What You Should Know Before You Join the Military

Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper swears in new recruits at the Baltimore MEPS station at Fort George G. Meade. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Brandy N. Mejia, US Army)
Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper swears in new recruits at the Baltimore MEPS station at Fort George G. Meade. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Brandy N. Mejia, US Army)

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. Self-motivation

Joining the Military is nearly always 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 then be confident in your decision to meet with a recruiter.

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, stamina and in some cases, skill, such as swimming. All services have specific minimum requirements, but just know that this minimum represents a tough starting point for Recruits. Consider getting into shape now, as many weeks before joining as possible.

3. Personal 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. Learn about current events around the world – 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: SSN card, birth certificate, other IDs, transcripts from high school and college, to name a few examples to consider.

5. Gather 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. Ace The ASVAB – Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery

Learn how to take this test. Take some 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 be doing 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 history. Criminal behavior is a typical disqualifier. Inform the recruiters of any arrests not just because they will find out, but because it’s the right thing to do. An omission on your part 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

A successful stint in the Military depends heavily on trust, but it relies on discipline. That discipline starts in earnest the minute a recruit arrives at Basic Training. A higher discipline requires acceptance that all feedback is positive and the key to achieving the personal discipline necessary to succeed in the Military. Consider this: Learning to be led is the most important lesson in learning to lead.

9. See the World

Often, enlisting in the Military takes the newly minted Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine far from family, loved ones and their geographical roots. It means that you will have 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 that “The change is forever…”. It’s true that you can see a significant and positive change as quickly as graduation from Basic Training. 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. 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 career also has its benefits (retirement and medical) and challenges. Here's more info on the GI Bill, other Military College / Training Programs.

Do your homework before seeing a recruiter. 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 now.

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