Rural Americans and the Military share a long history together. The earliest U.S. soldiers who fought for independence from England during the Revolutionary War mostly hailed from rural towns and the countryside.
These soldiers were expert marksmen with their rifles and were a good fit to conduct guerilla warfare but they were not familiar with the tactics of organized militia. With training, their natural understanding of stalking, methods of surprise attacks and endurance of hardship were decisive factors that contributed to ultimate victory of the United States over British rule.
Young rural men and women continue to pursue military careers today. Using data from the U.S. Department of Defense, a report of the demographic characteristics of new military recruits commissioned by the Heritage Foundation in 2005 showed the greatest increases in recruits were from highly rural states after 9-11.
Prior to 1999, the states of Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, and Maine had the four highest statewide percentages of their residents enlist in the Military, with Florida and Texas close. After 9-11 the states with the greatest increases in military enlistments were Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, Washington, Arizona, Indiana, Oregon, Nebraska, Colorado, Minnesota and North Carolina, to the point they were overrepresented in the Military.
The 2011 White House Report, Jobs and Economic Security for Rural America, indicated 44% of the men and women who currently serve in any branch of the U.S. Military originated from rural areas of the country; 17% of all Americans reside in these designated rural areas.
Why do rural residents choose to join the Military? We can’t assume rural persons join the Military for economic reasons. The Heritage Foundation report indicates both the family income and the education level of recruits have trended higher than average since 9-11.
The percentage of recruits who had attended at least some college increased even before the economic recession began in 2008 and this trend continues currently. The education level of new recruits is higher, regardless of where they originated from, than for similarly aged Americans in general.
Native Americans and Pacific Islanders have been overrepresented in the U.S. Military for many decades, dating back to World War II. That trend continues today. The majority of these persons are rural.
In short, while it isn’t fully clear why rural persons join the Military in greater numbers than non-rural persons, it is clear the Armed Forces likes the skill sets these recruits bring with them.
Greater numbers of Veterans return to live in rural areas than non-rural areas. In the absence of definitive studies that indicate why this is, there are many anecdotal reports that combat Veterans in particular feel safer in uncrowded and remote living quarters after service and many are engaged in agriculture.
Many Veterans, especially those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, find serenity in the outdoors and experience healing from agricultural activities. Veterans often gravitate toward occupations that help others, such as producing food.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition (www.farmvetco.org), one of the fastest growing organizations serving Veterans, offers this perspective: “Veterans possess the unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities and create sustainable food systems for all. Food production offers purpose, opportunity, and physical and psychological benefits.”
Problems exist for rural Veterans. It is well known that suicide is higher among current and retired Militia than among the general U.S. population. Behavioral health supports are not always available in many rural and frontier locations.
The Department of Veterans Affairs reported in February this year that the suicide rate of retired Veterans rose from 19 daily in 1999 to 22 in 2010. The number of active duty personnel who take their lives has also been creeping higher; 349 of about 1.6 million active duty personnel purposefully ended their lives last year.
Sixty-nine percent of recorded self-imposed deaths were by Veterans age 50 and older. The rates of suicide by Veterans both over and under age 50 are greater than for comparably-aged Americans without previous military involvement.
Often the most useful and acceptable help for troubled Veterans is from other Veterans who understand what they have been through, much like stressed farmers often prefer behavioral healthcare providers who understand agriculture.
Help is available to any Veteran from the Veterans Crisis Line: 800 273-8255. The Crisis service also offers a website chat line which is manned 24/7: www.veteranscrisisline.net. The text message number is 838255.
With gratitude to all Militia currently in service and those who are no longer on active duty, Americans celebrate Veterans Day this year on Monday, November 11.
Dr. Rosmann lives near Harlan, Iowa. Contact him at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.
By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.