Military Regionally Divided But More Racially Diverse

Pentagon’s Recruiting Goals (Richmond Times-Dispatch – Media General)

While the South is home to dozens of military bases and two of every five recruits, parts of New England and the Midwest are virtual military-free zones. A new study indicates that the geographic disparity might prove troubling as military recruiters try to fill the ranks. “There are states in the union that you won’t likely see any uniforms on the street,” said David Segal, a University of Maryland military sociologist who co-authored the study. It was published Wednesday in Population Bulletin, the quarterly journal of the Washington-based independent Population Reference Bureau. Among those states are Vermont, where only 60 active-duty military personnel are based; Wisconsin, with about 530 service members; and West Virginia, with fewer than 600 troops. Most of these personnel are recruiters or full-time service members assigned to Reserve and National Guard armories. In contrast, Virginia, North Carolina and Texas each have more than 90,000 military personnel.

Segal said that as the Pentagon tries to meet the personnel needs for Iraq and Afghanistan, recruiters probably will need to widen their search to regions that have little or no connection with the military. “They will have to open up new markets where there aren’t as many young people and where there isn’t a familiarity with the military,” he said. “My guess is [those factors] will suppress recruitments.” The military is accustomed to recruiting in areas where it has bases or a high level of interest, such as the South, Segal said. But recruiters are having difficulty meeting the Pentagon’s personnel goals. During the past year, the National Guard failed to meet its recruiting goals, and Pentagon officials are concerned that the regular military will miss its goals this year.

The researchers noted that the South’s 16 states and the District of Columbia remain the military’s bulwark, where about 60 percent of the 1 million personnel based stateside are located. Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia each have more than 5 percent of the military serving on bases in those states, the study said. The South is fertile ground for recruiters, too. Although the region has 36 percent of the nation’s young people, residents of those states make up 42 percent of new recruits and officers. The Northeast, which has 18 percent of the young adults, contributed 14 percent of the military’s recruits in 2002, the last year studied.

David Segal is the former longtime head of the Interuniversity Seminar on Armed Forces and Society and a prolific and highly respected researcher in this field, so the study is certainly one to be regarded seriously. It’s no surprise that the South is disproportionately represented in the military, for both cultural and economic reasons. Indeed, I’m surprised that the ratios are this close. The state-by-state numbers, though, are quite startling: Only 60 in Vermont? More shocking is that impoverished West Virginia, which I’ve always considered part of “the South” despite its Civil War heritage, has only 600 service members.

The report offered a few surprises. It found that after more than 30 years as an all-volunteer force, the military is more diverse racially and in gender. “The surprise, to me, is that the military became more diverse after the draft ended,” said Mary Kent, editor of Population Bulletin. Blacks have joined the military in the greatest numbers among minorities, said Segal, who wrote the article with his wife, Mady. While blacks constitute 13 percent of civilians ages 18 to 44, they make up 20 percent of male enlisted personnel and a third of females in the armed forces. “African-Americans are drawn to [the military] as a more colorblind employer than they are likely to find in the civilian labor market,” the Segals wrote. Black women might have made the most numerical progress, the article noted. A higher proportion of black females are serving in the military than black men. But the military’s proportion of women overall and Hispanics still lags their shares of the population. Also, minority officers constitute a smaller proportion than their numbers in the civilian population, the study found. And the top ranks of the military — generals and admirals — remain a largely white fraternity of brothers, not sisters, in arms.

Why Kent would be surprised that the military of 2003 is more diverse than that of 1973 is a mystery. For one thing, the end of the draft was soon followed by the end of separate women’s corps (WACs, WAVEs, WAFs) and the gradual opening of career paths to women. With respect to blacks and Hispanics, the military has long been viewed as a place where those with initiative can advance themselves socially and economically.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. There isn’t enough flat ground in West Virginia for a decent-sized military base. Plus, Sen. Byrd (D-Klan) has preferred his pork in the form of highway projects, which is actually a rational decision — blasting four-lane limited-access highways through mountains is an expensive proposition, so much better for WV that the federal government pays 90% of the cost.

  2. DC Loser says:

    Well shoot, maybe I’ll just vote for a democrat if that’s all it takes to get some decent roads here in VA.

  3. LJD says:

    Military bases in Vermont? With that there will be so many other worthwhile causes neglected by the protestors. They’ll all be standing out in front of the gates with their anti-war signs.

    …and what about the daily grind? 6:30 PT in 10 below zero temperatures. I can see it now…
    (After doing push-ups)
    Plat. SGT: “Get up soldier!”
    PVT: “I can’t SGT, my hands are stuck to the ground!”

  4. DC Loser says:

    10 below? Hell, that’s a warm day at Minot. Their idea of PT was to send a butter bar out with an airman to dig out missile sites buried in the snow.

  5. joy says:

    Uh, there are no active duty bases in Vermont, there’s only the Army and Air National Guard. In northern VT, the closest active duty base for a long time was the Air Force Base in Plattsburgh, NY before that closed.

    Surprisingly enough there is a strong military heritage in VT. From Ethan Allen (read up on your history, guys) to Norwich University to even today where the Army National Guard is headed by a female General and where the Lt. Gov. is a member.

    Oh, and those Vt. Air National Guard guys were the first to patrol over NYC on 9/11…just so you know.

  6. Joy,
    The active duty/regular Army numbers cited for Vermont are the recruiters, ROTC instructors and active component advisors to Army National Guard units (if any of their units are so authorized).

    And I believe the VT Adjutant General is only a federally recognized Lieutenant Colonel, i.e., she may only wear General Officer insignia while in the state of Vermont and only carries her seniority against members of the VT NG while in VT, i.e., a Regular Army Colonel would not have to salute her.

  7. LJD says:

    Yes, Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Contingency, or whatever. The folks in Brattleboro don’t like to call ’em “the boys”. It’s not politically correct.