The number of blacks joining the military has plunged by more than one-third since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began, as other job prospects soar and relatives of potential recruits increasingly discourage them from signing up.
According to data obtained by The Associated Press, the decline covers all four military services for active duty recruits, and the drop is even more dramatic when National Guard and Reserve recruiting is included.
The findings reflect the growing unpopularity of the wars, particularly among family members and other adults who exert influence over high school and college students considering the military as a place to serve their country, further their education or build a career.
Walking past the Army recruiting station in downtown Washington, D.C., this past week, Sean Glover said he has done all he can to talk black relatives out of joining the military.
"I don't think it's a good time. I don't support the government's efforts here and abroad," said Glover, 36.
The message comes as no surprise to the Pentagon where efforts are under way to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps.
Marine Commandant Gen. James T. Conway agreed that the bloodshed in Iraq -- where more than 3,540 U.S. troops have died -- is the biggest deterrent for prospective recruits.
According to Pentagon data, there were nearly 51,500 new black recruits for active duty and reserves in 2001. That number fell to less than 32,000 in 2006, a 38 percent decline.
When only active duty troops are counted, the number of black recruits went from more than 31,000 in 2002 to about 23,600 in 2006, almost one-quarter fewer. The decline is particularly stark for the Army.