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October 05, 2021

In Senate Armed Services Hearing, King Stresses Need for Greater “Geographic Diversity” in United States Military

Senator King gets Pentagon nominees to commit to action and agree that we cannot have “a regional standing army”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today questioned top Pentagon nominees about the concerning shift in the U.S. military’s active duty members increasingly coming from the South and West, and the decline in military representation from the Northeast and Midwest. During his questioning in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator King pressed nominees on what actions or recruiting efforts they will take to reverse the shift – which has resulted in a lack of familiarization with military culture in regional pockets. In response to Senator King’s questioning, Gabriel O. Camarillo – the nominee for Under Secretary of the Army – concurred that more geographic diversity is needed in the armed services, and that they will work with the Senator to address the trend in the Northeast.

“In 2018, the Pentagon commissioned a study by the Institute on Defense Analysis on geographic diversity within the military, and they made some rather startling findings. In 1975, 48% of those serving in the military were from the South and the West, and at that same time, 47% were from the Midwest and the Northeast. Today, it's 67% from the South and the West, and only 30% from the Midwest and the Northeast,” said Senator King. “I have a concern about that, that we don't want our professional standing army, if you will, to reflect only one or two regions of the country. What can we do to strengthen the diversity – the geographic diversity as well as other areas of diversity [of our military]? Do we need additional recruiting efforts, a change of strategy? I don't think it's healthy for the country to have a regional standing army.”

“I agree with you on the need to pursue more geographic diversity in our recruiting efforts, and it's a view that I believe is shared by the Army leadership right now,” responded Mr. Camarillo. “As you noted, and we discussed this before, the number of youths in this country that are propensed to serve in the military has declined over the last couple of decades, which makes it very hard to be able to attract the talent that we need for our all-volunteer force. Certainly, the ability to cast a wide net geographically across the United States and all the talent that it has to offer is an absolute imperative.”

“Now, Senator, my understanding is that the Army has taken steps in this direction by looking at major urban centers in different population areas in the country, other than those where it typically recruits to be able to establish different recruiting efforts to be able to attract talent into the Army in those in those regions. And if I'm confirmed Senator, I would work with Army leaders and with Secretary Wormuth, and with you to be able to address that issue as it relates to the Northeast,” Mr. Camarillo continued.


Senator King then pressed Alex Wagner – the nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs – on if lack of military interaction and bases in the Northeast has contributed to the concerning geographic shift.

Senator King: “I think one of the other things is contributed to this, it's an unintended consequence of the way base distribution has been changed over the last 40 or 50 years. There are no substantial military bases in the Northeast. My hometown was a home for 50 years to a Naval air station. It was BRAC'ed at the beginning of this century, and so we lost those Navy people that the young people saw and would look up to. And this report, in fact, refers to that as one of the major factors, is do the young people growing up in a community have some contact with or familiarization with the military. And so we've changed that fundamentally because of decisions that I don't think all of which were well founded. But I think this is a serious problem.”

Mr. Wagner: “Senator, clearly, diversity is one of America's greatest strengths, and it's not only the right thing to do, but it also provides us a strategic advantage. As you've pointed out, that includes geographic diversity. When I served previously in the Department of the Army, we were aware of the problem that you point out what we call 'the smile' that goes through the Southern half of the United States. And as I noted in my opening statement, I am an example of exactly what you point out. Growing up in Los Angeles, going to college in Rhode Island and living in Seattle, I had scarce ability to interact with people who served to see them every day to socialize with peers and to have people to look up to. It wasn't until later on in my life that I actually engaged anyone in the military.”

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator King has worked to support U.S. military representation from the Northeast – strengthening our regional economy and the armed services. In 2018, Senator King pushed back against an additional Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process that could have closed Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

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