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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).

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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.

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