(MintPress) – Be all that you can be. That’s the slogan of the U.S. Army, and when its uttered, the picture that likely springs to mind is one of a young, white male in fatigues. G.I. Joe — “the real American hero”. But that popular cliche perhaps does not ring true to the reality — […]
(MintPress) – Be all that you can be. That’s the slogan of the U.S. Army, and when its uttered, the picture that likely springs to mind is one of a young, white male in fatigues. G.I. Joe — “the real American hero”.
But that popular cliche perhaps does not ring true to the reality — past or present — of who has and is joining and serving in the U.S. military.
Back in November, an Army widow in Tennessee, 23-year-old Ashley Edens, made headlines after she decided to honor her husband’s memory by joining the military.
Edens joined the Army to honor Spc. Jason Edens of Franklin, Tenn. who died in April after suffering a gunshot wound to the head in Afghanistan.
She told WJHL-TV that she was “lost” after her husband was killed but in the months afterward she began to find a new focus, and she joined the military.
While Eden’s case may have made headlines because it sounds so unusual, Edens is part of a growing trend of women entering the armed services. Moreover, other recent research into the question of who is joining the military revealed that women and lower-income minorities are joining the ranks, and the government is actively recruiting individuals from these demographics.
A history of diversity in the armed forces
A 2008 study from Syracuse University examines the extent to which the poor and minorities are disproportionately selected into the military. While Amy Lutz, the author of the study, writes that relatively little research has examined this question empirically, although the Department of Defense keeps annual records on the race and gender of military personnel.
Lutz relays that a study done in 1980 found that from 1940 to 1973 blacks were less likely to join the military than whites, while in more recent years, a 2006 study concluded that blacks are overrepresented in the military. The same 2006 study found that people who serve in the military come from more well-off neighborhoods than those who have not joined the military — although the economic elite are underrepresented in armed service.
Lutz’s study also looks at the history of participation of the three largest racial and ethnic groups in the military — whites, blacks and Latinos — and examined ethnicity, immigrant generation and socioeconomic status in relation to military service. It concluded that significant disparities exist only by socioeconomic status, finding “the all-volunteer force continues to see overrepresentation of the working and middle classes, with fewer incentives for upper class participation.”
Immigrants to America have a long history of joining the military, as Lutz says German, Irish and Italian immigrants as well as Latinos have a lengthy history of participation in the United States military from the Revolutionary War to World War II. The same is true for African-Americans, who have fought in every American war, including the Revolutionary War, in which George Washington initially banned black participation against the British. Washington changed his mind when the British offered to free slaves who fought on their side.
However, despite their many contributions, it wasn’t until much later in American history that the discrimination facing African-Americans in the military was addressed. African-Americans did face discrimination, as Lutz explains, “In the early years of the United States, policies toward African-Americans in the military were somewhat ambivalent. Often, the policies stated that participation in the military was for whites only, but in practice blacks were allowed to join whenever the military needed manpower.”
In 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which outlawed racial discrimination in the military. The order stated, “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the Armed Forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.”
Truman’s executive order also established a committee appointed by the president to examine racial inequality in the military as well as to create and alter military policies related to civil rights. While previous policies had sought to put an end to racial discrimination in the military, they did not define segregation as a form of discrimination, thus allowing it to continue.
Women and the military today
In 2011, a study by the Pew Research Center found that black women are enlisting in the military at far higher rates than are white or Hispanic women, and they now represent nearly a third of all the women in the armed forces. And women are joining the military in record numbers at the same time that the military is seeing less people enlist overall.
From 1973 to 2010 the number of active duty enlisted women in the military grew from about 42,000 to 167,000. Over that same period, the enlisted force as a whole saw a decrease of about 738,000 service members.
The study, which utilized demographic data collected by the Defense Department, found that of the 167,000 enlisted women in the military, 31 percent are black, which is twice their percentage in the civilian female population. Black men represent about 16 percent of the male enlisted population, which is proportionally equal in the civilian population.
In contrast, white women represent 53 percent of women in the military, while accounting for 78 percent of the civilian female population.
A New York Times article, which reported on the study, stated that “black women are a crucial source of new recruits for the armed forces, especially for the Army and the Air Force.” However, the question of why black women enlist at higher rates than white women or black men remains unanswered and has not been studied, Beth J. Asch, a senior economist and defense manpower specialist at the Rand Corporation, told the newspaper.
The study also found that women were far more likely than men to serve in the Air Force, but far less likely to join the Marine Corps. “That probably reflects the central role of the infantry in the Marines, since women are barred from ground combat units,” the article speculates.
Asch alluded to the fact that “the military tries to attract high school graduates who are looking for job training, good benefits and help with college tuition — and that a high percentage of black women fit that bill, as a possible explanation of the discovery.
“That is the group the military targets,” Asch said.
Women in the military are less likely than military men to be married, as only 46 percent of women in the military are married as opposed to 58 percent of men. Almost half of the married women in the military have spouses who are also in the military, but only 7 percent of married military men have wives in the forces.
Military looks to recruit less educated
The military also seems to be drawing recruits who have less education, as a recent report documented the percentage of new recruits entering the Army with a high school diploma dropped to a new low.
The study, which was conducted by the National Priorities Project (NPP), found slightly more than 70 percent of new recruits joining the active duty Army had a high school diploma, nearly 20 percentage points lower than the Army’s goal of at least 90 percent.
Army officials confirmed lowering their standards to meet high recruiting goals in the middle of ongoing conflicts that the U.S. was involved in around the world.
Massachusetts-based research NPP concluded that the number of high school graduates among new recruits fell to 70.7 percent in 2008.
“The trend is clear,” Anita Dancs, the project’s research director who based the report on Defense Department data released via the Freedom of Information Act, told the Washington Post. “They’re missing their benchmarks, and I think it’s strongly linked to the impact [of] the Iraq War.”
The study also found that the number of recruits with both a high school diploma and a score in the upper half on the military’s qualification test fell by 15 percent from 2004 to 2007. An analysis of recruiting data revealed that low- and middle-income families are supplying far more Army recruits than families with incomes of more than $60,000 a year.
“Once again, we’re staring at the painful story of young people with fewer options bearing the greatest burden,” Greg Speeter, the project’s executive director, told the newspaper.