Red, White and Gangs: The problem of street gangs in the military

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

When you think of a gang member, what comes to mind? Is it a tattooed young man, throwing up gang signs and flashing big wads of cash? Or a violent ex-con involved in drugs? Whatever mental image the term evokes, it's probably not that of a clean-cut US soldier. However, one professor at Middle Tennessee State University says gang members are most definitely serving in the military.

Dr. Carter Smith has studied gangs in the military for years, after first discovering the problem as a criminal investigator in the Army. While one independent study shows less than one-percent of service members are in gangs, Smith says that is still far too many. "If there's a million and a half people in the military, less than one-percent is how many? Fifteen-thousand. Are you okay with 15,000 people trained to kill, maim?" he asks.

Smith believes most gang members join the military to get away from the gang, then find it difficult to break away. He fears what might happen when military training, weapons and equipment are combined with a gang creed.  Drug running, intimidation, violence - Smith says all are possibilities.

More thorough background checks might help weed out gang members. In most cases, though, Smith says the military only checks for convictions, and at times, even those with felony arrests have been allowed to join.


  • Ben Vickers

    So, we weed out gang members that are wanting to get away from gang culture by joining the military therefore cutting off one of the only ways a non-felon gang-member can escape the culture to begin with. The reasons for joining a gang are similar to the reasons for joining the military in most case, opportunity. Very few people I served with in the Marines did so out of patriotism. We were from working class or poor families and enjoyed the idea of upward social mobility. As one D.I. that trained me summed up, “I know lots of you represent gangs at home, but now you are part of the most ruthless (affectionately) gang in the world, the USMC.” Gangs are in place because of failures of structure within Society and the lack of opportunity among its out-groups . Gangs in the military has been a topic of concern for a long time and researchers receive generous amounts of funding to study it so this topic will continue to pop up at least yearly. Imagine though what could be gained by strategizing solutions to the societal failures that create the need for gangs instead of making noise about denying one of the only viable options a young person may have to leave a gang. On a lighter note, since this country is leaning towards arming one- and- all, at least these guys through immediate action drills learned in the military, will do their part in minimizing collateral damage.

  • Terri

    How many dead african americans did you order?
    “Gangs” are from every ethnic background. God and Country is this states moto. Gangs are a issue in every ethnic background. Why little boys ?!?!

  • Nuclear Mike

    The Military is training the gang bangers in all the skills they need to control the streets/hood…and now we hear this from our Federal Department of Homeland Security>>>
    “Spying on activists, dissidents and veterans. In 2009, DHS released three infamous reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism,” and another entitled Operation Vigilant Eagle, outlining a surveillance program targeting veterans. The reports collectively and broadly define extremists as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.” In 2013, it was revealed that DHS, the FBI, state and local law enforcement agencies, and the private sector were working together to conduct nationwide surveillance on protesters’ First Amendment activities.”

Comments are closed.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.