Post-9/11 veterans tend to live near military installations, according to a News21 analysis of veterans' demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged the trend in 2009 when he spoke at Duke University about the “significant cost” facing members of the all-volunteer force and their families. This cost, Gates said, is not only the human cost of service members’ lives, “but also cultural, social and financial costs in terms of the relationship between those in uniform and the wider society they have sworn to protect.”
“With each passing decade, fewer and fewer Americans know someone with military experience in their family or social circle,” Gates said.
“There is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally and geographically have less and less in common with the people they have sworn to defend,” he said of recruiting service members.
Returning service members from the post-9/11 cohort have clustered around military installations following separation from the service, based on geographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Some of the Metropolitan Statistical Areas with the highest percent of post-9/11 veterans to overall population are Jacksonville, N.C., home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune; Clarksville, Tenn., adjacent to the Army’s Fort Campbell; Killeen-Temple, Texas, which includes the Army’s Fort Hood; and Fort Walton Beach, Fla., home to two major Air Force bases — Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base.
Amy Kate Bailey, assistant professor of sociology at University of Illinois-Chicago, said there has been a “distinctive cultural patterning” in the communities that tend to send large proportions of their young adults into the military, often linked to poor economic opportunities. For this reason, many young veterans may not have economic incentives to return home following service.
Bailey, who has written about issues of race and inequality as they relate to the military and veterans, added that clustering around military bases is a historical trend for veterans.
“Veterans frequently will stay relatively close to places that they’ve had the opportunity to check out while they were on active duty,” she said. These communities may come with established social spheres with other veterans and civilian employment opportunities on military bases.
Participants in the American Community Survey self-identify as veterans if they have “served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, military Reserves, or National Guard” but are no longer on active duty. Participants subsequently select any service periods during which they served on active duty, such as “September 2001 or later.”
Data on the participants is released in different levels of geographic detail, such as Public Use Microdata Areas and Metropolitan Statistical Areas. The former shows the approximate geographic dispersion of post-9/11 veterans across the country. The latter highlights specific highly populated areas and the proportion of post-9/11 veterans residing within them.