This commentary was published in the National Review Online late last week. The author is a retired Marine officer. Here's the meat of the article:
While overall, minorities comprise 30 percent of the Army, one of the two services that would be expected to bear the brunt of close combat in Iraq, they tend to be underrepresented in the combat arms. As the incomparable Tom Ricks observed in a January 1997 article for the Wall Street Journal, the "old stereotype about the Army's front-line units being cannon fodder laden with minorities" is false.
The fact is that blacks disproportionately serve in Army combat-service support units, not combat units. When Ricks wrote his piece, such units had become "majority minority," with more black soldiers than white. By contrast, he observed, the infantry, which generally suffers the most casualties in wartime, had become "whiter than America." African Americans constituted nine percent of the infantry, compared to 11.8 percent of the age eligible civilian population. In 1995, 79 percent of the new troopers were white, compared with 74.3 percent of civilians. There is little evidence to suggest that these figures have changed much over the last five years
Why is this the case? Ricks pointed out that the new demographics of the Army have to do with the dynamics of an all-volunteer force — Blacks and whites join the military for different reasons. On the one hand, white youths are frequently looking for adventure while they try to raise money for college. As a result, they tend to flock to the combat arms, especially elite units like the Rangers and airborne. On the other, young black males, "are generally seeking skills, and so gravitate toward administrative and technical jobs. Because they often find the Army a fairer and better place to live than civilian society, blacks tend to stay enlisted longer: Though only 22% of today's recruits are black, the Army itself is 30% black."
In addition, most pilots are white, as are most special-operations forces, e.g. Navy SEALS and Army special-forces. This leads one to the conclusion that in a war, middle-class white kids, not minorities, would be at the greatest risk, since they make up the bulk of the combat arms. So much for the conventional wisdom.
The author is using data from the 1990's so I suspect that he was unable to get newer information. You can find the racial make-up of each service branch in the aggregate here, but I couldn't find any public information regarding the racial make-up of combat occupational specialties. I made a phone call to Marine Corps Public Affairs, and worked my way from Los Angeles to Headquarters to Quantico, where I was told the Marine Corps does not track information on race by Military Occupation Specialty. My personal experience as a Marine rifleman in the Marine Corps Reserve from 1991 to 1997 supports the author's argument, but I admit my situation probably skews the racial make-up of the training platoons to which I was assigned.
Whatever the answer is to the racial make-up of combat troops, it simply doesn't matter anyways. Everyone in the American military has chosen of their own free will to be there. The argument regarding minorities bearing the brunt of combat is really just another "hate America" argument from leftists: white men, America, its military, and Western Civilization are bad; minorities are victims. The left is really making a racist argument that minorities are not capable of making choices in their own best interest. The argument also is more evidence that the left doesn't really believe in "freedom of choice."
Thanks to Gene Expression for the link.