Now, we all have different reasons for choosing to join. We needed money to finish school and wanted a way to pay back our student loans (click here for full story). Some just want a steady job without having to go to a formal college. Others have always wanted to serve this great country, and some just want to kick some Terrorist butt. Whatever your reason is, making the choice is the first step.
Second step is to decide what your interests are and pick a branch that fits your needs and wants the best. When Ben and I decided to look into military options, we looked into EVERY available branch around here and determined what sounded the best for us. Research is the key to your success and happiness! Don't sign anything unless you have asked all the questions and read your contract and understand exactly what you are getting into.
Now, I get asked A LOT what the difference in the branches are. So here is a quick summary of the basics:
US Army: The Army is "active duty", which means that after you, your spouse, or loved one finishes their initial training they will be stationed on or near a base somewhere in the world. "Active duty" does NOT mean "deployed". "Active duty" pretty much means "full-time soldier", that's their career. Families can live with their soldier on base or off near their duty station. "Deployment" or "Hardship tours" family does NOT go.
US Army Reserves: This is the part-time Army. Lots of guys will go this route if they want a main civilian job, but want to serve the county part-time on the side. Also if they are going to school at the same time, Army Reserves is the way to go. However, going Active can be an option later on as well. My Ben is in the Reserves because he wants to finish school and ROTC (this is for another future post), and THEN he wants to go active duty once he graduates.
National Guard: In many ways this is like the Army Reserves. Both are part-time (one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer training) and a lot of the training (basic and AIT) are held together on the same bases. National Guard is run by the state, though, the Army Reserves is run on a federal level. So if you don't want to move and want to stay by family or whatever, the National Guard will keep you local as long as you want pretty much (At least in the same state). My father-in-law is in the Guard and it has always been good to him. National Guard serves under the state governor, while the Army Reserves serves under the president. The National Guard also helps during natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc..
US Marine Corps: These guys are super "gun"-ho! If your soldier just wants to get out there, kick butt, blow up things, be on the front lines in the face of danger, and have an awesome Class A uniform, then Marines is the way to go. I find that lots of young guys join, serve 10 or years then want to settle down so they switch over to the Army. Ben thinks Marines are crazy, but then again, Ben is older and a family guy who wants to play it safe... (as safe as being in the military goes anyway).
US Navy: If you want to travel all over the world on a ship, aircraft carrier, submarine, etc, the Navy is for you. Also, the Navy has a fantastic aviation program if flying fighters off carriers sounds like fun to you. Sailors are gone from home for long periods of time, but if you like the coast, then that is where you will live while you wait for his return if you are the spouse.
US Air Force: A lot of people join up with the Air Force before they really look into it. Everyone I have talked to that joins (especially ROTC cadets) "plan" to be pilots. But the truth is, that the majority of the Air Force is support. I have seen many statistics but they say only about 3-5% of the people in the Air Force are actually pilots. But if you think you may have a chance, go for it! They have lots of other groups and jobs as well... you can check out their website for more info.
US Coast Guard: I seriously considered joining the Coast Guard while I was in college. I thought it would be a blast to guard the coast in boat, do search and rescue in a helicopter, stop drug and human trafficking, catching poachers and bad guys. Sounded like a blast to me! The Coast Guard does those things... kind of a law enforcement on the water.
Note: All reserve or "part-time" branches sometimes have full-time positions available. Ask your recruiter if that interests you. And ALL branches are subject to overseas deployments. My father-in-law just got back from serving a short deployment in Cambodia.
My best advice for any one you may choose, is to really do your homework! Study up on it, talk to the recruiters (best way is to make a list of questions you want to ask), check to see what jobs are actually available, make sure you qualify for the position you want to fill, ask about benefits, loan repayment, tuition assistance, GI Bill, sign up bonuses, everything and anything that interests you. ALL branches are different in what they offer.
Make sure you ask to take a pre-ASVAB assessment test. The ASVAB is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery -- pretty much the ACT of the military. This pre-test will take you about 30 minutes, and it gives you a pretty good idea what kind of jobs in the military you will be able to do. It will give you a realistic view on what you are capable of. You don't want to go into the Navy planning on flying a F-35 only to be told you only qualify to be someone's "mate" (No offence to the "mates", every job is important!) But you know what I mean... Understanding where you fit in where the ASVAB is concerned, can be really helpful when deciding what branch you want to ultimately serve with. Once to make the choice, your recruiter will take you to take the real test which is about 3 hours long. Your score on this will determine pretty much everything when it comes to what is available to you in the military. (You can take a practice one here).
The last thing I want to touch on that I will talk about in greater length on another day, is Officer options. If you or your loved one has a 4 year college degree or is currently or planning to go to college, you may want to take this route. If you already have a degree, ask your recruiter about Officer Candidacy School (OCS) or Officer Training School (OTS). If you are just beginning college, you can look into various military academies. Also, if you are like us, an ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) might be offered at your college or university. In ROTC you train to be an officer alongside your normal degree and graduate with a minor in Military Science and a commission. The ROTC will pay for you to be in it and help with tuition and sometimes books and housing depending on which way you decide to go. For more information on Enlisted vs. Officer click here.
For more information on steps to joining the military check out this link. If you have any questions or I missed something, please feel free to email me or leave me a comment!