both shared a life-transforming experience.
Do you think all Americans should serve in the military, or do you believe that it should continue as an all-volunteer force? Why or why not?