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U.S. Military Recruiting Demographics

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Updated November 27, 2005
By Jim Garamone

The U.S. military is not a "poor man's force."

That's the conclusion Defense Department officials reached following examination of enlisted recruiting statistics gathered over the past year.

"There is an issue of how representative of America is the force," said Curt Gilroy, the director of DoD's accessions policy in the Pentagon.

DoD tracks "representativeness" - as Gilroy calls it - very closely. And representativeness can take a whole host of forms - race, education, social status, income, region and so on. "When you look at all of those, you find that the force is really quite representative of the country," he said in a recent interview. "It mirrors the country in many of these. And where it doesn't mirror America, it exceeds America."

The data shows the force is more educated than the population at large. Servicemembers have high school diplomas or the general equivalency diploma. More servicemembers have some college than the typical 18- to 24-year-olds. "To carry representativeness to the extreme, we would have to have a less-educated force or we would want a lower-aptitude force," Gilroy said.

The study is part of DoD's focus to bring the best recruits into the military. The services - who are responsible for manning, equipping and training the force - take this data and apply it to recruiting efforts.

The force is a volunteer force; no one is coerced into serving. The military is one option young people have after high school. Military service offers money for college - money a large segment of the population doesn't have. For those people, the military is an attractive option.

Many young people who don't yet know what they want to do see the military as a place to serve and decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives, rather than take a low-paying job or do nothing.

Critics say the U.S. military has too many African-Americans as compared to the population and not enough Hispanics or Asian-Americans. "We don't recruit for race," Gilroy said. "We have standards, and if people meet those standards, then should we say they are not allowed in because of race? That would be wrong."

The statistics show the number of African-American servicemembers is dropping. That concerns Gilroy and his office. The military is a leader in equal opportunity in the United States, he said, adding that few, if any, Fortune 500 companies can match the equal employment opportunity record of the military. The office is studying why young black men and women are not signing up.

The office also is studying the Hispanic population in America. Census records say Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States. Young Hispanic men and women have a strong tendency to serve in the military, though so far, only the Marine Corps has been "able to break the code" to get significant numbers of recruits, Gilroy said.

On the socioeconomic side, the military is strongly middle class, Gilroy said. More recruits are drawn from the middle class and fewer are coming from poorer and wealthier families. Recruits from poorer families are actually underrepresented in the military, Gilroy said.

Other trends are that the number of recruits from wealthier families is increasing, and the number of recruits from suburban areas has increased. This also tracks that young men and women from the middle class are serving in the military.

Young men and women from urban areas are not volunteering, Gilroy said. In fact, urban areas provide far fewer recruits as a percentage of the total population than small towns and rural areas.

DoD and the services will use these statistics and more to craft their recruiting policies, Gilroy said.

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