Where are the War on Terror Vets?

With Veteran’s Day coming up, that is a relevant question.  Since WWII, the number of veterans has dropped. This is not due to just age and time, but also due to the length and intensity of conflicts, and the end of the draft.  The number of service members for WWII (including battle deaths) was over 16 million.  For Korea, 5.7 million, Vietnam 8.7 million and Desert Shield/Desert Storm 2.3 million.  1(VA.GOV)  The number for the War on Terror is about 2.5 million over 15 years of warfare.  2

2.5 million…

WWII encompassed a global war in two major theaters of operation.  Korea was a NATO backed operation that lasted three years and was isolated to the Korean Peninsula.  United States involvement in Vietnam stretched from 1954 to 1975 and openly covered operations in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia.  The GWOT has been fought since 2001 with US forces still actively engaged, yet the number of veterans lies at 2.5 million.  That is less than 1% of the American population.

Why is there such a discrepancy?  One would think there would be a much larger percentage when considering the 15 years of warfare.

Courtesy Google Search: Archives.gov

Simply put, the military is in the midst of downsizing and therefore recruiting numbers are down all over.  Part of that is due to more restrictive requirements.  Only 70% of military applicants have a chance of actually enlisting. 3  Only 13% of those applicants are eligible without some sort of waiver.  A waiver can be had drugs, underage alcohol, assaults, medical problems, etc.

Business Insider did a study and determined of those 17-24 year olds who are eligible to join, only 1% have an interest. 4  That should not come as a surprise.  Many have concluded those of enlistment age, the millennials, are a product of the “me” generation.  I do not intend to bash the millennials, because there are some excellent people within that group.  I know because I have taught many of them, and some have even volunteered to serve their nation.  However, the current generation seems to be preoccupied with pop culture, and not the state of the world, nor do they have an unquenchable desire for action and adventure.  That is fine.  The problem is when millennials start wanting free this and free that, yet have done nothing to earn the “free stuff.”

Many millennials are strongly in favor of boots on the ground and ending the threat of ISIS in the Middle East.  But they do not join and do not volunteer.  Instead, they have seemingly patted themselves on the back for pushing for women in combat roles and gays to openly serve (of which I have no problem).  They do not join, yet push for others to serve in their place.

The Harvard Institute of Politics did a study that showed 69% of 18-29 year olds favor using force against ISIS, yet only 8% claim they are willing to serve themselves. 5  This alone explains why there are so few veterans.  Of those eligible to have served since the inception of the War on Terror, only .5% can claim that title.

A little less scientific data could be my own Facebook account.  Of the people I am “friends” with, I know of only 20 who are veterans from any time period.  Of that 20, 12 (including myself) have served during our present conflicts.  That makes 4% of all my friends are veterans, and 2.5% are War on Terror vets.  While that is above the numbers I have indicated across the board, it is still a striking number for a nation of more than 320 million people.

The question still exists, where are all the vets?  Or, why are there not more?

The military is downsizing.  With that comes stricter recruiting standards. Therefore, there are less qualified people to serve in the military.  But that is the status for today.  Why are there so few GWOT vets before the downsizing?

Today, the military is all volunteer. Consequently, less people have been forced to serve.  In the last 15 years, the US has been involved in two major conflicts and numerous other missions around the world.  In order to fulfill these missions, military personnel are required to serve multiple deployments, often in combat environments.  On top of that, there can be poor leadership, long hours, and the general uncertainty of the military.  Who would want to do that and have to give up a carefree life of sitting on the couch, predictable work hours, and quitting work when things get a little rough?  Why would one choose to serve when life can be predictable and comfortable?

Another issue can simply be the lack of patriotism.  No longer is patriotism and pride in the nation pushed in schools or towards the public.  In schools, students are not required to say the pledge and the national anthem is no longer sung at the beginning of the school day.  Nobody wants to offend another person and therefore patriotism takes a back seat.  In public, people stand talking and visiting with their hand in their pockets and hats on their heads during the national anthem at a sporting event.  Pro athletes choose to sit in protest and make a spectacle of themselves instead of respecting their nation and the people who allow them to make millions playing a game. (Yes, I support this idea of free speech and will defend a person’s right to look stupid.  However, I do not approve).

Courtesy Google Search: Business Insider

Rant aside, the military is shrinking and will presumably continue to do so until the next war and more bodies are needed.  The military has been meeting its recruiting goals in the years since the drawdown in Iraq.  However, during the war years, different branches of the military were forced to deal with certain difficulties in recruiting. 6  Whether this is a product of a desire to serve with a reduced risk of combat, or actual patriotism, is impossible to tell.  But by looking at the summaries and recruiting numbers in the cited document, can lead one to the conclusion recruiting is picking up due to a lower operational tempo, and less personal risk to one’s life.  That said, it is commendable that some millennials are stepping up and carrying the flag for a new generation.  Eventually, they too will carry the title of veteran.

So, where are all the War on Terror veterans?

They are still there.  Some are vocal about their service.  Many are quiet about their time.  Almost all are proud.  Everyone is a volunteer.  The modern veterans are still there, you just have to look for them.

Courtesy: Google Search vets4victory.com



1 “America’s Wars Fact Sheet May 2016.” Accessed November 6, 2016. https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf.

2 By Chris Adams – McClatchy Newspapers. “Millions Went to War in Iraq, Afghanistan, Leaving Many with Lifelong Scars.” Mcclatchydc. Accessed November 06, 2016. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article24746680.html.

3 Beauchamp, Scott. “A More Inclusive Military Won’t Matter If Young People Won’t Include Themselves | Scott Beauchamp.” The Guardian. 2015. Accessed November 06, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/28/a-more-inclusive-military-wont-matter-if-young-people-wont-include-themselves.

4 Ibid.

5 “The Institute of Politics at Harvard University.” Harvard IOP Fall 2015 Poll. Accessed November 06, 2016. http://iop.harvard.edu/survey/details/harvard-iop-fall-2015-poll.

6 “Recruiting and Retention: An Overview of FY2011 and FY2012 …” Accessed November 6, 2016. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL32965.pdf.

For Further Reading:

“The Military Could Soon Face Increased Recruiting Challenges.” Task Purpose. 2016. Accessed November 06, 2016. http://taskandpurpose.com/the-military-could-soon-face-increased-recruiting-challenges/.

“The US Military’s Real Problem: Fewer Americans Are Joining.” POLITICO The US Militarys Real Problem Fewer Americans Are Joining Comments. 2015. Accessed November 06, 2016. http://www.politico.eu/article/the-militarys-real-problem-fewer-americans-are-joining/.

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Chris McMillan

I consider to be myself somewhat of a pretty cool nerd. I have a BBS in History from Hardin-Simmons University and I graduated with honors with an MA in Military History with a concentration on War Since 1945 from the American Military University. Needless to say I love history. When I'm not studying history I'm also keeping track of MLB and my Texas Rangers. I'm also an avid fan of fitness and putting rounds downrange when the time presents itself. I enjoy shooting so much I got Uncle Sam to pay me to do it for a bit. However, the best part of my life is being the husband to a wonderful wife and mother and the daddy to a bouncy, energetic little girl.

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