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How to Prepare for Today's Competitive Air Force

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As budget cuts continue to put pressure on the U.S. military to spend less, each branch is making substantial cuts to personnel, and the Air Force is not immune to this epidemic.  Airmen are being given options for early discharges and enlistment bonuses have been cut, decreasing the incentive for Airmen to reenlist.

However, even with these cuts there is still a need for new Airmen to join the Air Force. That being said, with fewer positions available, the competition is now increasingly challenging. So if you have a desire to join the Air Force, you will need to prepare yourself more than ever.

Along the road of enlistment there are many steps at which you can be deemed unfit for service. The first of these is during your first meeting with a recruiter. The job of the recruiter is to recruit people who are most likely to complete all training requirements. Your first step is to prove to the recruiter that you are serious about joining the Air Force.

  1. Call and make an appointment with the recruiter. Don't just stop in the office.
  2. Bring all the necessary paperwork to get the process started. (Transcripts, birth certificate etc.)
  3. Make a list of jobs you are interested in before meeting. This will require you to research Air Force jobs.
  4. During your initial meeting ask for a specific date for the next meeting. The recruiter may not be able to set a specific date but at least ask for one to show your commitment.
  5. If you don't hear back from the recruiter within 5 business days, make contact by phone. Be sure to get the recruiters contact information.

Once you have completed the initial paperwork with the recruiter you will most likely head to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). This is when many people have been washed out of the enlistment process. Because of the spending cutbacks, minor medical conditions that have been waived in the past are now keeping people from enlisting. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about previous medical conditions. Remember, it is important to disclose all medical history. By not disclosing a medical condition you are sure to be washed out of the enlistment process when it is discovered.

If you pass the medical evaluation and go onto the next step of the process, avoid activities which may cause medical issues. Such as contact sports, skiing, skateboarding etc. Any medical issues which arise before you leave for training may eliminate you from joining the Air Force all together. At least, it will delay your ship out date which can actually affect which job you are assigned to.

In addition to your medical qualifications, during MEPS you will also be tested on your mental aptitude. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is a test that ranks your ability and qualification for specific jobs, as well as your ability to join the Air Force at all. During times when the military needs a lot of personnel, such as right after 9/11, military branches lower the qualification scores in order to fill spots. However, doing times such as these, this is not the case and you will need to be prepared to score as high as you possibly can.

  1. Know what jobs you are interested in and learn what the required scores are for those jobs. (The recruiter can give you that information.)
  2. Study for the ASVAB. Do not leave it up to chance.
  3. If you took the ASVAB during high school and want a higher score, retake it at MEPS.

A third qualifying factor that MEPS personnel will look at is your criminal background. Again, remember to disclose any and all criminal history or traffic infractions. And of course, do everything in your power to stay out of trouble before your ship out date.

Once you pass all of these steps, you will pick from a list of available jobs that you qualify for. Once again, because there is a low supply of jobs vacancies, the Air Force can be pickier about who they take. In the past, recruits were able to wait for a specific job to become available before going to basic training. Now you will make a list of jobs and the first one to come available will be the one you get put into.

Last, but definitely not least, you need to be physically prepared for the Air Force before going to basic training. As part of the plan to make sure that a higher percentage of recruits actually complete training, the Air Force now requires you to perform a physical fitness test before you even start training.

  1. Know what your fitness requirements are.
  2. Find a fitness program designed for basic training such as the one in The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook.
  3. Start training well ahead of time, even before you meet with the recruiter.

The Air Force is a challenging, but rewarding career. The more you put into it the more you will get out of it, and this starts at the beginning of the enlistment process.

This article was written by SrA Nicholas Van Wormer, author of The Ultimate Air Force Basic Training Guidebook and Sergeant Michael Volkin, inventor of the military fitness cards Strength Stack 52.

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