If the United States goes to war, the people who will be
shouldering the burden of battle will in some respects be unlike any
other military force in American history.
They will be older and more experienced - on average 27 years
old. They will serve in a military that is one-third smaller than
the one that existed just 12 years ago in the Gulf war. Most
important, they will be far more diverse than almost any military
force of the past.
A record number of women will be serving on the front lines, for
instance, as will a higher percentage of Latinos. Perhaps most
unusual for a war in the Middle East, more Muslims would be taking
up posts on aircraft carriers and pitching tents in the Iraqi
"It's more reflective of the population than most other
organizations," says Juanita Firestone, a military sociologist at
the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Of all the demographic changes in the military since the Gulf
War, none has had more impact than the role of women.
Since 1994, nearly all military jobs except ground combat and
submarine duty have been opened to women, who now fill 15 percent of
the enlisted ranks.
If fighting starts, women will fly combat aircraft as they did
over Afghanistan and Kosovo. But they may also get far closer to
fighting on the ground, building the bridges that cross Iraq's
rivers as combat engineers or responding to chemical and biological
Mostly, though, female soldiers will serve in support, supply,
and administrative roles. Many of the females manning such
logistical functions are African-American.
Black soldiers gravitate towards jobs with skills transferrable
to the civilian economy, says Charles Moskos, a military sociologist
at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Minorities account for half of all female enlisted troops, and
African-American women outnumber white women in the Army. In fact,
the proportion of African-Americans in combat units is actually
smaller than the military as a whole.
Take, for example, the 101st Airborne Division, which has
deployed to the Kuwaiti desert for an expected helicopter-borne
invasion of Iraq. African-Americans constitute only 23 percent of
the 101st Division even though the Army as a whole is 29 percent
It's the military's most elite units that remain the most
homogeneous. Few minorities serve as combat pilots or in Special
Operations such as the Navy's SEALs or the Army Special Forces.
African-Americans still make up a smaller share of the military's
officer corps - 8 percent overall.
"Our deployed forces are increasingly representative but are
looking at who is leading them and seeing white faces," says David
Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland.
Elsewhere, however, the military is becoming an ever more diverse
fighting force. …