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Who Are Today's Service Members?

Background Information

  • Since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) over 1.9 million men and women have been deployed.
  • Because of the size of an all volunteer military (there has been a 36% reduction in the size of the military since the end of the Cold War), as well as the extended nature of these wars, the Reserve and National Guard have been activated in unprecedented numbers.
  • Although policies and recommendations have been made to reduce the length and number of deployments, as well as time between deployments ("dwell time"), the demands of war have made compliance difficult, resulting in:
    • 40% of current military Service Members have been deployed more than once.
    • Average dwell times are substantially shorter than policy dictates.
    • "Stop loss," when a Service Member is involuntarily retained beyond their initial end of term service.
  • In addition to the unpleasant circumstances and experiences of combat seen in all wars, the tactics of insurgency warfare and guerilla attacks used in these wars – especially the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide and car bombs – may introduce some important differences:
    • Combat engagements are more likely to be random and unpredictable, rather than planned.
    • Three fourths of injuries are due to explosive mechanisms, not gun fire.
    • Although IEDs cause multiple wounds, including traumatic brain injuries, the survivability is much higher than in previous wars.

Characteristics of the U.S. Military

  • 89% are men; 11% are women
  • 66% are white, 16% are black, 10% are Hispanic, 4% are Asian, and 4% are "other"
  • The average age of today's Service Members show they are older than in previous wars:
    • Active-duty officers: 34.6 years
    • Active-duty enlisted: 27.1 years
    • Reserve officers: 40.6 years
    • Reserve enlisted: 31.2 years
  • 55.2% of active duty Service Members are married, and 49% of reservists are married.
  • Close to 40% of all Service Members have children, two on average. The largest percentage (41%) of children for active duty Service Members are 5 years or younger; in the Reserve, the largest percentage of children is 6-14 years.
  • 3% of military households are dual-military (both parents are in the military) with children
  • California is the state with the most military personnel, both active duty (12.9%) and reserve (6.9%).


Institute of Medicine. (2010). Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan: Preliminary Assessment of Readjustment Needs of Veterans, Service Members, and their Families. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Defense Manpower Data Center. (2009). Profile of Service Members ever Deployed, June, 29, 2009.