cbs news ran reports this week on gangs in the military and gangs employing military training in their criminal activities. the juxtaposition of military and street gang iconography, as in this picture of marine corporal shavon striggles at parris island, raises all sorts of disturbing and provocative questions.
in discussing gangs in the military, most will look immediately to the 125,000 recent recruits entering the service with criminal records. in making this leap, i'd suggest two cautions:
first, many of these recruits surely had some history of gang involvement, but just as surely had left ganglife behind. the best longitudinal data i've seen suggests that gang affiliations are rarely the lifelong commitments suggested in popular culture. relative to other former gang members, those that enter intensive military training might be expected to shed such affiliations especially quickly.
second, while one needn't look far to find evocative images such as gang graffiti and hand signs around military personnel, the official gang incident numbers remain quite small: 16 reports of investigation (ROI) and 44 other suspected gang incidents in 2006. in short, though i'm glad the military is vigilant on this issue, the rest of us would probably do well to keep such threats in perspective.