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Ten Things to Know Before Joining the Army

As a former soldier, I have nothing but fond memories of my time in the military. That being said, it's certainly not for everyone. With the bad economy and high unemployment, more and more people are turning to the military as a career choice. While I applaud everyone who decides to serve their country, I think that it's important to go into this knowing full well what to expect. Recruiters are great sources of information, but never forget, their job is to get you to join. As such, there have been cases where recruiters were, what's the phrase... "less-than-completely-candid."

This list covers come of the biggest things you'll need to know before you join the military.

1. Your Job Is Up to Them

Regardless of what your recruiter tells you, your job will depend entirely on the needs of your branch at that time. You may join up because you want to be an aircraft technician, or a radio systems operator, but if your branch doesn't need that particular job, then you're out of luck. And before you ask, no, not getting the specialty you signed up for does not "void your contract."

2. You Can't Quit

Joining the military is not like any other job you'll ever have. When you join, you sign an enlistment contract for a specified number of years. Once you sign the contract and take the oath (it's actually a pretty amazing experience), that's it, you're in. Some of you may have heard that there is a grace period of X number of days. Well my friends, that's all fiction. Yes, you can be discharged for failure to adapt, but that's entirely up to the government, not you. For you sports fans, think of it as a "club option."

3. The Length of Your Commitment Is Longer Than You Think

When you enlist, in general, you enlist for a period of 7-10 years, with a certain number of them being on active duty (meaning that you are in the military full time), and the remainder on what's known as inactive reserve (also known as IR). When on IR, you don't really have much of an obligation. You don't have to report in or show up for anything. IR comes into play in the event of another major deployment (a war). You would then be subject to recall.

4. Know Which Branch Is Best For You

When it comes to the military, there are four branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. The benefits are identical for all of them, but each one is unique in what you can expect.

  • The Army is almost a military unto itself, with parts of all three other branches (planes, boats, choppers, etc).
  • The Navy is tasked with enforcing America's foreign policy on the oceans and seas of the world. They are known for their long deployments and top notch aviators.
  • The Air Force are the techies and nerds of the military (sorry fly-boys, but it's true). They handle Space Command and just about everything cool or techy. They're also the most likely to walk into a $100 K plus per year job after the service.
  • The Marines are, well, Marines. They're a breed unto themselves. When it comes to America's warriors, Marines set the standard for "not-to-be-f'd-with."

5. You Are Government Property

No, this is not a joke or clever euphemism. As a member of the US Armed Forces, give your heart to whatever God you believe in, because your ass belongs to Uncle Sam. You will be required to stay in shape, wear your hair according to policy, and obey all standing orders relating to your personal health.

When I was in the Army, I processed more than a few sets of disciplinary papers charging soldiers with destruction of government property for getting a tattoo, getting sunburned, or breaking a leg on a ski trip. Basically, if you're screwing around and hurt yourself so bad that it interferes with you being fit for duty, you can expect to catch some manner of hell for it.

6. The Constitution No Longer Applies to You

Once you enlist, the constitution (the document that gives you your rights as an American) no longer applies to you. While serving, you fall under the jurisdiction of the U.C.M.J. (the Uniform Code of Military Justice). While for the most part you will enjoy most of the same basic rights, some big differences are:

  • No free speech/press/assembly in the military.
  • You still have freedom of religion, but the availability of religious personnel may not suit your needs.
  • You have no right to privacy (implied or otherwise).
  • You have no right to protection from unreasonable search.

There are a few other differences, and for most part you should never really notice a difference. Just be aware that there is a difference and that some things that are not crimes for civilians are crimes for military personnel (like cheating on your spouse, not showing up for work, talking back you your boss, etc).

Go Army

7. Orders Are Laws

In civilian life, if your boss tells you to do something, and you don't do it, the worst he can do is fire you. In the military, when your boss tells you to do something, if you ignore him/her, you can go to prison. You need to understand that, as enlisted personnel, you are legally required to obey all lawful orders from officers or your superior NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers). This includes orders that could potentially get you killed.

This is not a joke, nor do people have a sense of humor about this in the military. If you fail to follow orders, you can put people in danger, even get them killed. You follow orders, period.

8. You Can Die

I'll say it again, the military is not like any other job you'll ever have. As a cop, if you don't want to deal with the danger, you can quit being a cop. In the military, you don't have that option. I usually like to keep my writing somewhat light and humorous, but I'm not going to sugar coat this one for you kiddies.

America has real enemies. Enemies who will kill you if given the chance. They don't care about who you are, or where you're from, all that matters to them is that you are their enemy. And you can forget that crap you see in the movies, there will be no glib witticisms or monologuing while you think up a daring escape. They will pretty much just kill you dead.

9. You Will Be Expected to Kill

There is a flip side to the above topic. As I said, America has real enemies, and you, as a member of the military, will be expected to kill those enemies. As a soldier, you're not a diplomat. It's not your job to talk to people or reason with them.

Whether it's prepping ordinance (bombs) for use in combat, or taking part in small arms gun battles, you're not trying to wound your enemy, you are trying to kill him. Let that sink in for a moment. It will be your job to take lives. While you may have a non-combat job, the enemy doesn't care about that, and they will shoot at lawyers and cooks the same as they will an infantryman. That's why everyone who joins the military, regardless of job, gets taught to shoot and how to fight.


10. What You Get Out of It

I've talked a lot about what is expected of you when you join the military, now I'd like to take a minute to tell you what you can expect from it. First, the pay is pretty decent in most respects considering that, if you are single and living on base, you pretty much have no expenses. The military will clothe*, house, and feed you all free of charge. You also have the best medical coverage there is in that, if you are sick, you go to sick call. The treatment, medications, and everything else is free. For dependents, there may be some cost if they are admitted (for example, when my son was born, the total hospital bill was $21.00 (for food for my wife for three days).

Serving in the military, you will also experience a bond with your coworkers that no civilian job can offer. Once you've put your life in someone else’s hands, and they've put theirs in yours, you're not just coworkers anymore, your brothers/sisters. And while yes, there is some good natured joking and hazing amongst the different branches, woe betide the poor outsider that picks a fight with one of you.

Above everything else, you will have joined a long list of men and women who have put aside their own personal comfort, safety, and well being in order to protect and defend the rights and freedoms of others. You become part of something larger, you become part of what makes America so great. You become a symbol of courage, loyalty, duty, sacrifice, and love of country that serves as an example to others and to our enemies. As long as there are men and women who are willing to stand up for democracy, fight to defend it, and, if necessary, die for it, then America will endure.

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.


Jamal Galib on May 30, 2020:

am 16 years old and my passion is to serve my country Kenya as an air force officer

jada boyce on September 04, 2019:

I always wanted to join the army but am in the cardet force so when I finish that cardet force I will join the army its my dream

Boama-Secu Samuel on August 09, 2018:

My dream is to join the army.

Thanks for your teachings

nartey Patrick on July 31, 2018:

My dream is to join the armed forces under the infantry,,so i make it a point to get tips before i apply so that it can be easy for me when i joined so that i can know the does and dont,,of which I came across your advice and this helpful tips im greatful

CC on June 12, 2018:

I just enlisted 4 days ago and I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you!

Leiann on May 24, 2018:

Thank you for serving our country and helping us keep our freedom . I do have some questions tho . like What are some of the qualifications for joining the army ?

The Bri on March 10, 2016:

Good post, stay semper my friend

Liza Treadwell Esq aka Liza Lugo JD from New York, NY on December 09, 2014:

First of all, thank you so much for your service to this country. As a military spouse, I can say that I truly appreciate the sacrifices you made in your service to all of us. An important hub for those who are thinking about "joining" the military. It's an important reality check for them. God bless you & yours always. Voted up & useful :)

rhamson on October 15, 2014:


William from America on January 22, 2014:

Ouch! I suppose this is one way to look at it.

Billy Hicks (author) on October 26, 2012:

Semper Fi Marine. Good luck, and stay safe.

Ben on October 21, 2012:

Wanted to say thank you for such an awesome post. I am enlisting in the Marine Corps, I already have a four year degree and most people think I am joining for the benefits but I am enlisting not becoming an officer.. This is something I want to do if I die in combat I choose to go over there and risk dying for this country. God Bless and thank you again for such an informative post. God have mercy for any enemy America encounters.

Billy Hicks (author) on September 23, 2012:

Aww shucks Kathleen, now you're making me blush.

I have a little brother and three cousins that all joined up in the last year. They thought I was joking about most of this, lol. They're first couple weeks in basic straightened them out.

Go Army!!

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on September 22, 2012:

You become part of something larger, you become part of what makes America so great. You become a symbol of courage, loyalty, duty, sacrifice, and love of country, that serves as an example to others, and to our enemies, that as long as there are men and women who are willing to stand up for democracy, fight to defend it, and, if necessary, die for it, then America will endure.

Yes, you should know the previous 10 truths, but your last paragraph is what makes it worth it. HOOAH and thanks for your service.

Kamaia on August 12, 2012:

One of the best articles I have read so far! Thank you for all of your help. It is much appreciated!

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on April 19, 2012:

Good advice for anyone thinking of signing up. As the wife of a 20-year vet I can confirm it is not for everyone. I can also confirm there is nothing like it. HOOAH!

Kim Harris on October 06, 2011:

I love that there are so many veterans and active duty folks here at HubPages. (US Army 1978-1982) You're right about the camaraderie or esprit de corps. There's nothing like it. And I still get impatient with a "civilian clusterf--k!" Nice job billyhicks. Thanks and congrats on your nomination:)

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on October 06, 2011:

Well-presented look at the military experience. It is sobering to realize that so many are willing to give up their rights to defend the rights of others.

crochet48 from Southern New Mexico on October 06, 2011:

Excellent hub. Congratulations on your nomination! (From the mom of a U.S. Army soldier)

Rachelle Williams from Tempe, AZ on October 06, 2011:

Excellent. Voted Way Up!

Angelique Newman from Canada on October 03, 2011:

You've written a great in depth article. Thanks for sharing. Voted it up :)

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on October 01, 2011:

I believe this is very helpful. Thank you for sharing as this may help those who are thinking of joining the military.

Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination! To read this week's Hubnuggets and vote, please visit here: https://redelf.hubpages.com/hubnuggets6/hub/How-To... Best of luck from ripplemaker and the Hubnuggets Team.

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 26, 2011:

Rated way up and more!

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