Special Report

America's Military Cities

soldiersmediacenter / Flickr

The U.S. military is regarded as the most capable fighting force in the world. Though its purpose is to defend American interests across the globe, the impact of the U.S. military extends far beyond geopolitics. In cities across the country, the military serves as an economic and social pillar. 

There are over 1 million active duty service personnel — with about 1.4 million dependent family members — and nearly 20 million military veterans living in cities and towns across the United States. These men and women enrich their communities, not only with their unique experiences and values, but also economically. Through a range of channels, including salaries, pensions, and vocational training, the Department of Veterans Affairs spent over $180 billion domestically in 2018 alone — and much of that ended up in just a handful of cities. 

Using data compiled by Defense Department contractor Military OneSource, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the total number of active duty military personnel as a share of the total population at the metro area level to identify America’s military cities. While only 0.4% of the total U.S. population is in the military, in the cities on this list, active duty personnel account for anywhere from 2.5% to nearly 24% of the total population. 

The large military presence in the metro areas on this list is typically attributable to the presence of one or several military bases or installations. These bases are home to thousands of military personnel and sometimes their families. Here is a look at America’s largest military bases

Of course, America’s military presence is not limited to bases in the United States. The U.S. military has major installations in countries around the globe. These are America’s largest military bases around the world.

Click here to see America’s military cities.
Click here to see our methodology.

Source: my_public_domain_photos / Flickr

25. Anchorage, AK
> Active duty military personnel: 2.5% of pop. (10,094)
> Largest military base: Elmendorf Air Force Base
> Total dependents of military personnel: 12,562
> Veterans: 9.9% of pop. (39,580)

Just over 10,000 of the 399,000 people living in the Anchorage metro area are active-duty military personnel. The largest military facility in the metro area is Elmendorf Air Force Base. The U.S. government began construction of Elmendorf in 1940, and the base took on greater importance during the Cold War because of Alaska’s proximity to Russia.

As is often the case in cities with large military populations, Anchorage also has a large veteran population. There are nearly 40,000 former servicemen and women living in the metro area, or about one-in-every-10 area residents.

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24. Sierra Vista-Douglas, AZ
> Active duty military personnel: 3.0% of pop. (3,845)
> Largest military base: Fort Huachuca
> Total dependents of military personnel: 4,829
> Veterans: 15.8% of pop. (20,045)

There are nearly 4,000 active-duty military personnel in the Sierra Vista-Douglas metro area. The large military presence in the metro area is attributable to Fort Huachuca, a historic Army base not far from the Mexican border that was first used in the 19th century to guard settlers from attacks from Apache Indians. Currently, Fort Huachuca is home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Network Enterprise Technology Command.

Military personnel in the area support nearly 5,000 dependents. As is often the case in cities with a large share of active-duty service men and women, Sierra Vista-Douglas is also home to many veterans. Some 20,000 area residents, or 15.8% of the total population, have previously served in the military.

Source: Bobbie DeHerrera / Getty Images

23. El Paso, TX
> Active duty military personnel: 3.0% of pop. (25,712)
> Largest military base: Fort Bliss
> Total dependents of military personnel: 33,430
> Veterans: 5.6% of pop. (47,051)

Fort Bliss has a large military presence in El Paso, which has a population of more than 682,000. Fort Bliss is the Army’s largest center for educating and training Air Defense Artillery soldiers. There are over 25,000 military personnel stationed at Fort Bliss. Fort Bliss’ mission is rapid and efficient troop deployment.

El Paso is also home to many former members of the military. There are 47,051 veterans who live in the metro area, one of the highest totals on our list.

Source: dvidshub.net / Wikimedia Commons

22. Valdosta, GA
> Active duty military personnel: 3.1% of pop. (4,533)
> Largest military base: Moody Air Force Base
> Total dependents of military personnel: 5,388
> Veterans: 6.6% of pop. (9,571)

There are over 4,500 active duty service men and women living in Valdosta, Georgia. In addition to active-duty troops, there are also nearly 10,000 veterans living in the metro area — and they contribute to significant spending within the city. Between salaries, pensions, general operating costs, and other expenses, the Department of Veterans Affairs spent over $113 million in Valdosta in 2018 alone.

The large number of active duty troops living in the metro area is due to the presence of Moody Air Force Base. The base, which started as an Army Air Corps pilot training facility in World War II, is now home to the Air Force’s 23rd Wing, a combat search and rescue and security unit.

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Source: defenseimagery.mil / Wikimedia Commons

21. Cheyenne, WY
> Active duty military personnel: 3.2% of pop. (3,121)
> Largest military base: Francis E. Warren Air Force Base
> Total dependents of military personnel: 3,763
> Veterans: 12.2% of pop. (12,119)

Cheyenne is home to over 3,000 active military personnel, thanks to the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, which is the largest military facility in terms of personnel in Wyoming. The base was originally called Fort Russell and was founded in 1867 and is the oldest continuously active Air Force installation. Today, the base is home to the 90th Missile Wing.

Due to the large military presence in Cheyenne, including the 12,119 veterans living in the area, the Department of Veterans Affairs spends heavily in Cheyenne. Through a range of channels including salaries, pensions, and vocational training, the VA spent nearly $158 million in Cheyenne in 2018, more than a third of its total spending in Wyoming.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

20. Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, KY
> Active duty military personnel: 3.5% of pop. (5,266)
> Largest military base: Fort Knox
> Total dependents of military personnel: 7,217
> Veterans: 11.3% of pop. (17,195)

The Elizabethtown-Fort Knox metro area in Kentucky partially shares a name with its the largest military installation. There are 5,266 troops assigned to Fort Knox, an Army installation that serves as a training facility and houses 147.3 million ounces of gold — equal to half the U.S. Treasury’s total reserves.

In addition to the active-duty service men and women in the metro area, there are over 17,000 veterans and as many as 7,217 dependents of active duty troops. Between salaries, pensions, general operating costs, and other expenses, the Department of Veterans Affairs spent nearly $151 million in the metro area in 2018 alone.

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Source: United States Air Force / Wikimedia Commons

19. Goldsboro, NC
> Active duty military personnel: 3.7% of pop. (4,502)
> Largest military base: Seymour Johnson Air Force Base
> Total dependents of military personnel: 5,062
> Veterans: 9.9% of pop. (12,224)

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base was created barely six months after the United States entered World War II, when the government established a technical school just outside of the town of Goldsboro, which is about 54 miles southeast of Raleigh. The facility was deactivated after World War II and reactivated in 1956 as a tactical air command base. The base is home to all of Goldsboro’s 4,502 active duty military service members, and is home to the 4th Fighter Wing.

As is the case in most of America’s military cities, Goldsboro has a relatively large veteran population. Approximately 10% of the area’s population has served in the U.S. armed forces, the 22nd-highest proportion out of metro areas with military bases and nearly double the national percentage of 5.5%.

Source: my_public_domain_photos / Flickr

18. Wichita Falls, TX
> Active duty military personnel: 3.9% of pop. (5,968)
> Largest military base: Sheppard Air Force Base
> Total dependents of military personnel: 3,833
> Veterans: 9.0% of pop. (13,605)

There are nearly 6,000 active-duty troops living in Wichita Falls, Texas, comprising nearly 4% of the metro area’s total population. The area is home to Sheppard Air Force Base, which is not only the largest Air Force training base in the country, but also the only base that conducts both technical and flying training.

As is often the case in areas with large military populations, Wichita Falls is also home to a large number of former military personnel. Nearly one in every 10 metro area residents has previously served in the military.

Source: Chmiel / Getty Images

17. Colorado Springs, CO
> Active duty military personnel: 4.0% of pop. (29,641)
> Largest military base: Fort Carson
> Total dependents of military personnel: 42,864
> Veterans: 11.4% of pop. (84,542)

The Colorado Springs area is most famous as home to the United States Air Force Academy. The biggest military installation in the area, however, is Fort Carson, with 23,955 troops. Fort Carson trains troops in rough terrain conditions such as mountainous regions.

Fort Carson, which calls itself the “Best Hometown in the Army,” is home to one of the higher numbers of dependents of military members at 42,864. It also has the second-highest total of veterans on our list at 84,542, which comprises 11.4% of the metro area’s population.

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Source: Phil Mislinski / Getty Images

16. Urban Honolulu, HI
> Active duty military personnel: 4.4% of pop. (42,781)
> Largest military base: Schofield Barracks
> Total dependents of military personnel: 50,264
> Veterans: 7.6% of pop. (74,153)

Due to the presence of the Schofield Barracks and the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, in addition to several bases for other branches of the military, there are nearly 43,000 active duty service men and women living in the Honolulu metro area. Troops in the area support over 50,000 dependent family members. Additionally, there are 74,153 metro area residents who have previously served in the military. Between salaries, pensions, general operating costs, and other expenses, the Department of Veterans Affairs spent nearly $760 million in the metro area in 2018 — equal to more than three-quarters of its total spending in Hawaii last year.

Source: usnavy / Flickr

15. Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC
> Active duty military personnel: 4.7% of pop. (81,908)
> Largest military base: Norfolk Naval Base
> Total dependents of military personnel: 103,805
> Veterans: 12.0% of pop. (206,718)

The state of Virginia has a long and proud military tradition, and not surprisingly, it has the second-most number of military bases of any state (after California) with 193. The metro area with the largest number of military service members is Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News with 81,908, more than any metro area on our list. The largest military base there is Norfolk Naval Base, with 46,574 troops. The base is home to the Navy’s largest assemblage of naval forces and supports the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News is also home to more veterans than any other metro area on the list with 206,718.

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14. Bremerton-Silverdale, WA
> Active duty military personnel: 5.0% of pop. (13,445)
> Largest military base: Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton
> Total dependents of military personnel: 14,757
> Veterans: 12.2% of pop. (33,017)

There are about 13,500 active duty service personnel living in the Bremerton-Silverdale metro area. The metro area is home to a Navy hospital, two naval bases — which account for the large troop presence — as well as over 33,000 veterans. All told, current and former military personnel account for over 17% of the metro area’s total population.

Current and former military personnel living in Bremerton-Silverdale have a considerable impact on the metro area economy. The Department of Veterans Affairs spent over $271 million on operations, salary, pension, construction, and other expenses in the metro area in 2018 alone.

Source: dvidshub.net / Wikimedia Commons

13. Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, SC
> Active duty military personnel: 5.1% of pop. (10,996)
> Largest military base: Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot
> Total dependents of military personnel: 6,513
> Veterans: 10.1% of pop. (21,897)

The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort metro area is home to two military installations: Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot and Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station. Of the two, the Parris Island facility is the more famous and has 7,526 active duty personnel and 2,758 of their dependents stationed there. The veteran population in the metro area totals 21,897, or 10.1% of the population.

The installation’s motto is simply “We Make Marines.” The first Marines sailed into the area in 1861 in the early stages of the Civil War, and the first post was established there 30 years later. About 200,000 Marines were trained at Parris Island during World War II, among them women Marine reservists.

Source: dvidshub.net / Wikimedia Commons

12. Sumter, SC
> Active duty military personnel: 5.1% of pop. (5,427)
> Largest military base: Shaw Air Force Base
> Total dependents of military personnel: 7,373
> Veterans: 11.0% of pop. (11,682)

Sumter is one of two metro areas in South Carolina to rank on this list. The metro area is home to Shaw Air Force Base and over 5,000 active duty service men and women. Shaw is the home base for the 20th Fighter Wing unit, the Air Force’s largest fleet of F-16 fighter jets.

Veterans make up an even larger share of the metro area’s total population. There are 11,682 former members of the military in Sumter, equal to just over one-in-every-10 Sumter residents.

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Source: dvidshub.net / Wikimedia Commons

11. New Bern, NC
> Active duty military personnel: 5.5% of pop. (6,751)
> Largest military base: Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station
> Total dependents of military personnel: 6,817
> Veterans: 11.3% of pop. (13,943)

New Bern is the second of three North Carolina metro areas on the list. Cherry Point Marine Corps Station is the larger of the two military installations in the area. The other military base is Cherry Point Naval Aviation.The Marine installation’s mission during World War II was to prepare soldiers for combat in the Pacific theater. Today, the Marine facility is home to 6,338 troops. In addition, nearly 14,000 veterans live in the metro area, or 11.3% of the total population.

10. Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, FL
> Active duty military personnel: 6.0% of pop. (16,757)
> Largest military base: Eglin Air Force Base
> Total dependents of military personnel: 22,924
> Veterans: 14.2% of pop. (39,483)

There are nearly 17,000 active-duty military personnel living in Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, comprising about 6% of the total metro area population. The military presence in the area is due in no small part to Eglin Air Force Base, a massive facility under the control of the 96th Air Base Wing, a unit that provides ordinance and weaponry support to missions around the world.

Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin also has one of the largest veteran populations in the country. There are nearly 40,000 former military service members living in the metro area, equal to 14.2% of the total population.

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Source: Jessica McGowan / Getty Images

9. Columbus, GA-AL
> Active duty military personnel: 6.6% of pop. (20,321)
> Largest military base: Fort Benning
> Total dependents of military personnel: 20,402
> Veterans: 10.5% of pop. (32,191)

The Columbus, Georgia, metro area is home to Fort Benning, which opened just as World War I was ending in 1918. The installation has 20,321 active duty military members — all of the area’s military service member residents — and encompasses 182,000 acres in west central Georgia and a small part of east central Alabama. Fort Benning is called “Home of the Infantry.” It also hosted some of the more heralded military men in American history, including Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, George C. Marshall, and Colin Powell.

The Columbus metro area also has one of the larger number of veterans on the list with 32,191 vets.

Source: Ben Sklar / Getty Images

8. Killeen-Temple, TX
> Active duty military personnel: 8.6% of pop. (38,653)
> Largest military base: Fort Hood
> Total dependents of military personnel: 48,475
> Veterans: 13.9% of pop. (62,986)

The Killeen-Temple metro area in Texas is home to Fort Hood, one of the largest military bases in the United States. The base, which spans 340 square miles, is the only installation in the United States capable of training two armored divisions. Fort Hood’s presence alone accounts for the vast majority of the nearly 39,000 active duty service men and women living in the metro area.

The metro area is also home to nearly 63,000 veterans. The large population of current and former members of the military has a considerable economic impact on the surrounding area. Between salaries, pensions, general operating costs, and other expenses, the Department of Veterans Affairs spent nearly $1.3 billion in the metro area in 2018 alone.

Source: Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright / Flickr

7. Fairbanks, AK
> Active duty military personnel: 9.0% of pop. (8,889)
> Largest military base: Fort Jonathan Wainwright
> Total dependents of military personnel: 10,636
> Veterans: 12.3% of pop. (12,206)

The second of the two Alaska metro areas on the list, Fairbanks is home to Fort Jonathan Wainwright, named after a World War II general. The Fairbanks metro area is also home to Eielson Air Force Base.

Fort Wainwright is by far the largest military installation in Alaska by numbers of military personnel, with 7,162 troops stationed there. Fort Wainwright began as a base for the Army Air Corps (the predecessor to the Air Force) in 1940 before it was transferred to the Army in 1961. The facility is part of what the Army calls “Home of America’s Arctic Warriors.” Veterans comprise 12.3% of the metro area population.

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Source: Luke Sharrett / Getty Images

6. Clarksville, TN-KY
> Active duty military personnel: 9.1% of pop. (26,520)
> Largest military base: Fort Campbell
> Total dependents of military personnel: 36,426
> Veterans: 13.4% of pop. (39,023)

Of the 290,745 people living in the Clarksville metro area, 9.1% are active duty military personnel. The large military population is due to the presence of Fort Campbell, home to the 101st Airborne, the only air assault division under the purview of the U.S. Army. Areas with large military populations are also often home to a large number of former military personnel. In Clarksville, there are over 39,000 veterans, who comprise 13.4% of the total population.

The economic impact current and former military personnel have on the area is substantial. The Department of Veterans Affairs spent over $600 million in the metro area in 2018 alone, on everything from salaries and pensions to vocational training and insurance payments.

Source: charlesduggar / Flickr

5. Lawton, OK
> Active duty military personnel: 9.5% of pop. (11,987)
> Largest military base: Fort Sill
> Total dependents of military personnel: 12,536
> Veterans: 13.3% of pop. (16,756)

Lawton, Oklahoma, is the largest military city in the state, hosting 11,987 troops — equal to nearly 10% of the total population. Lawton is about 86 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.

Fort Sill, the only base in the metro area, is home to the U.S. Army Field Artillery School, which trains about 9,000 soldiers each year in fire support techniques and procedures. Fort Sill also hosts artillery brigades and the U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery School. The metro area is also home 16,756 veterans and has the seventh-highest share of veterans on our list at 13.3%.

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Source: Logan Mock-Bunting / Getty Images

4. Fayetteville, NC
> Active duty military personnel: 12.0% of pop. (46,626)
> Largest military base: Fort Bragg
> Total dependents of military personnel: 66,699
> Veterans: 13.6% of pop. (52,508)

Fayetteville, North Carolina, is home to Fort Bragg, which is one of the largest military installations in the country with more than 45,000 active duty servicemen and women. Fort Bragg was one of three training camps created in North Carolina during World War I. It became known for the airborne units located there, including the storied 101st and 82nd airborne divisions. Pope Air Force Base was absorbed into Fort Bragg and renamed Pope Field in 2011 as part of the government’s base realignment and closure initiative.

The number of family members supported by military men and women stationed in Fayetteville is 66,699, the second highest on our list.

Source: John Moore / Getty Images

3. Watertown-Fort Drum, NY
> Active duty military personnel: 13.4% of pop. (14,944)
> Largest military base: Fort Drum
> Total dependents of military personnel: 17,736
> Veterans: 8.7% of pop. (9,706)

Fort Drum, located in the Watertown, New York metro area, is the largest military installation in the Northeast, with 14,944 active duty service members, or 13.4% of the metro area’s population. The facility is located about 90 miles north of Syracuse. The area was an Army outpost for decades until 1908, when Brigadier General Frederick Dent Grant, son of General Ulysses S. Grant, recognized the area’s potential as a military base. In 1909, the government bought the area and troops began training there the following summer. Today, Fort Drum is the home of the 10th Mountain Division.

According to news reports, Army officials said the direct economic impact of Fort Drum on the region was $1.2 billion during the 2017 fiscal year.

Source: usdagov / Flickr

2. Manhattan, KS
> Active duty military personnel: 15.4% of pop. (15,078)
> Largest military base: Fort Riley
> Total dependents of military personnel: 18,507
> Veterans: 6.7% of pop. (6,563)

The biggest military city in Kansas, and the second largest in the nation, is Manhattan, where Fort Riley is based. There are 15,078 active duty military members in Manhattan, or 15.4% of the population, the second-highest percentage of any metro area in the nation. According to the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, Fort Riley’s economic impact on the state was more than $1.73 billion.

Fort Riley hosts the 1st Infantry Division, also known as “The Big Red One,” which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017. Units from Fort Riley have supported recent military operations such as Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn.

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Source: dvidshub.net / Wikimedia Commons

1. Hinesville, GA
> Active duty military personnel: 23.9% of pop. (19,137)
> Largest military base: Fort Stewart
> Total dependents of military personnel: 26,510
> Veterans: 14.9% of pop. (11,900)

Hinesville, Georgia, holds the distinction as the metro area with the highest percentage of active duty military service members in the nation at 23.9%, or 19,137 troops. Veterans comprise an additional 14.9% of the metro area’s population, the second-highest on our list. Hinesville, which is about 43 miles southwest of Savannah, is home to Fort Stewart, the home of the 3rd Infantry Division, which was activated there in 1996.

Fort Stewart was established as an anti-aircraft training camp in 1940-41, just before the United States entered World War II. During the war, Fort Stewart was used to house German and Italian prisoners of war. It was a training center for troops who went to fight in the Korean War, was redesignated as an artillery firing center in 1959, and helped instruct helicopter pilots during the Vietnam War.

Methodology

To identify America’s military cities, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the number of active duty military personnel as a share of the total population at the metropolitan statistical area level.

Data on the number of active duty service men and women in a metro area came from the 2018 Demographics Report, originally published by Military OneSource, a U.S. Department of Defense contractor. Demographics data was aggregated from the zip-code level to the metropolitan statistical area level. Data on metro area population came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey.

We also considered the number of veterans and dependents of active duty service men and women at the metro area level. Data on veterans, or civilians who formerly served in a branch of the military but who are no longer enlisted, also came from the ACS. Total number of dependents of military personnel living in a given metro area came from the 2018 Demographics Report.

In addition, we considered metro area-level data for total military expenditures from the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics for fiscal year 2018.

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