Millennials, Gen Z dominate military, enlist for financial opportunity

People join the military for different reasons. Graphic by Coraline Pettine.

Serving in the military has been changed and molded throughout the different climates of the United States. The mentality, culture and shape of the military has changed as each generation takes its turn in serving the country. Now, the younger generations are taking their turn in shaping the present and future of the United States Military.  

According to a the Pew Research Center, in 2015, about two-thirds of all active-duty military personnel were 30 years-old or younger. Only 9 percent of active-duty members were older than 40 years-old. Those in their early-20s to those is their late-30s— meaning millennials and Gen Zs— primarily comprise the military.

Included in the same article, there were 1,340,533 active-duty troops in the military in 2015, including the United States Coast Guard. This is the smallest number of active-duty members since 2001.  

Ian Scott is an adjunct instructor of religious studies at Cabrini University and a retired Royal New Zealand Navy pilot with a tour in the United States Marine Corp Squadron in the 1960s and 1970s.  

Scott has seen the face of the military population shift and change in the United States. He has seen a change in how soldiers enlisted and believes now they are better equipped to fight, as they are receiving more realistic training via computer simulations and are receiving more advance equipment.  

Even though there is better equipment and training, there are still a lot of trauma.

“The rate of physical and mental injuries is far greater than it’s ever been before,” Scott said, after describing how traumatic brain injury quite literally scatters brains. He added that soldiers often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or a moral injury.  

A moral injury is a conflict that is formed when a soldier is raised on a moral system that says he or she should not do acts such as kill another person, but then the soldier goes to war and is expected to go against those values.  

However, this is not stopping people from enlisting.

Scott claimed that those enlisting are from rural areas and inner-city neighborhoods. Service members are coming from areas that may not provide a lot of opportunities that support members financially or socially.   

According to data from Department of Defense, the proportion of individuals enlisting from the South is considerable higher than the North. In 2013, 44 percent of all military recruits originated from the southern region of the country, even though that part of the country only held 36 percent of the country’s 18- to 24-year-old population. A Department of Defense spokesperson said this difference in recruitment based on location could be a result of higher exposure to military bases in southern states. It could also be because of cultural or economic differences.

Those are not the only reasons people enlist.  

Morgan Bomalaski is a current Cabrini student and was enlisted in the United States Army from Oct. 31, 2010 until Sept. 11 of 2013. She believes that there are a lot of soldiers that enlist for a lot of different reasons, such as wanting to their families or not being ready to pursue a higher education at a certain point in time.  

“After serving, some soldiers will pursue a college education with assistance from the G.I. Bill,” Bomalaski said.

Scott Marcinko, who is also a Cabrini student, is a United States Army Federal Reservist, a member of the U.S. Army Transportation Corps, a cargo specialist, a motor vehicle operator and combat lifesaver.  

Marcinko agreed that people join the military for reasons other than patriotism.

“A lot of soldiers— marines, airman, whatever branch of service— they’re enlisting for the money and other reasons than to serve their country,” Marcinko said. “In particular, the G.I. Bill, tuition reimbursement [and] jury duty.”

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