Leadership: January 10, 2004

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While the U.S. Army has been all-volunteer since the 1970s, it is not a true cross section of society. The army is selective about who it takes. Any physical or mental disability, or a criminal record, will keep you out. But the volunteers are selective as well. Not everyone wants to be a soldier, so only those who want in on the army life even try to get in. As a result, the average army trooper is, compared to the general population, younger, more male, healthier and more physically fit, better educated, more law abiding and more conservative. A recent poll found that half the people in the army considered themselves Republicans, compared to 13 percent Democrats. Outside the army, some 37 percent of the population is Democrat and 30 percent are Republican (the rest are Independent or not sure) As has been the case for centuries, those in the military consider themselves more disciplined and motivated than the general population. This attitude keeps many people in uniform. It's a telling phrase when members of the army say they are "in the service." Being in the military is considered a public service, and a dangerous one at that. In many nations, these attitudes lead to the military taking over the government, usually when the politicians are seen as corrupt and ineffective. There has never been a threat of this in the United States, nor in most Western democracies. Again, this is because of the selectivity among the volunteers. Those who want a political career, don't stay in the service (if they are in at all). The military attracts those who like structured environments, and a little (or, these days, a lot of) adventure. Interestingly, the idea that the military is a refuge for the poor and minorities persists. This has long been a myth. The poor are underrepresented in the military, because the kids more frequently don't meet the educational requirements, or have had a run in with the law. The minorities that are in the army tend to be middle or working class. Army recruiters do work the high schools in poor urban neighborhoods, but only to sign up those who are graduating. These are kids who have overcome many obstacles and, while they may not have the same SATs as their suburban counterparts, they have demonstrated the kind of grit that makes a superior soldier. Most minority recruits, however, go in for one enlistment to learn new skills and qualify for the college tuition benefits after they leave the service. But myths die hard, and many still believe the army is full of poorly educated losers who couldn't find a job. Wrong on all counts.

 


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