I'm a military veteran who likes giving advice to those thinking about entering the service.
Negotiating Your Army Contract
Negotiating with a military recruiter is something that most new recruits don’t bother to do, or at least not to the extent that they should. Someone interested in joining the military will either find or be found by a recruiter and are quickly swept up in the process and are signing that contract before they realize what has happened. A new recruit will feel that, as long as they get a cool Army career and cool training, they’ve gotten all they want and they won’t attempt to negotiate for anything better. It is absolutely important that you take the process seriously, negotiate with the Army recruiter, and take your time!
Your Recruiter Really Wants You to Sign
If you are considering joining the Army, the first thing you must realize is that the recruiter wants you to sign up regardless. The recruiter (unless he or she is just a good person through and through) isn’t acting in your best interest and will attempt to get you signed up as quickly as possible and will tell you whatever they can in order to accomplish that goal. Recruiters are held to quotas, which they must meet and there’s a good deal of pride on the part of the recruiter who’s able to sign up a large number of people. There are exceptions to this, of course. If you aren’t good Army material for medical, psychological, or mental reasons, then the recruiter will likely tell you that you just aren’t suitable. However, if you are only out of shape physically or have little or no job experience, the recruiter can work with that and prepare you for the Army.
Do Your Research
Assuming that you are suitable Army material, you want to make sure that you get the best training possible and that you get the job you really want. The first thing you need to do is research. You can talk to a recruiter first if you want, but don’t commit to anything until you’ve done research. Ask the recruiter for material to look over and to show to your family. Recruiters have many resources available to new recruits, all with the goal of getting you to sign up. But don’t just read up on information provided by the Army alone. You must go a little bit further to get a better idea of what you’re getting into. Do research on the internet, read books, and talk to anyone and everyone you can that has been in the Army to find out what it is really like. Make sure you talk to someone that has been in the Army recently though, as the Army has changed a lot from the days that your uncle Fred got drafted for the Vietnam War. If you don’t know anyone that was in the Army in the field you are interested in, ask the recruiter to find someone for you to talk to. It's guaranteed the recruiter knows someone in the Army that’s in the job you are interested in.
Talk to Family and Friends
Once you have determined the job or jobs that you are interested in, talk to your family and friends about it. Tell them what you’ve found out and get their opinions. It’s true that you don’t need their consent to join, but it sure does help when you have someone to write/call back home. You never know when your family and friends will have some helpful insight in making your decision. Make sure that your loved ones realize what you’re getting into and that their expectations are realistic. Explain to them the process that you’ll have to go through to join, the amount of time you’ll have to spend in training, how often you’ll get to come back home, and the possibility that you’ll be deployed. The last thing you want is to deal with family issues during training because Mom and Dad don’t realize that you just can’t come home to visit or even call them on a regular basis.
What to Do When You Sign Up
Once you’re prepared to make your decision, then you can go back to the recruiter and make the big leap. The recruiter will take you to your local MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) where you may have to take a bunch of tests, fill out a bunch of paperwork, and go through a bunch of exams before they will let you put together your contract. This is basically to weed out any issues that would prevent you from being a soldier, and may take several trips to MEPS to complete. Once you finally get to sit down with someone in MEPS and hammer out your job of choice, you may be tempted to rush through it excitedly in order to ship out as soon as possible. Don’t! Tell them what job(s) you are interested in, listen to what they tell you is available, and then begin negotiating. Rarely will they give you everything you want up front, unless you aren’t asking for too much. If they don’t have the MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), i.e., job you want available, then tell them you won’t sign up for any other MOS. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they’ll manage to find you a slot in that MOS. If they say you must sign up for a five-year contract and you only want to sign up for four, tell them you won’t join unless you get a four-year contract. Don’t let them intimidate you or talk you into signing for anything you don’t want. Be firm and confident in what you want, and you’ll likely get it. Of course, this will all vary depending on the needs of the Army, so make sure you do your research ahead of time and find out which jobs are in demand in the Army and which jobs are over-strength (i.e., they already have too many people in that MOS and won’t accept more). You can do this by going to military.com or militarytimes.com and a number of other sites out there. Ask your recruiter how to find this information. The most important part of this process though is to get everything you want put in writing. If it isn’t in the contract, then the Army is under no obligation to give it to you, and they probably won’t. This includes any special schools or training like language training or airborne training, which they may try to convince you that you’ll get anyway. Don’t accept that…put it in writing.
Always Ask Questions
All of this may sound a little daunting, but it is important to get these first few steps in the process right as it will affect your career. If you have any questions about the process or the Army in general, don’t be afraid to ask your recruiter. After all, that’s what he’s there for. Keep in mind, however, that his responses may be biased towards getting you to sign up. And if you’re afraid that your questions will sound stupid, don’t worry. You can bet that any recruiter that’s been around long enough has heard all sorts of crazy questions. Above all remember this, the Army wants soldiers eager to join and will work (within limits) to get you to sign up. You will never have greater power in your dealings with the Army as you will when negotiating your contract. After you sign, the Army tells you what to do.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Squirrelgonzo on March 23, 2012:
This is some great information for those looking into the military and I'm glad you didn't pull any punches with what they do either! Darn Recruiters! :)
Melissa McClain (author) from Atlanta, GA on December 29, 2011:
Just signed up to use those college benefits starting in January. :D The GI Bill is an awesome benefit for military personnel.
BobbyD34 from Pennsylvania on December 29, 2011:
Its nice to see that the military taught you how to stay in shape and that you still use your training. Be sure to use your benefits when you go baack to college.