Before you consider formally enlisting in one of the services, talk to friends who had military experience, and visit one or more recruitment centers to talk with the officers in charge. Be aware that he or she is there to sell that service and emphasize all the desirable aspects of military life but there is no reason to mistrust whatever you may learn.
Although requirements for each service may vary slightly, all branches observe the same general rules. Enlistees must be between 17 and 35; a U.S. citizen, or immigrant alien holding permanent resident status; must have no felony record; and a valid birth certificate. Those who are 17 must have consent of a parent or a legal guardian before enlisting, and all Air Force personnel must enter active duty before their 28th birthday. Every applicant must meet certain physical standards such as height, weight, vision, and overall health, as well as pass the written examination known as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. High school graduation or its equivalent is a must for certain enlistment options and single parents are generally not eligible to enlist.
Depending on the terms of an enlistment contract, 2-6 years may be spent on active duty, the balance in the reserves. In return for serving satisfactorily for whatever period of time is agreed upon, the service provides numerous benefits. After 20 years of service one may retire at 50 percent of his or her base pay but if he or she remains on the job, the pension will grow by 2Vi percent each year.
In addition to base pay, every soldier or sailor or marine receives free room and board, occupational training, continuing education, medical and dental care, military clothing allowance, shopping privileges in a military department and supermarket, 30 days of paid vacation each year, and travel opportunities. Those on foreign or hazardous duty, submarine or flight duty, or are medical officers, receive additional allowances. In addition, those who have served at least two years are eligible for various Veteran's benefits.
Why would any young man or woman who has completed high school or had further training or college want to become a member of the armed forces? Certainly not because he or she was like so many people who can never keep a job, always come late to work, report sick at the slightest provocation, and think that the only way to make a living would be to join one of the services where a tough sergeant would make him or her get out of bed on time and stick to the job.
Your reasons should be better than these. Perhaps they might resemble the following:
- A desire to serve your country in a useful way.
- An interest in preparing for a career in the military.
- A desire to obtain further education while in the service and later use that training to advance yourself in the military or in civilian employment.
- A quest for a satisfying career with perhaps some adventure thrown in too. Although a position as an army truck driver, marine drafter, or navy baker sounds hardly adventuresome, it may involve travel and duty in a part of the world where you can experience both danger and excitement.
- A goal of finding job security for your working years with an assured pension for your old age.
- A desire to work with people whose goals are similar to yours.
If college is too expensive now, perhaps you are qualified for an appointment to one of the military academies. There you may obtain a top-notch education all at government expense. Those accepted for a four-year college course must agree to complete a prescribed tour of duty in the service following graduation. This is little enough repayment for a valuable education that is worth-at today's costs-upwards of almost a hundred thousand dollars.
Should your vocational goal be to become a minister, lawyer, dentist, doctor, librarian, or other professional, you will have to study on your own. However, after you have obtained your advanced degree, you might be able to enter the service of your choice in an officer's rank and carve out a very fine career for yourself.
Whether or not you should enlist or whether or not you should apply for officer training boils down to what you want to do with your life. If the restrictive military life is agreeable to you, then decide which service is best for you. Before you decide, however, it will be helpful to know how the various services differ in opportunities that will meet your requirements.
THE COMPETITIVE SERVICES
Each service has certain advantages and disadvantages, but in many respects they are all alike too. You can obtain training for a career, you may travel, and you will have medical and life insurance, opportunity for further education, and other benefits as well. Pay scales are comparable also, but until you know just what each offers in other ways, you cannot make a good decision.
Thus, if you are a water lover you would probably want to investigate the marines, navy, or Coast Guard. If, on the other hand, airplanes have always been your first love, you might look into the air force. Should adventure be your goal, the marines could possibly fulfill your ambitions because they traditionally receive the toughest assignments. As for the army, it provides the basic defensive or offensive ground forces. It calls for many specialists not found in the other services.
Certain activities are duplicated among all the services. Thus the air force is not the only branch flying aircraft. The army, Coast Guard, marines, and navy all have helicopters. The Marine Corps and navy maintain their own fighter planes. All of the services use motor vehicles of every kind, but all do not sail ships. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard, not the navy, have responsibility over the nation's navigable rivers, harbors, and waterways. On the other hand, all of the services require cooks, bakers, maintenance workers, and clerical staffs. They also need doctors, dentists, engineers, librarians, chaplains, and hundreds of other kinds of trained specialists.
If you are wise you will investigate each branch. You can do this by rereading the previous chapters carefully, taking time to note the service differences. Be sure you know the mission of each and where you might best fit in. Then you can decide whether you honestly feel that enlisting or entering an officer training program would prove a worthwhile investment of time for you-and the government too.