I served six years in the U.S. Air Force, and I am here to provide the inside scoop (non-classified, of course) on what to expect.
U.S. Military Enlistment
So you're thinking about joining the United States military, huh? Well, I served six years in the U.S. Air Force, and I am here to provide the inside scoop (non-classified, of course) on what to expect in regards to U.S. military enlistment.
Let me first say that the military is not for everybody. For some, joining the U.S. armed forces may be a humbling experience, to say the least. It's filled with days of long hours and tedious, thankless work. For others, it might be quite the opposite. The military may very well be the best thing that ever happened to the individual. Either way, I would never degrade or denounce anyone for serving their country, whether it's for the experience, educational benefits, or a lifelong commitment. In fact, there is a lot of honor in serving, and I respect each and every service member, active duty, reserves, national guard, or veteran, who is serving or has served in the United
States military. Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty stuff and talk about the necessary requirements to join the mighty U.S. military service.
It all begins at the military recruiting center. Most towns have at least one recruiter from each branch of the military, be it the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines (and let's not forget the United States Coast Guard.)
The next step is the meeting, or the interview, with the military recruiter. Now, this part can be a little sticky, but I'm here to help guide you along the way, so let's get started!.
Military Basic Training
Here are some commonly asked questions about basic military training.
What should I expect from boot camp or basic training?
The Recruiter’s Response: Oh, it’s not that bad. You can follow directions, right? Well, then you’re good to go!
The Reality: In this case, the recruiter is correct. No matter which military branch of service you choose, basic training is just that... training! They break you down and then build you back up.
The biggest concern for the majority of military trainees is the fear of being washed back. This means, if you screw up then you are bound to be sent back to a previous week in order to correct your mistake. For example, if you are in Week 4 of training and you are washed back for not passing your physical training test then you’ll be reassigned to the class below such as Week 3 (or even Week 1 depending on the situation!) to work on your physical training.
Rule of Thumb: Don’t volunteer for anything and follow directions! Try to blend in and if you need help with anything ask other trainees around you. Trust me, you guys or girls will form some great bonds within your unit. If you can get through the first couple of weeks then you should be fine.
What’s the worst part about basic training?
Recruiter: It’s all too easy! Piece of cake. The years will go by in a flash.
The Reality: Actually, the recruiter is right once again. It is easy. Basic training is not the worst part. I would dare say that it is the easiest part. Personally, technical school (or AIT for Army trainees) was by far my worst experience. It was eight months of details and intense technical training. Military basic training is the least of your worries, trust me.
Here are some questions about career opportunities in the military.
Which career path is best for me?
(Note: This is by far the most important question! Please do not skim this one over!)
Recruiter: You scored very high in this particular field. This is what I recommend...
The Reality: The ASVAB, or what I like to call your potential test, is an in-depth test given to everyone prior to their military enlistment. The test consists of several sections including math, reading comprehension, mechanical and electrical applications... just to name a few.
Your asvab score reflects your aptitude for each subject, which supposedly reflects your job compatibility.
Certain jobs have minimum scoring requirements; therefore, it is imperative you score as high as you can in every section in order to have a variety of career paths at your disposal. Once your test results come back, the recruiter will contact you and persuade you to choose a particular career field in order to fill his/her quota.
Rule of Thumb: Once the test results come back, find out your score(s) and what jobs are available to you specifically. Don’t allow the recruiter to persuade you in any way. I can’t stress this enough. Scan through the career fields thoroughly as if your life depends on it because, you know what, your life does depend on it!
Personally, I went for the money and I paid dearly for it! I spent six years in a job I absolutely hated. Do not make the same mistake.
Military Enlistment Bonus
You can get a bonus if you enlist for enough years, but keep in mind the tradeoffs for that.
How many years should I enlist? Do I sign for two years, four years, or six years?
Recruiter’s Response: Your bonus is $10,000 for six years versus none for four years. I don’t know about you, but I can sure use ten grand (honestly, this was the response I received!)
The Reality: It’s a tough decision. For a teenager coming straight out of high school, or anyone for that matter, ten thousand bucks is a lot of money.
Here's a suggestion. Make a pros and cons list to figure out what is best for you. You need to have a plan already in place before you are cornered to make a last-minute decision.
Rule of Thumb: Speaking from experience, I would say go with the 4-year option. If for some reason you don’t like the career path you chose then at least you don’t have to spend an additional two years in that field. Additionally, if you happen to like the job, you can re-enlist after your 4-year commitment.
Warning: Trust me, if they are handing out a big bonus for six years then it’s probably for a reason. The job is either going to be low-manned and/or unpopular.
If I receive a bonus, when will the military pay me?
The Recruiter: You’ll get your bonus upon the completion of your training.
The Reality: Although the recruiter’s statement is true, it provides a false hope. For example, in the Air Force, you won’t receive the bonus until after you passed the test for your second level of training. Altogether, you are looking at a year and a half (depending on the career field) after signing the dotted line.
Rule of Thumb: Work hard, stay the course, and the money will come eventually. Don’t bank on the money in order to pay off an outstanding debt or for instant gratification. Look at the bonus money as an extra perk.
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.
© 2010 Chris