Top 10 Things You Should Know Before You Join the Military

Army recruits swearing in

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 ten things you need to understand and consider while you prepare to meet with a recruiter:

1. It's no one's job to motivate you to serve but yours!

If you are considering the military, it is your responsibility to be motivated to serve your country.  Your motivation to serve should be a calling to join a profession that is greater than you and offers invaluable experiences and skills. You just need to have the right attitude.  Joining the military just because you have nothing better to do can lead to a miserable experience.

2. Fitness Foundation

Make sure you understand that going to boot camp or OCS with the mindset that it is the military's job to get you in shape is going to lead to failure, injury, or even being dropped from a program.  You need to be able to surpass the minimum fitness standards before you sign with the recruiter.  This means finding out what the fitness requirements are and practicing those events. 

You have to first get into training by acing the test and height and weight standards.  You have to get through the training by practicing challenging events like rucking, swimming, and being ready for tactical challenges like hand to hand, shooting, and land navigation (these depend on your service choice).  In fact, height and weight standards are the biggest barriers to entry for Americans. Typical weight loss goals to meet these standards are in the 15-20+ lb range these days.  Get in shape now, not a few weeks before joining.

3. Start Taking Initiative

Taking the initiative is a skill you will be taught when in the military, but you can start practicing now.  Research important things about your future profession.  Where could you be living after basic?  Where could you deploy to?  How long are the deployments? Learn the geography of the area you are likely to deploy to and its customs and culture.  Learn about current events around the world – they affect your potential travel. Sometimes you will be asked to do something, and you'll have no idea how to accomplish that task. But you'll have to figure it out. You may also have to do things without people telling you to do them. That is taking the initiative. Read a great book on many military reading lists:  Message to Garcia.

4. Dealing with the Recruiter

Call your local recruiter and make an appointment to meet. Sometimes getting him or her on the phone may be difficult, but try to speak with someone to set up a time to meet.  Walking in cold typically results in you leaving to track down your SSN card, birth certificate, other IDs, transcripts from high school and college, and more.  Know what you need to bring and what you want to do in the military before visiting.  Going in and asking what you qualify for could place you in a position that you are not interested in occupying.  Once again, focus on initiative – do your homework and do not leave it up to the recruiter to find a job for you.  See official military websites and start your journey there.

Get the Insider's Guide to Joining the Military now.

5. Medical Records

The military will screen you medically, but if you have any prior surgeries, broken bones, or major illnesses, they need to know about it and file the proper paperwork as some of these may require medical waivers.  Yes, you may be able to get a waiver.  Know the ailments that are disqualifying – check here for more info.  Make copies of all your records when you submit them.

6. ASVAB – Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery

Learn how to take this test.  Take a few practice tests (see link) 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 be doing in the military.

7. Stay Out of trouble

Your criminal record will be checked in a background investigation, and it can be an issue in your attempt to join depending upon what you have been arrested for.  Inform the recruiters of any arrests –  they will find out one way or another,  and an omission on your part may be detrimental to progressing further.

8. Expect to Gain Discipline

If you have issues with dealing with authority, you must know that you will be disciplined and forced to change your way of doing things, especially in basic training.  Learn to suck it up, learn from the negative feedback and move on.  Soon, your deeds will be what separates you from your peers which can lead to speedy advancement within the ranks.  But you have to do your time at the bottom.

9. Travel and time away from home

Expect to be gone from home and family while training and deploying throughout the year to just about anywhere in the world as there are hundreds of bases throughout.

10. Expect to Gain an Education and Useful Skills

The experiences you have in the military will shape you for many years to come.  You will learn how to react quickly during high stress and life and death situations, and rely on your training to help people through traumatic events.  There are many educational opportunities available in the military from occupational training courses to full college tuition paid in undergraduate and graduate programs.  Choosing the military as a 20-year career also has its benefits (retirement and medical) and challenges.   Here's more info on the GI Bill, other Military College / Training Programs.

Do yourself a favor and do your homework.  This is your future profession and possibly even your career.  Take the time to educate yourself on all the pro's and con's and opportunities you have in front of you.  It is your life – make it a good one.  Start your initiative training now.

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