States with the Most and Fewest Members of the Military
The United States military is – based on statics like military spending, manpower, and number of aircraft carriers and nuclear warheads – arguably the number one fighting force in the world. Along with these statistical comparisons, the US. military maintains an impressive 800 bases in 150 countries around the globe, many of which establish “little Americas” on foreign soil.
That said, the overwhelming majority of active duty military as well as reservists live in the United States and its territories. In the year 207, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, almost 1.9 million active duty military members and reservists are living in U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
The Department of Defense regularly releases statistics listing the populations of active and reserve military members in each state, and in March 2017, the top states based on military personnel (ranked by total active duty plus reservists) included:
- California – 125,000 active duty; 56,000 reservists
- Texas – 111,000 active duty; 54,000 reservists
- North Carolina – 96,000 active duty; 22,000 reservists
- Virginia – 91,000 active duty; 25,000 reservists
- Florida – 55,000 active duty; 36,000 reservists
- Georgia – 60,000 active duty; 26,000 reservists
- Washington – 44,000 active duty; 19,000 reservists
- South Carolina – 33,000 active duty; 18,000 reservists
- New York – 21,000 active duty; 28,000 reservists
- Colorado – 34,000 active duty; 13,000 reservists
In the same data, the states with the fewest number of active duty and reservists included:
Vermont – 135 active duty; 3,711 reservists
Maine – 793 active duty; 3,859 reservists
- New Hampshire –777 active duty; 4,084 reservists
- Wyoming – 3,143 active duty; 2,848 reservists
- Montana – 3,3142 active duty; 4,331 reservists
- Rhode Island – 3,318 active duty; 4,339 reservists
- South Dakota – 3,268 active duty; 4,459 reservists
- Idaho – 2,635 active duty; 5,364 reservists
- West Virginia – 204 active duty; 8,034 reservists
- Delaware – 3,350 active duty; 4,937 reservists
Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the states with the largest number of servicemembers also had the highest populations per state. California, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and New York lead the states in total population, so it makes sense that they would also have more servicemembers than states with smaller overall populations. Other indicators that might influence the overall number of servicemembers is the number of military bases in the state; for example, West Virginia has two bases while Texas has 31. Finally, some experts believe that a familiarity with the military – resulting from having a large military and veteran population – increases the chances that residents will enlist and/or become reservists, making the cycle self-sustaining.
Interestingly, when comparing the lists of top servicemember-populated states to our recent article on the best and worst states for retired veterans, the correlation between high military presence and a good quality of life for veterans does not necessarily stand up. While a few of the states with the most active duty and reservists did rank well for veterans – such as Florida and South Carolina – other lower-populated states like Alaska and South Dakota actually ranked higher for veteran health care, quality of life factors, and economic environment.
For additional research, see our article on the best and worst states for senior veteran health care.
Written by Megan Hammons