Who Are the Recruits? The Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Enlistment, 2003–2005
The Heritage Foundation
Center for Data Analysis Report #06-09
October 27, 2006
A pillar of conventional wisdom about the U.S. military is that the quality of volunteers has been degraded after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Examples of the voices making this claim range from the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Daily News  to Michael Moore’s pseudo-documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. Some insist that minorities and the underprivileged are overrepresented in the military. Others accuse the U.S. Army of accepting unqualified enlistees in a futile attempt to meet its recruiting goals in the midst of an unpopular war.
A report published by The Heritage Foundation in November 2005 examined the issue and could not substantiate any degradation in troop quality by comparing military enlistees in 1999 to those in 2003. It is possible that troop quality did not degrade until after the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, when patriotism was high. A common assumption is that the Army experienced difficulty getting qualified enlistees in 2005 and was subsequently forced to lower its standards. This report revisits the issue by examining the full recruiting classes for all branches of the U.S. military for every year from 2003 to 2005.
The current findings show that the demographic characteristics of volunteers have continued to show signs of higher, not lower, quality. Quality is a difficult concept to apply to soldiers, or to human beings in any context, and it should be understood here in context. Regardless of the standards used to screen applicants, the average quality of the people accepted into any organization can be assessed only by using measurable criteria, which surely fail to account for intangible characteristics. In the military, it is especially questionable to claim that measurable characteristics accurately reflect what really matters: courage, honor, integrity, loyalty, and leadership.
Those who have been so quick to suggest that today’s wartime recruits represent lesser quality, lower standards, or lower class should be expected make an airtight case. Instead, they have cited selective evidence, which is balanced by a much clearer set of evidence showing improving troop quality.
Indeed, in many criteria, each year shows advancement, not decline, in measurable qualities of new enlistees. For example, it is commonly claimed that the military relies on recruits from poorer neighborhoods because the wealthy will not risk death in war. This claim has been advanced without any rigorous evidence. Our review of Pentagon enlistee data shows that the only group that is lowering its participation in the military is the poor. The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004, and 13.7 percent in 2005.
This report updates the previous Heritage Foundation report, with data on all U.S. recruits during 2004 and 2005. We introduce the term “wartime recruits” to identify volunteer enlistees in all branches during 2003, 2004, and 2005. Like the previous report, the analysis considers the following characteristics:
--Level of education,
Read it all: