“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
Exactly 70 years ago, on this day, General Eisenhower delivered this speech and gave the order that would result in the liberation of Europe.
The events of that day could not have been made possible without the combination of brilliant strategists, innovative scientists and engineers, and, of course, the sacrifice and heroics of the men who landed on those beaches. Every single person involved understood the importance of their work and ultimately it was this dedication and tenacity (along with a little nuclear fission) that won the Allies the war.
Now, 70 years later, the United States military is still widely regarded as the most powerful fighting force on the face of the Earth. That is almost all due to the men and women everywhere from the frontlines, to places like the Office of Naval Research doing their jobs the best they can.
But who are the people in today’s military? Unfortunately, conventional wisdom portrays service members as men and women from lower socio-economic classes, who couldn’t find other career opportunities outside the military. But research conducted on the demographics of the US Military seem to suggest just the opposite. A Report titled Who Serves in the U.S. Military? The Demographics of Enlisted Troops and Officers and published by the Heritage Foundation provides compelling data to dispel conventional wisdom.
At first glance, the fact the Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank might cause some people to dismiss their findings, however the numbers behind their report seem to be clean of political bias.
One of the first claims made in the report is that service members are “significantly more likely to come from high-income neighborhoods than from low-income neighborhoods”. In fact the data showed that 25% of enlisted recruits came from the wealthiest one-fifth of neighborhoods while only 11% came from the poorest fifth. This trend is further illustrated in this graph pulled from the report.
Granted, the data is analyzed based on median household income around where the recruit lived and not the individual family income of the recruit, but this trend is still significant enough to run counter to conventional perceptions. Furthermore, by looking at the graphs above we can see that 50% of enlisted recruits come from families living in neighborhoods within the top 40% of household incomes. Also keep in mind this statistic doesn’t include officers. With respect to Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) the report states that “40 percent of enrollees come from the wealthiest neighborhoods”.
The bottom line: it would appear that higher income families are overrepresented in the military while lower income families are underrepresented.
What about the claim that service men and women could have easily found higher paying jobs in the private sector? This claim is slightly more specious. For example, this claim seems to be founded on the high educational background of the military, such as the fact 95% of officers possess at least a bachelor’s degree. Furthermore they cite that the wealthy educational background of service members infers they could have had better job prospects. Ultimately, this claim cannot be easily proven, but the numbers don’t agree with the perception of a military packed with people with dull job prospects.
How does this relate to you?
The military will always need smart, innovative and driven people to lead and help them build their cool new toys. As our military becomes more high-tech, and as cyber warfare looms on the horizon, the skill set required for the military is changing and as a result is attracting people who might not have considered a military career in the past. Serving the military is obviously not for everyone, but while you take a moment today to remember the sacrifice of the men at D-Day, give a thought to whether you are willing to contribute your skills to tomorrow’s armed forces.