ANALYSIS: An unpatriotic Generation Z hesitates to join the military
The Air Force is attributing its recruiting crisis, in part, to the lack of patriotism in Generation Z, which no longer believes in American exceptionalism, according to one survey.
Generation Z is faced with a civics education in K-12 and college classes that delivers a version of history focusing on America’s wrongdoing and leaving students with little pride.
After the Air Force projected it would miss recruitment targets by roughly 10%, the head of the branch’s Recruiting Service attributed the shortage, in part, to the lack of patriotism in Generation Z.
As one branch after another experiences a recruiting crisis, Generation Z demonstrates that they not only have trouble differentiating the military’s branches, but also answering basic questions about the federal government on civics tests.
Members of Generation Z also report that they do not subscribe to the nation’s shared origin story, as college and K-12 courses deliver a version of history that, by focusing on America’s wrongdoing, leaves students with little pride.
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“Generation Z is not patriotic, in the traditional sense,” Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, the Air Force Recruiting Service (AFRS) commander, told Military.com.
Leslie Brown, Chief of Public Affairs for the AFRS, told Campus Reform that survey data show Generation Z’s overall distrust of the government. They hold the military in higher regard than other organizations, “but [trust] has dropped along with the others,” Brown says.
Insights shared by Brown, Military.com, and other reports suggest that, unlike their predecessors, Generation Z places less emphasis on characteristics that unite them as Americans.
Brown indicated that 10 percent or fewer of youth respondents in one survey believe that the military has members with similar personalities or that share other commonalities with them.
In other words, younger Americans no longer appear to see the military as a great equalizer that brings together diverse participants to achieve a common goal. They instead think of the military as a place to affirm their individual identities and values.
Because youth see a job as “an expression of their values,” Brown told Campus Reform, “career decisions are interlinked with their personal values.”
Data from a Morning Consult poll also show that Generation Z is more pessimistic about their country than older generations. They are far less likely than Boomers, for example, to feel “proud to live in the U.S.” or that America is an exceptional country, according to an NBC affiliate in Tampa, Fla.
“For today’s zoomers, COVID-19 lockdowns, social unrest, and graphic images of police brutality may be causing them to abandon a sense of American exceptionalism relative to older cohorts,” Morning Consult reported.
Generation Z–the most unpatriotic generation, according to the survey–could “think the United States is just one of many countries that ‘regularly represses civil rights.’”
Red states have responded to a civics education that depicts the United States as a hotbed of civil rights abuses. In Florida, schools are prohibited from teaching that anyone, “by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
Florida’s Individual Freedom Act, enacted in July 2022, presents American history in a way that feels familiar to older generations: “American history shall be … defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
Red states also appear to lead the way in military recruiting. For the past three years, Florida has ranked third in the highest number of Air Force recruits, behind Texas and California, according to data Brown shared with Campus Reform.
Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio have also broken the top four states by recruitment, reflecting the trend of most military recruits coming from the Republican-led South.
But, at least in recent years, red states’ contribution has more to do with their share of the youth population than the political leanings of recruits. The Economist reported that service members and their families lean conservative, but the 2020 presidential election disrupted their typical voting patterns.
Where ideology fails to attract recruits, the Air Force is turning to other methods. Recruits can now have neck and hand tattoos. The Air Force is also piloting a program that retests candidates who previously tested positive for THC but are “highly qualified,” according to Military.com. Measurements of body composition will use the waist-to-height ratio to exclude fewer recruits.
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The Air Force still faces an uphill battle with a generation in which fewer than 10 percent of its members are “interested in serving in the first place,” as Military.com reported.
“Youth have transitioned from being disconnected from the military to being disinterested in it. In 1995, 40% of youth (16-24) had a parent who served in the military,” Brown told Campus Reform.
“In 2021, that figure is only 13%. This has [led] to a HUGE drop in familiarity with the military. Youth today do not understand the opportunities and the way of life a military member leads.”
Campus Reform contacted Morning Consult for comment and will update this article accordingly.