Anyone who has attended high school has come into contact with the recruiters from our nation’s various defense branches. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force recruiters are charged with introducing themselves to every junior and senior in every high school in the U.S. with the express goal of talking those young folk into becoming one of the fighting men and women of the Department of Defense. Additionally, the recruiters are also roaming the colleges and universities looking for those students who might try their mettle as an Officer in one of the services. Most people they talk to are either unwilling to jump into such a commitment or are unqualified to do so, but if you have been approached and are unsure about whether or not you wish to make that move there are some things you should know that the recruiters might not have told you. Since being a Soldier is what I know, I’m going to talk primarily about joining the Army, but many of the things we’ll discuss apply to the other services as well.
First, at the risk of actually sounding like another recruiter, I am going to discuss why raising your right hand and swearing in might actually be a good thing for you. Unlike the recruiters, though, I do not have a quota: I simply want to help people understand that there is a very viable career opportunity in the Army. Some the standard recruiting pitches are that joining the Army will give you the best friends you ever had, provide you the opportunity to travel the world, put you in the cockpit of a jet or helicopter, and give you the best benefits any job can offer. All of these things are true, but with some caveats which we will discuss.
The best-friends part is absolutely true: in my time in the Army I have made friends of a depth I do not think would have been possible as a civilian. There is something about a bond forged in the depth of struggle which cannot be replicated elsewhere. Whether that struggle is helping each other make it through basic training or trusting each other to watch out for and protect the other during a life-and-death firefight overseas, the trust and care you nurture and feed makes friends of a wholly different sort.
The best part is that it often creates friendships that otherwise might have been quite unlikely, sort of like Forrest Gump and Bubba. Growing up in Utah as a white man of European descent, without the Army I would have likely never forged the friendships I have with an Italian/Puerto Rican from Queens, a black man from Atlanta, and a Native American from Montana. I did, though, and even the best friend I might have made back home could not compare to what these men have provided me in my life.
As for travel, well let’s just say that I have mostly spent my time in places people don’t visit for fun. I do have comrades, however, who have spent considerable time in places like Columbia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Europe. It largely depends on what Army occupation you choose and where you get stationed. For example, a person with a job on an Army ship will have more chances to sail to various countries, porting for days and enjoying what coastal areas in all the world’s seas have to offer. Soldiers who join the Army in language-specific jobs like Military Information Support Operations (formerly known as Psychological Operations), Special Forces, and translator or intelligence positions will often find themselves visiting places throughout Asia, South America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East other than the current conflict areas. Most of us, though, see a lot of Iraq and Afghanistan or other troubled areas than we do vacation hotspots. There remain Army units in Korea, Germany, Italy, Hawaii, and a few other overseas places, though, so it may be possible to get stationed at such posts.
As for flying, or any other job pitched to you which sound nothing short of awesome, there is one very basic thing you need to remember: every job in the Army has minimum requirements and may or may not actually have open positions. One thing a lot of recruiters keep in mind is that, in most cases, as long as they get you to the processing center you will most likely at least join in some job. Those places, called the Military Entrance Processing Station, are very hectic and they rush you through without much time to think. By the time you get to the desk where you decide your fate you are confused and have already told your family that you’re joining the military. The pressures there will often to push you to accept some other job when you finally learn you are unqualified for the job you wanted. The bottom line is to do your research. For every job the recruiter tells you about find out exactly what the requirements are, whether you meet those requirements, and get a preliminary estimate of whether that job will actually have openings when you go to sign up. Please avoid such designations as “09B”, which basically means the Army will put you in whatever job it wishes after you complete Basic Training.
What the Army does give you is a steady job with a decent paycheck, all of which is expendable income because they also give you a place to live (or money to rent one) health benefits, food (or money to buy some), and a good chunk of money to go to college. The college benefits include $4,500 per year while active to go to school part time, and, as of October 1, 2009, $1,368 per month for school after you get out, with some extra allowances for those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Additionally, there are places on post to buy everyday items tax free, discounts just about everywhere you go for military personnel, and other financial perks.
So, outside of the caveats in the above paragraphs, what exactly are the less desirable sides of joining the Army? Foremost is the effect it has on your personal life. When you are a Soldier you are a G.I. (general issue), which means you are another asset to the military, accounted for in much the same way as a computer or gun. Every hour of every day you belong to the Army and are subject to their needs; that is the catch of all of the great benefits. One day you might be enjoying a nice meal with a nice guy or gal, and the next your relationship prospect is interrupted by a sudden deployment to wherever Uncle Sam calls you.
Even worse is when that trip interferes with your family life. It is one thing to miss your significant other; it’s another to miss the birth of your child, their first steps, and their first ball game. To add to that, your family suffers by your absence because children are often unable to understand why you have to be away and your spouse has to take care of all of the household affairs you once shared. Yes, military life can be rough, so it takes a deep look at yourself to fully determine if signing up is what you really want to do.
That is what I really want to lead you to do: think about things. There are many positive reasons to become a Soldier, but there are some real concerns you need to step back and consider while the recruiter is pitching his best argument to get you in. There are no good or bad reasons to join the Army, but there are rash decisions and well-considered plans. Are you willing to sacrifice a little family time for the financial benefits? Are you as prepared to visit the armpits of the world as you are to visit its finer points? These are decisions only you can make, but hopefully you will wisely make the decision that is best for you.