Only 1% of Americans serving in military is ‘problematic’, says Democrat Pat Ryan

<span>Pat Ryan speaks at a campaign rally in 2022, in Kingston, New York.</span><span>Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP</span>
Pat Ryan speaks at a campaign rally in 2022, in Kingston, New York.Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

New York Democratic representative Pat Ryan said that having only 1% of Americans serving in the US military is “deeply problematic as a democracy”.

In an interview with CBS’s Face The Nation ahead of Memorial Day, Ryan, who is a veteran of the US army, said: “When you lose touch between those that are fighting our wars and their families and everyone else, that’s something so essential that we have to figure out how to bring folks together, and get more folks serving.”

Ryan, who did two tours in Iraq, said that he is working on recruiting more Americans to serve in the military.

Speaking alongside Florida’s Republican representative and army veteran Mike Waltz, Ryan said: “A lot of the work we did … on the defense bill is recruiting. Every service has been challenged on recruiting numbers and we’ve been pushing a bunch of directions to say that is not acceptable to the department of defense. And we’re starting to see the numbers come up.”

To Waltz, “service doesn’t just have to be in the military,” as he said that both he and Ryan are advocates of “getting us back to national service as a country”.

“That’s not a draft, that doesn’t necessarily have to be in uniform,” he said, adding: “It could be with the national park, inner-city tutoring, elderly care. But how do we get young people out in an environment where they’re learning leadership, discipline, followership, serving a cause bigger than themselves and with fellow Americans who may not look or come from the same backgrounds as them.”

The two representatives also spoke of the need for bipartisanship when it comes to supporting veterans. For Ryan, the “most powerful thing” he has done in his time in Congress since he assumed office in 2023 was cleaning the Vietnam Veterans Memorial alongside other veterans.

“I mean, there’s so many divisive forces, and so to get together with fellow veterans, all services, all generations, and just actually do something with your hands that improves the world, that honors our veterans,” Ryan said.

Waltz echoed Ryan’s sentiments, saying: “I saw the acrimony and the in-fighting and I said, ‘You know, let’s get a group of veterans together’… I think that’s important for the American people to see. To see us honoring our forefathers, to see us where Democrat, Republican, Black, white, brown, none of that matters. It just matters that we’re all Americans, we’re all veterans.”

There are currently over 18 million veterans who represent 6% of the country’s adult population. According to the Pew Research Center, veterans who served in the last 30 years comprise the largest number of living veterans in the US.

In 1980, approximately 18% of US adults were veterans. In 2022, that number dropped to 6%. The center cites the falling trend to a decrease in active-duty personnel following the end of the military draft in 1973.

The center also reports that as the amount of veterans declines over the next 25 years, women, Hispanic and Black adults, and adults below the age of 50 will make up larger shares of the total US veteran population.