What You Should Know Before You Join the Military

Recruits receive general military training
Recruits receive general military training at Recruit Training Command at Great Lakes, Illinois, on Aug. 23, 2018. More than 30,000 recruits graduate annually from the Navy's only boot camp. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Camilo Fernan/U.S. Navy)

Every year, thousands of Americans consider serving in the military. You can make the military a very rewarding growth experience if you prepare yourself before joining. Here are the top 10 things you need to consider before meeting with a recruiter:

1. Self-motivation

Joining the military is usually a life-defining decision. Your greatest opportunity for a successful enlistment or longer career will suffer if you have been "talked into" joining. Make sure you can articulate the basis of your desire to join and be confident in your decision.

2. Best Fitness

The purpose of basic training, or "boot camp,'' is to turn recruits into soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. This training is rooted in education, tradition and, yes, physical strength and stamina. All services have specific minimum requirements, but they represent only a tough starting point for recruits. Get into shape as many weeks before joining as possible.

3. Personal Initiative

Research important things about your future profession. Learn about current events around the world, because they affect your potential assignment. Talk to veterans. Read stories about missions involving all services. Consider what you want to be when you enlist.

4. Plan Your Recruiter Visit

Call to make an appointment to meet face to face. Be persistent. Prepare questions ahead of time. Know what you need to bring and what you want to do in the military before visiting. Anticipate what you will need, such as a Social Security card, birth certificate, other IDs, and high school and college transcripts.

5. Gather Medical Records

The military will screen you medically, but you may get a waiver if you have had any previous surgeries, broken bones or major illnesses. Know which ailments are disqualifying -- check here for more info. Make copies of your records before submitting them.

6. Ace the ASVAB -- Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery

Learn how to take this test. Take practice tests (Ace the ASVAB) and read a book on tips and strategies for taking the ASVAB. There are many ASVAB study guides in bookstores and online. Your score on this test can determine where you will live and what you will do in the military.

7. Best Behavior

"Good order and discipline" are a core characteristic of the military. You will undergo a background investigation to ensure there are no disqualifying events in your past. Criminal behavior is a typical disqualifier. Inform the recruiter of any arrests. An omission may be detrimental to progressing further due to a perceived character issue. A successful stint in the military depends heavily on trust.

8. A Higher Discipline

Besides trust, a successful stint in the military relies on discipline. That discipline starts the minute a recruit arrives at basic training. Accept that all feedback is positive and the key to achieving the personal discipline necessary to succeed in the military. Learning to be led is the most important lesson in learning to lead.

9. See the World

Often, enlisting takes the newly minted soldier, sailor, airman or Marine far from family, loved ones and home. You will accrue travel and professional experiences that will shape the way you see the world, at a very early age. Embrace the opportunity.

10. The Change Is Forever

The Marines say: "The change is forever.'' The military experience will shape your life through the development of self-reliance and relationships that sometimes last a lifetime. You will learn how to react quickly to high-stress situations, and you will rely on your training to help others through traumatic events.

Many educational opportunities are available, including occupational training courses and full college tuition paid in undergraduate and graduate programs. Choosing the military as a career also has its benefits (retirement and medical) and challenges. Here's more info on the GI Bill and other military college/training programs.

Do your homework before seeing a recruiter. Take the time to educate yourself on all the pros and cons and opportunities in front of you. It is your life; make it a good one. Start now.

Interested in Joining the Military?

We can put you in touch with recruiters from the different military branches. Learn about the benefits of serving your country, paying for school, military career paths, and more: sign up now and hear from a recruiter near you.

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