Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Who Would Fight: A Diverse Military ; Changes in Army since the Gulf War Include More Latinos, Muslims, and Women

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Who Would Fight: A Diverse Military ; Changes in Army since the Gulf War Include More Latinos, Muslims, and Women

Article excerpt

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 desert.

"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 attacks.

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 black.

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. …

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