Can the military survive on rural recruiting alone?

The deep-rooted military influence in small American towns, particularly focusing on the examples of Anacoco and Leesville in Louisiana. The narrator and interviewees explore the omnipresent military culture and its impact on the aspirations and career choices of the residents. From a young age, individuals in these towns are surrounded by military personnel and paraphernalia, shaping their dreams and ambitions fundamentally towards service in the armed forces. This impact is further highlighted by the personal stories of Rebecca Fournier and Evan Combs, both from Vernon Parish, who share their direct experiences and future plans relating to military service.

The discussion also raises critical observations on how the U.S. military’s reliance on rural Americans has historical roots, with a significant number of soldiers hailing from small towns. The military base, Fort Johnson, is not only a significant employment provider in the region but also an “economic engine” contributing approximately $1.6 billion annually to the local economy. This factor, coupled with the familial tradition of military service, creates a cycle that perpetuates the military’s influence on community life and individual futures.

Furthermore, the transcript sheds light on the challenges of seeking alternative career paths in such areas, constrained by limited opportunities and the allure of military benefits, like college tuition support. The nuanced perspectives of the interviewees reveal an underlying economic calculation in their enlistment decisions, married with a sense of duty and community pride.

The military’s entrenchment in local economies, social structures, and the school system underscores a broader national pattern. The establishment of bases in economically disadvantaged, rural areas underscores a strategic choice that has significant socio-economic implications for the resident communities. This relationship is depicted as symbiotic, with both the military and the communities deriving mutual benefits. However, the narrative also critically examines the recruitment strategies, highlighting concerns regarding the portrayal of military service as an all-encompassing solution for personal advancement and escaping economic stagnation.

In conclusion, the video provides an insightful exploration into how military culture and presence fundamentally shape life choices, community identity, and economic realities in small American towns, with a focus on the nuanced interplay between individual aspirations and collective identity in the shadow of military influence.


I don’t feel that it’s possible to grow up without any military influence in this town because it’s so heavy here. I was probably three or four years old when I lived on Fort Johnson. When you ask a four-year-old what he or she wants to be when they grow up, it’s a fireman, a garbage man, or a doctor. Because those are the only things a four-year-old has seen. I’ve always enjoyed military movies, so definitely thought that seeing soldiers around were cool and, you know, thought that maybe I would want to be one of them one day. Best job I ever had. When you grow up next to a military base, everybody you know is connected to that military base one way or another. For decades, the U.S. military has depended on rural Americans. Almost half of all soldiers killed in the Iraq War came from towns with populations less than 25,000. The military is one of the only influences that we get here. Honestly, I don’t think one would exist without the other. We are the community. We are Central Louisiana. According to Department of Defense reports, 2023 was one of the worst years for military recruitment in the last 50 years. And the future doesn’t look much brighter. And of those that do choose to enlist, more and more come from the same areas or the same backgrounds. Namely, the South, counties with a military base, or those with a family member who served. Being influenced by those guys and seeing what the Army can do for you just, yeah, that did give me reasons to enlist. This story is played out in rural areas throughout the country. These places are company towns. The company just happens to be the U.S. military. My name is Rebecca Fournier. I live in Anacoco, Louisiana. Evan Combs. I am 18 years old. I live in Leesville, Louisiana. Both of their towns are located in Vernon Parish, which has a combined population of 49,000. And this, this is Fort Johnson. It’s 200,000 acres. There’s more than 45,000 service members, civilian staff, veterans, and their families who live or work on the installation. The military is really our one big driving factor for people to choose careers and stuff like that. My dream is to get into the FBI, solve cases. Evan is my boyfriend, and he’s going to do Army ROTC at LSU. And then he’s planning to enlist for four years. So what are you most looking forward to? Going to college? To LSU? Probably the football game. I think that doing time in the military or the Army, that’s one of the main options for me. I think that, I think if I do that, I’m fairly confident that I’ll make it into the FBI. My family moved here when I was two. My dad retired out of the Army. My dad, he was in the Army. He was a chaplain for seven years. I’ve definitely spent the majority of my life in Leesville. Who’s ready to eat? One of the challenges of living in such a rural place is that there’s not as many opportunities. A lot of people do go straight to work, or they’ll go to welding school or something like that, or they’ll go oil field. It is harder to get out of a place, a small town like this, just because everybody is so family oriented, so comfortable where they are. One of my football coaches, Coach Peters, he’s been a big help to me in figuring all this out. And he was in the Army for a little while, and he was a law enforcement officer. He was a state trooper. I have a very strict routine that I go through every day. Every day I go to school, I go to work, I go to cheer, I go to power lifting, I go to dance, and then I come home. I don’t really stray from it just because it helps me to not get distracted. I do have a coach that, he’s a National Guard recruiter. He’s helped me out a lot too. I talk to him about the Guard a little bit, and he’s obviously telling me the benefits of it. He’s going to give it to me straight, and not just tell me what I want to hear to get into the Guard. I did consider enlisting, but then I kind of strayed away from that because I just didn’t feel like it was my path to follow. I have such big aspirations for myself, and I see myself living in somewhere with bigger opportunities, and higher pay grade, and just more to do. But it definitely has been a struggle to keep that motivation, because people do get so comfortable here. In the fall, I am attending LSU, so I will go to Louisiana State University to pursue a degree in pre-medicine, so that I can hopefully go to medical school. I don’t feel like the military was my only option. I don’t feel obligated to go into the military just because I live next to a military base, or I know a lot of military adults. But I think it is the best option for me right now. The Army’s fingerprints are everywhere in Vernon Parish. The base has a bigger population than most of the surrounding towns combined. It has become an integral part of the local community, something that base leadership is very proud of. Fort Johnson, in and of itself, is an economic engine for central Louisiana to the tune of about $1.6 billion per year. All the services, all the programs, all the contracts we have, all the intergovernmental services we have, this is probably the driver for jobs here in central Louisiana. The base origin story is familiar enough. In 1941, the Army needed land, and a lot of it, to combat train a massive army for deployment to World War II. Then-Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower identified this area and purchased it. That training continues today. About 11 times a year, 3,500 soldiers come through here to get some good, hard training in central Louisiana. All Army units come here before going to war. From the 40s until now, what was once predominantly farmland became towns and cities that exist largely because of the base. We are definitely tied at the hip economically, socially, security- and safety-wise. But it is sparse out there. It is remote, and Fort Johnson was recognized as a remote location, which helped the military kind of, you know, flood resources to Fort Johnson. This is a story repeated in small towns across the country for generations. The Army bases, which occupy such an enormous footprint, those are a product first of the early 20th century and then of the post-Second World War period. They get built disproportionately in the south because the south is the most rural part of the country at that point, and it is the poorest section of the country. So there is absolutely a relationship between locating a base in South Carolina or Louisiana and the economic knock-on effect that a base is going to bring. Getting back to Fort Johnson, though, its influence on Vernon Parish extends beyond economics. So we have a robust community engagement program, which I think really helps getting after the numbers that the all-volunteer force needs. That close relationship between the military and the community shows up prominently in the school system as well. So we have a very good relationship with both the high schools, specifically the ones that have the junior reserve officer training core programs. I attend the Vernon Parish School Board and the Beauregard Parish School Board meetings. I go to most of the town, villages, and city council meetings. We have a pretty robust program for all regional high schools to be able to come on the installation. And we tour them from the ranges to the dining facilities to the barracks to the commissary to the PX, giving them an indication of what soldier life would be like. Recruiters do tend to over-promote the military, in my opinion, because no matter what you go into in the military, it’s a huge commitment. The recruiters make it sound so great because they’ll pay for your college and they’ll pay for this. But it’s almost like reading the fine print. You have to really make sure you know what you’re getting into with the military. What really has happened to the all-volunteer military, which is that it has become disproportionately a kind of economic opportunity for kids who don’t see much economic opportunity around them, you’re dealing with a population of 18-year-olds for whom this may be the only way they get out of high school. And so rather than sort of putting it in those terms, you say, well, this is the salt of the earth I got here. This is, you know, this is the kid we really need. I feel like the military definitely provides a lot of hope for kids that do want to get out. I think small communities, your pride matters. Those are the exact kids and young adults that the Army is looking to recruit. Quality, value-laden professionals that they can further train to be lethal. Once upon a time, it wasn’t there and you couldn’t imagine it. Now you can’t imagine living without it. Because everything, it’s like this enormous center of gravity. Everything about these communities revolves around these big bases.

Can the military survive on rural recruiting alone?

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