8 Tips to Ensure a Successful Military Career

Drill instructors scream instructions at boot camp.
U.S. Marine Corps drill instructors, with 2nd Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, scream instructions at participants of the 18th annual Boot Camp Challenge as they maneuver over an obstacle on MCRD San Diego, Calif., May 11, 2019. (Cpl. Jesula Jeanlouis/U.S. Marines)

Once you are in, you need to make the most of it. The following eight 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 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 and enroll in military correspondence courses if they are available. Start studying for your next qualification exam. 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) and 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 learn quickly that the 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% truth and 90% fiction.

7. Not Like Me

In boot camp, there were no individuals. You were forced to work as a team or suffer the consequences. After boot camp, unit cohesion is not automatic; you have to work at it. You already know from boot camp that you can work successfully 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 must 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'' or "yes, ma'am'' (or "Sir, yes, sir'' or "Ma'am, yes, ma'am'') is always the best response.

This article was written by Sgt. Michael Volkin, lead instructor at Basic Training University, an online learning school for those preparing for basic training.

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