Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Who Are the Recruits?

According to Massachusetts Senator John Forbes Kerry (perhaps you've heard, he served in Vietnam), the men and women currently serving in our military are apparently n'er-do-wells who couldn't make the grade in school, or had no other option for funding their college education. After those remarks triggered a firestorm of outrage, Kerry has gone into a modified spin mode, refusing to apologize, while claiming that his comments were actually a failed "joke" aimed at President Bush.

Unfortunately for Mr. Kerry, that spin won't work, given (a) the context in which Kerry made the remarks, an education event for California gubenatorial candidate Phil Angelides, and (b) the Senator's long-history of slurs against the troops, beginning with his infamous "Winter Solider" book and testimony before Congress in the early 1970s. During his appearance on Capitol Hill, Kerry accused American troops of "war crimes" in Vietnam, citing a long litany of alleged atrocities that he could never substantiate. And Mr. Kerry still wonders why his fellow Swift Boat veterans savaged him in the 2004 campaign!

Kerry's most recent comments are not only insulting--they are dead wrong. In November 2005, the Heritage Foundation published a detailed study on the quality of U.S. military recruits, examining educational, demographic and socio-economic trends among those who joined the military between 2003 and 2005. According to the study director, Dr. Tim Kane, the War on Terror and combat casualties have not diluted the quality of young people who enlist in the armed forces. Key findings from Kane's study are listed below; comments in italics are mine.

--The high school graduation rate among recruits is higher than it is among the national youth population. Almost 97% of military members have a high school diploma or GED, compared with only 79% of the general population. (I'd like to see a similar comparison between military members and Democratic voters--bet the gap is even wider)

--Members of the officer corps are more highly educated than their civilian counterparts. In 2004, 92.1 percent of active-duty officer accessions held baccalaureate degrees or higher. From 2000 to 2005, between 10 percent and 17 percent of active-duty officer accessions held advanced degrees, and between 35 percent and 45 percent of the active-duty officer corps held advanced degrees. This indicates that officers continued their educa­tion during the course of their mili­tary service. (I can personally attest to this, having finished both a bachelor's and master's degree while on active duty, along with completing required professional military education)

--The enlisted ranks are not disproportionately composed of minorities. Whites serve in numbers roughly proportional to their representation in the population. While blacks continue to be overrepre­sented, their representation has decreased during the wartime years and is much closer to being pro­portional in 2005 than it was in 2003 (paging Charlie Rangel; according to Dr. Kane's research, only seven members from Rangel's Harlem district enlisted in the armed forces during one year of the study. Apparently, young men and women in his neighborhood don't need the military to secure employment or educational opportunities. Must be those darn Bush tax cuts that Rangel so vehemently opposes).

--Wartime recruits come more from rural areas, particularly from the South. However, many states outside of the South, such as Alaska and Montana, continue to have strong proportional representa­tion. Areas classified as entirely urban are strongly underrepresented compared to areas with increased rural concentrations (In other words, Red State Republicans are putting their lives on the line to defend Blue State Dims. Typical.)

--The estimate for mean household income of recruits increased every year from 2003 through 2005. The poorest areas continue to be underrep­resented, while middle-class areas are overrepre­sented. Although the richest income brackets are underrepresented, the difference between the recruit and population proportions for these brack­ets is less than 0.25 percent. Overall, the distribu­tion for recruit household incomes is very similar to that of the youth population (So much for the "wars are fought by the poor and minorities" stereotype).

--Overall, the wartime recruits are more similar than dissimilar to their civilian counterparts. The all-volunteer force displays near proportional rep­resentation of income backgrounds (in other words, the military looks like America, unless you're married to a woman with close to $700 million, own swanky residences in multiple states, and tool around the world in a private jet).

It's worth noting that the Heritage Foundation Study has been out for almost a year. As the debate over Kerry's comments continues, it will be interestng to see how much of Dr. Kane's data makes its way into the discourse. I'm guessing that Dr. Kane's phone isn't exactly ringing off the hook with invitations to appear on "The Situation Room," "Hardball," or "Countdown."

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