SERVING OUR VETERANS: The changing profile of the Military
The overall size of our U.S. military has been on a downward trajectory for several decades. Some of the declines in military participation that followed the Cold War and Gulf War were halted with the 9/11 terrorist attack. Later, conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan increased the size of the military.
I found the following statistics regarding the changing demographics of our military in the “Fact Tank” website. In 2017, there were roughly 1.34 million men and women serving on active duty. This is about 0.4 percent of our total population. This number is down from the most recent high of 1.46 million in 2010 and down substantially from more than 2 million active-duty service members in 1990. The Army remains the largest branch of the U.S. military. In 2015, 36 percent of all active-duty military personnel were serving in the Army. The Navy and Air Force were comparable in size, each accounting for roughly a quarter of active-duty personnel. The Marine Corps made up 14 percent of the active-duty military, while the Coast Guard made up 3 percent.
In 2017, women represented 16 percent of the overall active-duty force, up from 9 percent in 1980 and just 1 percent in 1970. The percentage of officers who are women has steadily grown since the 1970s. In 1975, 5 percent of commissioned officers were women, and, by 2017, that share had risen to 18 percent.
A look at the racial and ethnic profile of the active-duty service members shows that while the majority of the military is non-Hispanic white, black and Hispanic adults represent sizable and growing shares of the armed forces. In 2017, 57 percent of U.S. service members were white, 16 percent were black and 16 percent were Hispanic. Some 4% of all active-duty personnel were Asian and an additional 6% identified as “other” or unknown. The share of racial and ethnic minorities in the military has grown steadily in recent decades. Hispanics, in particular, are the fastest growing minority population in the military. This shift aligns with larger demographic trends in the United States. In 2004, 36 percent of active-duty military were black, Hispanic, Asian or some other racial or ethnic group. Black service members made up about half of all racial and ethnic minorities at that time. By 2017, the share of active- duty military who were non-Hispanic white had fallen, while racial and ethnic minorities made up 43 percent. Within that group, blacks dropped from 51 percent in 2004 to 39 percent in 2017, just as the share of Hispanics rose from 25 percent to 36 percent.
The active-duty military has grown older in the past 40 years. Roughly two-thirds of all DOD active-duty military personnel were ages 30 or younger in 2015. Only about one-in-10 (9 percent) were older than 40. Even so, since the military draft ended in 1973, the average age of officers and enlisted personnel has increased. The average military officer was roughly 34.5 years old in 2015, up from 32.1 in 1973. And the average enlisted member was just over 27 in 2015, compared with age 25 in 1973.
Today’s military is comprised of service members who served during a wide range of eras. But the share of pre-9/11 eras will dwindle in future decades. In 2015, the largest share of veterans served during the Vietnam era (33 percent). Projections from the Department of Veterans Affairs show the waning influence of veterans from World War II, Korean War and Vietnam eras. By 2045, the largest share of living veterans will have first served in the post 9/11 Gulf War era (35 percent).
As indicated in the above statistics, the strength of our Armed Forces has declined over the past decade. This is not unusual as the strength of our military throughout the history of our country has been up and down, depending if we have been at war or peace. I would speculate that a good majority of our citizens feel we should maintain a strong military. Yet, the question always arises, should we support a policy of isolation or a policy of military support around the world? A policy of isolationism has not always been successful, most notably during World War I and World War II. But, since then, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf Wars and the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made our involvement more “political” in nature. The other issue in regard to our involvement in wars over the past 45 years is their longevity with minimal successful resolution. The number of casualties and deaths connected to these long periods of war is disheartening. Yet, we should remember those who have served, and those who are continuing to serve, are only doing their duty and doing what has been asked of them. Whatever our thoughts and political views are toward our country’s involvement in these conflicts, we should always be supportive and appreciative of those in our military who answered, and continue to answer, their country’s call to defend and preserve our freedom and liberties.
Let not our political views on what our global support should be, or if we do or do not support a particular conflict, ever overshadow the support we give our military servicemen and women.
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