Even in a conservative state such as Oklahoma, Tulsa residents – more distant from military bases than other parts of the state are – express less interest in Afghanistan and other defense issues than those who interact more often with the military, he said.
“It’s only natural that people are becoming more and more distant from the military,” Inhofe said. “It’s a nationwide trend.”
The concept of a warrior class isn’t new, nor is it unique to the United States. Japan had its samurai. Europe had knights and vassals. The Aztecs had warrior nobility known as the Shorn Ones.
Israel, with nearly 8 million people, avoids this by having everyone serve. That wouldn’t work in the U.S., with a population of 310 million and a military of 1.5 million. Military leaders widely prefer a volunteer force, and one that’s committed to learning and staying on the job, to a conscripted one that can’t wait to muster out.
Still, Michael O’Hanlon, a defense policy expert at the Brookings Institution, a research center based in Washington, worries that whole segments of the population won’t even consider military service in the coming decades. When that happens, do those serving lose political clout?
“A broader base of volunteers helps ensure we don’t stop paying attention,” he said.
The military relies heavily on volunteers from the South and Midwest. Current trends might lead to an even narrower pool of volunteers.
Military and civilian officials admit that there are some positives in the smaller recruiting pool. The children of service members enlist understanding the job. They often were raised around the military and aren’t shocked by the culture, the level of expectations or long deployments.
Consider the Cotter brothers, who share a military life in the Flint Hills of central Kansas.
Several years ago, with college over and the recession in full swing, Gregory Cotter realized that his teenage dream of escaping the family business was a mistake.
“As a teenager, I wanted to do anything but this,” he said
But like his father and two brothers, he enrolled in the Army.
A tour in Afghanistan now behind him, Sgt. Cotter, 27, lives at Fort Riley, along with his twin, Andrew, a lieutenant, and their 28-year-old brother, Brian, a captain, both of whom served in Iraq. Their father, Col. David Cotter, retired not too far away, in Platte City, Mo., outside Kansas City.
“What we understood when we signed up is that this is a job, and we were raised to believe in serving something beyond ourselves,” Brian Cotter said.
While public support for the military has been strong for the past decade, “the real test comes five years after we leave Afghanistan, after the sexy missions are over,” he said.
Victor Davis Hanson, a military historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said the current picture of the military might have been inevitable. Some people gravitate toward the military, while others are lured to jobs in finance or the post office, he said.
“A lot of people think this current system is a great deal, and that includes both those who chose to serve and those who chose not to,” he said.
Still, former Staff Sgt. Majetich can’t help but wonder whether national defense shouldn’t have a broader base of support.
“Do people understand the sacrifices?” he said. “Do they understand the toll combat, long deployments, not to mention injuries and death, take on a person, a family? Do they understand that my 17-year-old daughter has more memories of me in recovery than before the injury? No, they don’t. Not at all.”