The family legacy of military service was common. With the drafts of World War I and II, children of these draftees in the 1980s were joining with several generations of service behind them. Perhaps some of that desire to serve was passed down. According to the Pew Research Center, 60% of veterans under 40 have an immediate family member who served, compared to 39% of civilians. Among new recruits, 21% have a parent in the military, whereas civilians reported that 9% of them had a child in the armed forces. Given that just 0.5% of the American population has served in the military in the last decade, this is quite the statistic. But will the military service legacy continue?
A separate poll was conducted among military families outside of the Pew Research Center. Among 50 military families polled, only two would encourage their children to join the service. None of the Marine Corps families polled would encourage their children to serve or would nudge them toward the Air Force.
This directly reflects what two or more decades of service have done to Marine Corps families. Many surveyed stated toxic leaders, repeated deployments, and lack of consistent mental and physical health care led to the breakdown of their Marine Corps service members, leading to their lack of wanting their children to serve in that service branch. As one spouse put it, the Marine Corps gives lip service to family needs and tells the service member that she/he and their family should ‘buck up.’
A Gold Star spouse responded and stated that her children had seen the political fallout from military life after the loss of their father. The sacrifice and loss of their father seem to have been for nothing after the end of the Afghanistan war. She stated, “So many people in this country do not live a life worthy of their dad dying for them, and nor do they care [about the loss].” Further, the military seemed to abandon them after their required notification. She did say that the people they met through his military career were amazing, and it is not a reflection of the people. However, the bureaucracy and the government does not care about the individual, and she doesn’t want her children going into that.
Will there be a difference in career military families and those who have served less than ten years? All but one who responded had over 15 years of service and planned for a career in military service or had retired from military service. The person who responded with less than ten years of service chose to resign their commission to pursue other interests but shared that they would not recommend military service to their children for longer than a short period. Why? “It’s not worth it.”
The Department of Defense’s pursuit is of the higher mission, and service members are either cogs in the wheel or an integral capability to accomplish this mission. The more cog-like the service, the less rewarding it is for the whole family. Each service branch differs in support opportunities for military service members and their families. The housing crisis and lack of affordable housing within a reasonable commute for many families is wearing down the service member and the family. There isn’t enough housing on military bases to account for the number of service members assigned to bases. The move to privatized housing for the military has not been without its troubles, as evidenced by lawsuits against Lincoln Military Housing (now Liberty Military Housing). Another high cost to military families is the drastic changes in car and rental insurance based on the area the military member is serving – sometimes leading to a jump in insurance of three times the previous cost – but this higher insurance cost isn’t reflected in pay for the service member. The lack of accessible medical care for service members and families is a big issue. Consolidating the Defense Health Agency (DHA) has led to less care for military families on military bases pushing even those with Tricare Prime out into already oversubscribed civilian healthcare. As healthcare recovers from the pandemic, civilian providers often have 6+ month long wait lists, and that’s just for primary care, as specialists can be longer based on the area. The support opportunities for military families with a working on-base pool, open and working movie theaters with cheap or free movies, art studios, and youth centers have waned in funding and, on some bases, have shut down. Add these civilian providers’ wait times to frequent moves and families are increasingly forced to forego care or pay out of pocket.
The Pew Research Center has yet to study if this shift is seen in a larger population. Wall Street Journal is reporting on this shift, stating specifically that veterans do not want their children to join, creating a military recruiting crisis. This is reflected in the lowered recruiting numbers. The services are expected to fall short of their recruitment goals, the Army by 15,000, the Navy by 10,000, and the Air Force by 3,000. The Marine Corps reported they met their recruiting goal in 2022 and expect to meet it in 2023.
What this will mean for the military will not be seen for several more years. Active duty and veteran children may not be of age for several more years. However, if the families remain adamant about not serving, this could mean a significant impact in the long term for the military service branches.