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8 Tips To Ensure a Successful Military Career

New recruits are sworn in during the Army Reserve Mega Event in Whitehall, Ohio. (U.S. Army photo)
New recruits are sworn in during the Army Reserve Mega Event in Whitehall, Ohio. (U.S. Army photo)

Once you are in, you need to make the most of it. The following ten tips can help you get the most from your military career.

1. Pay attention

Remember, you are fresh out of basic, which means you have absolutely no clue what you are doing. When your first line supervisor tells you to do something that flies in the face of what you learned in basic, nod your head in a sagely manner and do what they tell you. What you learned in basic is all fine and good, but this here's the real deal, and things are done differently.

2. Educate yourself

Free promotions stop at E-4. The only way you're going to advance is if you convince your service that you are better than your peers. Take civilian college courses if you can, enroll in military correspondence courses if they are available. Start studying for your next qualification exam. Remember, after E-4 you need to convince the military that you're worth keeping.

3. Relax, but...

Don't forget you're in the military now, not back on the block. Unless you're going on a deterrent patrol aboard a submarine packing nukes, the military is essentially a 9-5 job ... Except that you can go to jail if you're late for work.

4. Keep your affairs in order

The unit commanders can be very unforgiving to individuals who make their commands look bad. Stay out of debt, don't bounce checks at the PX, don't drink and drive, don't fight with the locals, etc.

5. Motivation vs. Excessive Flattery

There is a very fine line between being motivated and being a "yes-man"; don't cross it. Doing your job and doing it well will prove that you're motivated. Following the First Sergeant around and volunteering for every detail that comes down from Battalion will prove that you're a sycophant (polite term for a butt-kisser), only doing things to try to gain favor. Rest assured your chain of command is capable of telling the difference between a solid worker and an actor.

6. The Rumor Mill

You will quickly learn that military runs on rumors. Unfortunately, rumors are usually wrong, and can be deadly for morale. If you hear a rumor, take it for what it's worth, not much! Since you don't know the truth, don't spread the rumor; and whatever you do, don't let rumors mess with your head. Again, rumors are about 10 percent truth and 90 percent fiction.

7. Not Like Me

In bootcamp there were no individuals. You were forced to work as a team or suffer the consequences. After bootcamp, unit cohesion is not automatic; you have to work at it. You already know from bootcamp that you can successfully work with people from all backgrounds and cultures. Don't forget that. Don't be a loner, and try to resist the temptation to associate and socialize only with people just like you. Also remember that you don't have to like everyone (and you won't), but you do have to find a way to work with them (and them with you).

8. No Excuses

Never offer an excuse. Your commanding officer or NCO doesn't want to hear your excuse unless they ask for it. Any reason you may offer will be treated as an excuse. Yes Sir/Yes Ma'am (or Sir yes Sir / Sir yes Ma'am) is always the best response.

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