How has the Military Changed Over the Last 20 Years?

diversity in military

The U.S. military has changed in countless ways in the past 20 years. The most significant factor in the change is probably obvious: the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

The 9/11 attacks changed the world forever, and they certainly changed the U.S. military. For the past 20 years, American armed forces have engaged in two wars in the Middle East and spent vast sums to fight the global war on terror.

But beyond the fight against terrorism, the military has also changed in perhaps more subtle ways. The military is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before, and more women serve in the armed forces.

Also, since 2011, openly gay and bisexual men and women have been able to serve in the U.S. military. Previously, the 1993 policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” allowed LGBTQ people to serve, but only if they kept it a secret.

As if all this change wasn’t enough, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges and changed the U.S. armed forces since last year. For example, the National Guard has played a vital role throughout the pandemic and could continue to do so in the near future.

Empire Resume will delve into significant changes to the U.S. military in the past 20 years and look at the impact and what could be next.

The Impact of 9/11

The 9/11 attacks were a traumatic moment in American history and also a seismic turning point for the military. Shortly after the attacks, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, leading to two lengthy foreign wars.

The Afghanistan war – which President Biden just ended controversially – spanned 20 years and was the longest war in American history.

The latest figures from the Department of Defense estimate that more than 7,000 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since the start of America’s post-9/11 military operations.

The wars have taken a heavy toll on American troops and their families. And in addition to the impact on the military, U.S. national security procedures have drastically changed. The most obvious change is at the airport.

Since 9/11, full-body scans from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have become routine – and probably will be forever.

A More Diverse Military

diversity in military

As the demographics of the U.S. have changed, so has the military. The Armed Forces are more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before, and more women serve in the military, even as commissioned officers.

Here are some statistics to consider:

  • Women represented 16% of the overall active-duty force in 2019 (up from 9% in 1980)
  • 18% of military women were commissioned officers in 2019 (up from just 5% in 1975)
  • In 2019, 57% of active-duty members were white, 16% were Black, 16% were Hispanic, and 4% were Asian.
  • By 2019, the share of whites in the military had fallen, and the percentage of minorities (43%) had risen. Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority in the military, rising from 25% to 36% between 2005 and 2017.

In 2013, the Defense Department lifted the ban on women in combat roles. The change essentially ensured that as long as women met all essential requirements, they could serve in any role in the U.S. military.

More than 300,000 women served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and more than 9,000 female troops earned Combat Action Badges.

Changes to LGBTQ Policies

The military is undoubtedly becoming more diverse, and this extends to more inclusion of the LGBTQ community. In 2011, the U.S. military allowed openly gay and bisexual men and women to serve.

This momentous decision overturned the military’s previous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. That policy allowed LGBTQ people to serve, but only if they did not disclose their sexual orientation. If they did, they’d be discharged.

Then in 2013, the military allowed same-sex partners to receive spousal and family benefits. Another change came in 2021 when the ban on transgender people serving in the military was also lifted.

In the early 1940s, homosexuality was qualified as a mental illness and disqualified gay men and women from serving. It wasn’t until 1982 that the military enacted a ban on LGBTQ people from serving. The 2011 decision reversed the ban and led the way to a more open military community.

Changes Caused by COVID-19

diversity in military

The past 20 years have seen many changes to the U.S. military. But the past 18 months since COVID-19 became an issue have caused even more changes.

The number of Americans killed by COVID-19 is nearing the number of troops killed in the Vietnam War. Some military experts argue the pandemic era means Americans are more worried about threats at home than abroad, which could make for a big difference in military policy.

One significant change from the pandemic has been the use of the National Guard. Throughout the pandemic, the National Guard has been critical in ensuring public safety, moving medical supplies, and acting as reinforcements for large-scale combat operations.

For example, New York Governor Kathy Hochul is reportedly considering using the state’s National Guard members to fill hospital staffing shortages. Tens of thousands of New York hospital workers may not meet a vaccination deadline, so various media sources report that National Guard troops may fill in.

How Will the Military Change in the Future?

The 9/11 attacks caused the most significant changes to the U.S. military over the past 20 years, but they weren’t the only cause.

The U.S. Armed Forces have also become more diverse and open to women and LGBTQ people. And the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the military’s attention back to the homeland, as the National Guard has become more critical than ever.

We don’t know what the next 20 years will be like for the U.S. military, but it will inevitably face challenges and have to adapt to the times.

Already, the military is smaller than it’s been in quite some time. In 2019, there were about 1.34 million men and women serving in the active-duty military. That number was down from more than 2 million service members in 1990.

Look no further than Empire Resume if you’re looking for help transitioning from the military into the civilian workforce. Our experts will transform your military skills and experience into a compelling civilian resume that generates results. In addition, Empire Resume offers a $25 military discount to honor all service members.

Also, stay tuned to our Military-to-Civilian blog for more great insights, including articles like Are Military Resumes Different?, How to Prepare for a Civilian Interview, and Best Jobs for Veterans.

Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for both professionals and servicemembers transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and was responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a PhD in Finance.   

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