Should We Leave War to Our Warrior Caste?

us military
Defense in the U.S. has been delegated to a small number of military families. Lucas Jackson /Reuters

Who is truly bearing the burden of repeated deployments and protracted conflicts? Who comprises our shrinking all-volunteer force?

As the daughter of an A-10 pilot, I see my fellow military brats enlisting and being commissioned at incredible rates. Anecdotally, it has seemed at least one child in every military family tends to serve, while the ROTC programs in the Ivy League are some of the smallest in the country, and military service is left unconsidered as a viable career option for most young Americans.

This is creating a cultural gap between military and civilians and presents challenges for effective civilian control and oversight of the military. More and more military service has become a family affair, creating a "warrior caste" whose mantle is passed down from generation to generation.

Bridging the civil-military divide will not only be accomplished by encouraging a broader group of young men and women to join up, but also by educating young Americans who are less likely to interact with the military about their role in American society. Fostering engagement with and understanding of the military will create a greater sense of national investment, and perhaps cause a few more people to give pause when we engage militarily around the world.

There is little evidence that the burden of the past 12 years has been felt outside of the military, a stark contrast from previous wars characterized both by the draft and engagement—both positive and negative—by regular citizens. As an Air Force brat, I grew up as a military dependent with all of the realities that entails: frequent moves, my father's deployment to the Middle East and an international move before my senior year of high school. Despite the challenges, I would not trade my upbringing for the world.

There is a sense of duty and service to country that is ingrained in the children of those who serve. It is both a blessing and a burden that is further leading to the civil-military divide, as a disproportionate number of the military brats I grew up around are now serving, or intend to serve. A 2007 U.S. Army study found that of the 304 general officers serving in the military, 180 had children serving in uniform.

A 2011 survey by Pew found that "Veterans are more than twice as likely as members of the general public to say they have a son or daughter who has served (21 percent versus 9 percent)." Considering the fact that less than 10 percent of 18-year-olds have a veteran parent and twice as many veteran parents have a son or daughter who has served, the military looks less like a shared burden and more like a family tradition.

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations website.