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Written by: Christopher Plein, Ph.D. West Virginia University and OneOp Caregiving Team Member

In any work that we do, it is essential to have baseline information and a sense of trends relating to needs, resources, issues, opportunities and challenge.  Fortunately for those who work with military families, there are a number of helpful resources that document and chart trends in the active duty military population.  This blog is the first in a two part series that shares some helpful and readily available resources.  These are public documents produced by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and can help us understand current conditions and what the future might hold in store.

To understand the scope and reach of the active duty military population – and indeed the entire military-related population – the DOD’s regularly published Demographics Report: Profile of the Military Community is an informative resource.  For example, the 2016 Demographics Report provides both general information as well as more specific details that might be of use to those working with military families.

Learning from Reports

There is a wealth of information to be found in these reports. For example, according to the 2016 Demographics Report, there are approximately 1.29 million active duty military personnel.  In addition, there are approximately 1.67 million associated family members who are spouses, children, or other dependents of these active duty members (pages 30-31)  Almost 40% of active duty military have dependent children (page vi). Combined, the number of active duty military personnel and affiliated family members totals 2.96 million individuals.  An even closer look at the reports will reveal helpful information on educational attainment, family size, income, spousal employment, age and other demographic factors of those in the military and their families.

Active duty military families live and work across the United States and abroad. According to the 2016 Demographics Report, about 88% of active duty military personnel are stationed in the U.S. or its territories.  This population is not distributed evenly across the United States. The five states with the largest number of active duty military personnel in rank order are: California, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. Together these states make up 43% of the active duty population (page 33).  The report also provides very specific information about the number of active duty and dependents at specific installations in each of the states (pages 175-185).

State and Community Support

With this type of information in hand, we can begin to better understand some of the challenges and opportunities facing states and communities in supporting military personnel and their families.  Where there are large concentrations of military families, we may expect community-based service providers and state and local officials to have a clearer understanding of the needs and issues. At the same time, there may be high demand placed on resources and services.  In states with fewer active duty military families other challenges may emerge. For example, state and local policymakers may not be fully aware of some of the challenges facing military families as they move from one state to another.

Trends – What They Teach Us

Reviewing the reports allows us to see trends over time. One very important trend relates to the size of the active duty military force.  The proposed 2019 DOD budget calls for some incremental increase in force size.  However, a review of longer term trends reveals a steady decline in the numbers of active personnel in recent years.  For example, as the 2016 Demographics Report shows in 2010 the active military force stood at about 1.42 million. It now stands at about 1.29 million and the rate of decline has varied across the service branches (page 16).  Understanding changes in force size is crucial to anticipating family needs, allocating resources, and helping those families that are transitioning from active duty military service.

OneOp (MFLN): Using Data to Inform Community Capacity Building

Across our concentration teams, we endeavor to make community capacity building part of our programming and efforts to provide information and assistance to military support personnel.  The Demographics Report helps us to gain a better sense of the military population dynamics and trends. The DOD and the service branches rely in part on community-based delivery systems and services. Understanding demographic trends is essential to planning and coordination. Next month, we are going to dig even deeper into how various DOD reports provide detail and information on how various services and initiatives that have been developed to assist in family readiness and caregiving.


This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on February 23, 2018.