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Joining the Military — Talk With Parents

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)

Every now and then this email is received from a young man or woman seeking some advice on preparing for service in the military. This one is a little different as this young high school graduate needs some information on preparing his parents on his desire to serve. Since many of our readers are future service members and we have many veterans and active duty members who read these blogs, I thought maybe this article can be used to share some ideas on how you broke the news with your parents when you decided to serve. Not every one has supportive parents period, much less supportive of serving in the military during times of conflict. Here is the email that prompted this blog post and request to the readers to share their stories:

Stew — I have been a multi-​​sport athlete my whole life and I am ready to serve my country. However, my family has been really against enlisting and going to the military as an alternative to college, BUT I am 100% positive that’s what I want to do. Both my sister and brother are in college sports and they expect me to do the same. What kind of tips can you give me to tell them. Thanks for reading and I hope you can reply. Sincerely, JM

First, good job on the extra effort it takes to being a scholastic-​​athlete with a potential to play at the college level. That requires a good amount of commitment and you learn a great deal of skills that will transfer over to the military such as teamwork, small unit communications, and of course physical and mental toughness. But this is a tough one for me to answer alone. With both grandfathers in WWII, my parents were supportive of me joining the military either before or after college, but I had to finish college at some point. I never had any verbal disapproval of my decision to join the military so I do not know what I would have done personally. I have had friends that have done a variety of things like:

1) Reasonable discussion — Most people if they fully understand their situation can explain the pros /​ cons to joining the military and frame it so there are more PRO than CONs to joining for your particular situation /​ desires. Get to know the training pipeline: Boot Camp, advanced training, MOS goals, deployment cycles. Know where you will be living, how long the training schools last, what your goal profession within the military is, and what unit you want to go to. Find out how long and typically where that unit has deployed. Find out what missions have they been involved with to get a better understanding of what you are doing, as I am sure your parents will ask these questions.

BE PREPARED WITH AN ANSWER if possible. Take your parents to the recruiters office so they know they are part of the process with you.

- If it is the “go to college debate vs enlisting” like many have, I personally agree with parents on this one as you can grow /​ mature /​ get fully prepared using college facilities for BUDS /​ Spec Ops life. Statistically speaking many 18–20 yr olds quit Spec Ops selection programs like BUDS. I remember when I first got to BUDS at age 22 (post college /​ officer) I thought that there were a lot of young kids at BUDS — at least 50% off the street and just out of high school. After Hellweek, we had a hand full of teenagers left in our class. So it helps to go to BUDS /​ Spec Ops world a little more mature and have a better understanding at what fitness /​ hard work really is.

- BUT the GI Bill is a great tool to get veterans to college after /​ during their time serving. It is a great way to have resources to pay for college if money is an issue. So pre-​​college service is an option with many benefits. Additionally, there are some enlisting programs that will pay college debt up to a certain amount if you enlist with an addition 2 years. I knew a guy who had $50,000 college debt paid, BUDS bonuses with the enlistment term of 6 years. The first two years of enlistment in the SEAL program is training anyway.Check out these links for the Army Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) and the Navy College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP).

2) It is a calling — not a alternative to college — You cannot just join the military because you don’t want to go to college. Join the military because you want to serve your country no matter what branch /​ profession you choose. This is serious and if you can make your parents understand your desire to serve on that level you will be better off for it. Take your fitness just as serious in your preparation as one day your fitness level may be the very thing that help you save a life or save your own.

3) Screw You Depending on the relationship and if it is a toxic family life — some friends of mine said — Screw You I am joining anyway and left home. Some have said, “I am 18+ yrs old and I just enlisted — I leave next month.” I do not like this option as I recommend that you act like an adult that you are and make your parents understand that you have thought this out fully and are fully educated on the process. You know where you will be living once you are in training /​ post training, and beyond complete with career goals, etc…

Good luck with your discussions with your family. Check out some of the comments below for even more ideas and personal stories from veterans who were once in your shoes. You do not have to serve for a full career but if you do you can retire with benefits at the age of 38-​​40yrs old if you stay in for 20 yrs with immeasurable experience in leadership, logistics, building teams, and knowing how to get a job done.

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Contributor

Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on Military.com's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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