Dear Person Thinking of Enlisting in the Military,
Hello! I hope this note finds you doing well. I’m just fine thanks. I’m going to offer some unsolicited advice. Everyone loves unsolicited advice right? Of course right. What are my qualifications for dishing out this advice? Well. I’ve been to war. I’ve served my country for 12 years now and have done so as an enlisted service member in 2 branches – Navy and Army. I have a unique perspective.
So. Shall we continue? Excellent!
You want to be in the military. Good for you! I think it’s fantastic. The military needs people – good people – hard working people.
First off – please do not join the Army if you do not like camping and dirt. It’s going to happen. You’re going to go on ruck marches and not have access to showers for days. Likewise, do not join the Navy if you are afraid of the water. Navy = Ships. Do not join the Air Force thinking you’re going to get to fly the planes. Please do not expect deployment to be like Call of Duty or Top Gun. They are not. Not even close.
Do yourself a favor if you haven’t already and research your service.
If you don’t join right out of high school, be prepared to answer to someone younger than you. Be prepared to salute officers that are a mere 21-22 years old, fresh out of college ROTC or OCS. Most of them are good people but like anything there are a few “bad apples” that can spoil the bunch. You’re going to have to get out your straw sometimes and suck it up. A lot actually. Your first year in the service is probably going to be pretty rough. Ever heard the old expression “Rank has privilege”? It’s true in the military. You might have loads of experience but that 22 year old O-1 Butter Bar outranks you, so what they say goes.
Same goes for senior enlisted people. You might not like or agree with anything about a particular NCO (Non Commissioned Officer) but if you’re not of equal or greater rank – guess what. Get out your straw again. You can politely agree to disagree but in the end you need to obey the NCO’s orders. They have authority and as long as they are giving you a lawful order you need to do it. Like it or not. I really can’t stress this enough. It’s a huge problem and it will get you in trouble eventually. Promise.
Be prepared to have numerous people telling you what to do, how to do it, when to do it and what to look like while doing it. Yes. A frequent complaint I hear is that “I’m a grown-ass man. I don’t need someone telling me when to go to bed.” You’re right. You don’t need it, but the Army (or Navy or Air Force) is going to provide you with it all the same. At least during Basic Training and AIT (advanced individual training), after that you can go back to being a grown up. Kind of.
Accept that your time is no longer your own. Yes. It may seem ridiculous that you need to be 10 minutes prior to a formation that starts 20 minutes late but that’s just how it is. Understand that there are a lot of different hands stirring the pot and that they don’t always talk to each other. There is a lot of “hurry up and wait” and there always will be. Once you get up there and have some rank you can do your best to minimize it, but it’s never going to go away. Understand too that you are going to work in an enormous organization. Change moves like frozen molasses.
There are literally over a million people serving on active duty in the armed services and another 850,000 in the reserves. You are going to meet some funky people. Not everyone was raised with your manners (or lack there of), values, morals and beliefs. You’re going to meet some real dirtbags. People who came in and pride themselves on doing as little as possible and expect the most compensation. Do. Not. Be. That. Guy. Don’t be the person who works the system and always takes. I repeat: Do. Not. Be. That. Guy. Copy?
You’re also going to meet some incredible people. People that inspire you and offer encouragement. NCO’s and Officers that push you to (wait for it) Be All You Can Be.
That being said, take advantage of all the military has to offer. Earn your degree on their dime. See the world. Volunteer for Airborne school or become a Navy Rescue Swimmer. Learn a foreign language. There is nothing wrong with getting as much out of the military as possible as long as you are willing to work. There will be 18-20 hour days. There will be CQ or watch shifts from 0200-0400, family parties missed because duty calls. There will be deployments where you don’t get to see your family for 6+ months if not 15. You’re writing a blank check to Uncle Sam with your life. It can really suck and be really scary.
At the same time, it’s amazing. I’ve seen amazing places and met amazing people. I’ve developed some skills and earned my degree. It is a full time job. Different than any other you could have. You can (and will!) reap fantastic rewards if you’re willing to give up a little (initially) and suck it up a little. It’s not for everyone and that’s perfectly okay. We need all types in this world. I hope this has been helpful and that you’ll consider my words before signing up to ruck, float or fly.
Good luck. I am sure you will make the right decision.