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What are the biggest benefits for joining the military?

I have been wanting to join the military when I get old enough. I would like to know what the benefits of each of the branches.

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Jamie’s Answer

Hi Kolben, It seemed like you needed another Jamie's perspective!
I have been in the Army for almost 15 years. It has been a wild ride! My father (who also served, on the enlisted side) recommended that I join the Air Force, because at that time career paths were much different for women and men in the military. However, things have changed a lot. Now women have almost the same opportunities as men. Overall, Cristian and Ryan have some great points.
However, one thing the Army has taught me is to make a plan, break it into smaller pieces, and start moving forward.

Before you decide which force to join, think about whether you want to be an officer or an enlisted service member. I feel like this will shape your journey as much (or more than) the service you choose. Do you want to get your Bachelor's degree first? Or do you want to go in straight out of high school and hope to get your degree later? Do you want to start out as a leader? Or have the military teach you to lead as you move up the ranks? Do you want to work directly with Soldiers/Seamen/Airmen/Marines? Or do you want to provide direction to the troops and assist them in executing?
I chose to become an officer, because I wanted to get my degree first (and get it paid for by the military). Sometimes I wish I had chosen the enlisted side, because it would have meant more time with Soldiers. This also does not have to be your forever decision. You can switch from enlisted to officer, you just have to have a competitive packet and pay attention to age and timeline deadlines.

Next you can decide your service. Ryan puts out most of the stereotypes and differences above. Main idea is do you want to fly or support flyers (Air Force)? Or do you want to be on the water and support water based military action (do you like to swim?) (Navy)? Or do you want to be a ground force or support ground forces (Army)? Or do you want to be the first in the fight no matter where on the globe it might be (Marines)?

Cristian makes a good point that this decision is also closely associated with the job you want (or what we call Military Occupational Specialty (MOS)). What exactly do you want to do? Do you want to kick down doors and blow things up? Do you want to work with computers? Do you want to do maintenance? What is your passion?
I am trying to be unbiased here, but I will put in a plug for the Army--be true to your school, right? The Army is the largest and most diverse branch. This service will allow you to get an education in almost anything and then join, because this branch HAS EVERYTHING. If you want to be a vet, you can do that in the Army. If you want to sing in a band, you can do that in the Army. If you want to train working dogs, or be a police officer, or...well you get the idea. A few of these jobs exist in other services as well (for example there is a military band for almost every service), but the great thing about the Army is that if you get bored and want to try something else, you almost always can. I am on my third career in the Army (initial branch, SOF, and now FAO), and it has been pretty fulfilling.

Finally, do you know if you want to retire at this? If you are going in wanting to retire, the gentlemen above have highlighted a lot of the great benefits of military service. There are also options that did not exist when I first got in, where you can receive some retirement benefits without doing the full 20 years.

SOOOOO, with all of this in mind. I will do for you what an Army academy student did for me many years ago (one of the reasons I decided to stay Army). I will give a suggested plan.
Hope this helps and BEST OF LUCK! It is an admirable thing to want to serve your country, only 10% of the U.S. population will ever serve. Hope you can be a 10%-er.

--Jamie (another one)

Jamie recommends the following next steps:

Recruiters: Talk to some recruiters. First, you will likely need parental permission but DO NOT sign on the line before you hit 18 or are SURE. Also, they will likely never leave you alone once you contact them. But, they are a great resource and super knowledgeable.
Reserve Officer training Program (ROTC) (college): Once you do the above and narrow down which branches you are really interested in, talk to some ROTC programs (either some local ones, or the programs at colleges you are interested in). These guys are also very knowledgeable, and they can tell you if there are scholarships available and what degree you would have to study. Even if you don't think college is for you, I would suggest this.
Academy: Are you in the window for an academy? Have you figured out you want to go officer? Request packets from your state reps and try for an academy! Even if you go through an academy and wish you were in another service, here's a secret--you can attend an academy and then serve in a different service (i.e., attend the Air Force Academy and then serve your commitment in the Army). Not common, but it happens.
Medical: Have you been medically evaluated yet? Are you sporty (because a sports physical can reveal some of this)? Start investigating this if you have the time and insurance to cover. The service you choose will do a full medical check on you before entry, but better to know that you are fit and able before you get your hopes up.
Physical: If you are not active yet, start getting active. Check out the physical fitness test for the service you want, and start training for those types of events. This will save you a lot of heartache.
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Cristian’s Answer

Hi Kolben, each service branch will have certain benefits in common. These includes government-funded education, health and dental care, an entire network of services provided to military and veterans that can help you with things from getting a job after your service, to buying a house, and much more.

In my opinion, however, the less tangible benefits are more important. Depending on your experience and chosen path in the military (i.e. enlisted or commissioned, and what rate/MOS you choose) you will also get to travel and see different placed. You will meet new people in and out of the service that could potentially be a friend your entire life. You'll get to face an enormous amount of experiences (from good to bad) that will broaden your horizons.

As a member of the US Navy, I've met some of my best friends here in the service, and have gotten to visit a multitude of places overseas.

In the end your experience will vary highly depending on what branch you choose and what job you decide to do in your branch. Not everything in the military will put you in warfighting environment. There are a wide variety of other options out there, from IT to engineering to air traffic control and so much more. Ensure you research thoroughly before you decide anything, and keep in mind you can also go to college first and commision as an officer afterwards if you decide to do so.

This has been about what some of the benefits military service can provide you, but with that also comes cons. Just like you will have good experiences you will also have bad ones. In the end it depends on what you decide to make of it. If you try it and enjoy it, you could end up staying past your first contract and retiring at 20 years in. Or it could simply serve to be a beneficial step to set you up for your future endeavors after you get out by providing you the benefits a veteran receives.

Make sure you research thoroughly into what branch and MOS/Rate you want to be a part of before deciding anything.

Hope this helps.

-Cristian
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Ryan’s Answer

Hi Kolben! Christian's response was spot on! In my opinion some of the best benefits are those shared by all branches of the military. That said, what you consider to be "the best benefits" are a matter of opinion, and change with time. As an old veteran, I look back at free healthcare, job training, opportunities, and education benefits being among the "best benefits". However, when I was a young airman, the benefits I was more excited about were the opportunities to travel, fight for my country, do cool stuff like blow things up and shoot guns, and so on. My priorities have changed over time. But, the healthcare, tuition benefits, veterans benefits, travel opportunities, opportunity to serve your country, etc. are all identical no matter what branch you join.

The benefits (and drawbacks) of individual branches are comparatively small, but still important to many perspective military members like yourself. I hate to say it, but the benefits and drawbacks of each branch are captured fairly accurately by each branch's stereotypes!

If you become a Marine, you will be a part of a relatively small, tight knit, very proud community. But, all that precision and pride comes at a cost - this is one of the most disciplined branches, revered for toughness and grit. You will be worked hard, and given many physically demanding tasks. You're not always treated well...you will find yourself sleeping in the dirt on many occasions, but that's how you earn the reputation of being tough.

The Army can also be a tough branch, particularly if you enter a combat arms branch, but in a different way than the Marines. The Army is much larger than the Marine Corps, and is designed for larger and longer sustained operations. A benefit of this is that there are more job opportunities that translate to the civilian sector. If you're an electrician, or a vehicle mechanic, or a radio operator, etc. all of those things translate well to civilian job when you get out.

The Navy shares a lot in common with the Army, in that ships are like floating cities - any job you'll find in a city you'll also find in the Navy, and then some. Compared to the Army and Marines though, the Navy has a reputation of being a little smarter and not as tough. You're less likely to find yourself sleeping in the dirt, and more likely to have hot meals every day. The reputation for being smarter likely comes from the fact that your more likely to find yourself working on advanced fire control systems, nuclear reactors, and other highly advanced technology that run today's warships. Downsides? Hopefully you don't mind being on a relatively small ship for weeks or months at a time!

The Air Force, the branch I was in, has a reputation of being the most spoiled and often the smartest. We rarely find ourselves sleeping the dirt, working mostly from well established bases around the world. Rather than being in the middle of nowhere doing physical labor, we're more often at bases with airfields and office buildings, operating and supporting aircraft, missiles, computer networks, satellites, etc. It has a more "corporate" feel than the other branches. You might not fit in well if you're not at least a little bit of a nerd, and if you're joining the military hoping to kick in doors or hunt down bad-guys, you might be disappointed.

The Coast Guard is probably a hidden gem. The smallest of the branches, it's like a combination of the Air Force and Navy. You're always stationed on the coast and doing stuff on ships and in the water, but not necessarily for as long as you would be in the Navy. Their mission tends to be more law enforcement and rescue focused, so if you're attracted to helping people, or a law enforcement or firefighting type career, the Coast Guard might be a better choice for you than the more combat oriented branches. Be prepared to be the little brother that the other branches pick-on though!

Lastly, the Space Force. I don't know much about them because they came around after I left the Air Force. But, seeing as they spawned from the Air Force and are comprised mostly of Air Force trained personnel and serving mostly functions the Air Force used to perform, I have to imagine the Space Force is very similar to the Air Force, maybe with a little bit of Coast Guard "little brother that the other branches make fun of" mixed in!

Again, these are all stereotypes and generalizations. Every single branch has door-kicking warfighters that sleep in the dirt and take it to the enemy every day, and every branch has very smart individuals with technical expertise, advanced degrees, and bigger brains than me! Which branch best fits your skills, personality, and career goals is entirely up to you! But rest assured, no matter what you choose you'll be earning the same base pay and and overarching benefits.

I hope that helps answer your question! Let me know if you have any follow-up questions!
Thank you comment icon Ryan, that was SPOT on. Especially how you explained the differences in 'culture' between the branches without any references to inter service rivalry. Great job. Scott Dunne
Thank you comment icon Great answer! The reason you join and the reason you stay will definitely change with time. I joined for the educational benefits and stayed for the healthcare and retirement. Ashunda Hampton
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Zachary’s Answer

Hi Kolben - great question!

There are some great insights available here already, so I'll speak specifically to benefits and drawbacks that I observed as an enlisted member of the Air Force. As a younger person inquiring about joining, I'd assume that you're looking at military service as an alternative to continuing your education in a university setting --- at least for now --- so I won't focus on any benefits that are specific to commissioned officers.

I enlisted in the Air Force straight out of high school. I had no idea what to expect (kudos to you for doing some research!) but knew that I needed a break from school while I learned a bit more about myself and my future. I served for 5 years as an Arabic linguist and a weapons crewman before leaving the military and pursuing my undergraduate degree. During my enlistment I was stationed in Air Force bases and Army forts with some exposure to Marine Corps camps. The Navy and Coast Guard are largely unfamiliar to me.

Here is my perspective on the benefits and potential drawbacks of enlisting in the Air Force. Notice that similar themes appear in both benefits and drawbacks.

Benefits:
* Personal growth and discovery. You will be challenged to grow and adapt faster than many of your college and workforce bound peers.
* Building relationships with people who are unlike you. The military is a social melting pot where you get to know people you may never have encountered otherwise.
* Standard of living. For many, the military is a first step toward a more stable future with access to care, comforts, and a steady income stream. It serves that purpose well, especially when you use your service wisely or stay in the service for a full career.
* Base quality. The Air Force tends to have well maintained and comfortable facilities compared to the Army and Marine Corps. I can't speak to the USCG or USN.
* Reputation. Military experience can help to open a number of doors in civilian life.
* Job specialization. Some jobs translate very well to specific civilian and government careers. Example: many intelligence jobs require a top secret level clearance. A number of government and private organizations put a premium on those clearances and will favor candidates with such a clearance.
* Lifestyle. If you have few competing life priorities, the military can provide a very full lifestyle with resources for off-duty hobbies.
* Location. The Air Force has some incredible duty stations globally and within the US.
* Habits. The military can be a great place to learn how to adult. You are encouraged to contribute to a retirement plan, keep up with health and medical wellness, etc.
* Education. The Post 9/11 GI Bill is a robust and powerful benefit for setting yourself up in post-military life. Qualified veteran students have very affordable education options and access to a monthly living allowance while attending school.
* State benefits. I won't go into any detail since they vary significantly from state-to-state, but some states have excellent benefits for their veterans.

Drawbacks:
* Job specialization. Not all jobs translate well to civilian careers. Example: many Air Force jobs are highly specialized mechanics. If you want to move away from hands-on work or the aviation field, it can take some creative thinking to apply military experience to something like a corporate career.
* Lifestyle. Many jobs have fixed and predictable schedules. When you are in the military you belong to the military. While leadership can be accommodating to your plans some of the time, you need to be prepared to put your life on hold for days, weeks, or months at a time.
* Location. The Air Force has as many or more miserable duty locations as it has great ones. "Miserable" and "great" are purely subjective, but know that the Air Force tends to relocate enlisted airmen less frequently (on average) than the Army and Marine Corps.
* Mental health. It's unpopular to discuss, but many veterans return to civilian life with some degree of mental health concerns that are either immediate or develop over years. I see this as the most important drawback and the hardest one to consider. You can't know what you might end up doing or how your service will affect you when you join. There are support services available, but living with PTSD, generalized anxiety, or other behavioral disorders can (and does) significantly alter the lives of some veterans.
* Quitting. Not an option. The drawbacks to leaving the military outside of honorable conditions (generally met by fulfilling your enlistment obligations) can be severe and inhibit future opportunities.

Zachary recommends the following next steps:

Consider the military alongside your alternatives. The military can be a hard life, but it's much easier if you wake up each day knowing you made an informed decision.
Take the ASVAB as soon as possible. Your score determines your eligibility for certain jobs. Familiarize yourself with the roles you qualify for and if they are a good fit for you.
Demonstrate responsibility now. Some of the best careers in the military require background investigations. Past mistakes won't necessarily bar you from consideration, but demonstrating a commitment to responsible decision making now will greatly improve your chances of consideration for certain jobs
Consider reaching out to your local veteran service officer (VSO). They may be able to put you in touch with a veteran mentor who can help answer questions and guide you through this important decision.
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Michael’s Answer

Hello Kolben,

The previous responses are all great answers. I would also emphasize Mike's response. Understand what you are interested in doing before talking to the recruiter. Make sure that your chosen career field follows a similar passion. I would also encourage you to do a little homework and understand the marketable skills that come from the chosen field. To Alisha's point, you also have the opportunity to somewhat reinvent yourself while you are serving with many of the great educational benefits. Take advantage of those benefits and make sure you are planning for life after the military. Even if it is a career or 4 years and out, take advantage of all that the military has to offer.
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Mike’s Answer

I 100% agree with everyone else on this page--there are a lot of things to consider, but you need to figure out what you're interested in doing, and don't let a recruiter talk you out of it!

The other option (that I wash I knew about at your age) is the National Guard. Most states provide tuition assistance or full tuition coverage for in-state schools, so if you're on the fence about enlisting vs commissioning, you can enlist in the Guard, and while you're serving your 1 weekend a month and 2 weeks a year, they'll pay for your college (if your state doesn't, chance are a state close to yours does). Once you graduate, you can apply to become an officer, continue the career path you've started, go full time, stay part time and pursue another career, or even walk away a better person for the experiences you've had up to that point (being in the Guard during college is also a great way to keep your nose clean...!).

Mike recommends the following next steps:

Talk to your local Air National Guard and/or National Guard recruiters!
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Eric’s Answer

Fantastic query, Kolben! After completing high school, I enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and served for six years. The USCG has numerous advantages, which might be comparable to those offered by other military branches. One of the most significant benefits of the Coast Guard was the opportunity to explore the world. My ship was based in Alameda, CA, and we embarked on missions as far as Southeast Asia. This experience enabled me to visit more countries than I ever thought possible.

Following high school, I was uncertain about my career path. The USCG provided me with training and helped me develop a valuable skill. If you're considering joining any military branch to acquire a specific skill, it's essential to research the steps involved in obtaining that skill set. Additionally, ensure that the skill set is transferable to the civilian job market if you plan on leaving the military.

Like most branches, the USCG also offers college benefits. The GI Bill allowed me to attend college without incurring any expenses. This perk is highly appealing to many individuals.

I hope this information is helpful, and I wish you the best of luck!
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Jamie’s Answer

I will echo some of the other respondents and say that having a guaranteed retirement check, healthcare for life and being able to pass on my GI Bill to pay for my daughter's college has been incredible. I would also say that serving in the Army was an amazing experience; there were tough times along the way for sure but I would do it all over again. I only deployed twice to Iraq and although I missed two years of life with my family there are others that deployed many more times and some who did not return and for this I never thought of my career in the Army as a job but a profession. I currently work at a tech company now (the other thing about doing 21 years is that you can start a second career) and it is a "job", not a profession and the experiences, leadership and life lessons learned in the military has yet to be rivaled. I also met my wife in the military who also did 20 years, and she would echo these comments.
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Alisha’s Answer

The military was a great place for me to be able to see the world and build a critical skill set that has now opened the door to my dream job, with a dream company. It gave me the foundation and discipline that employers seek and the ability to convert my military experience into valued assets in the civilian work place. I find that doing my 15 years is something I will always value and hold high.
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ANDI’s Answer

I've been in the Navy for the last 7 years. I have gotten free schooling, free housing, free healthcare, food allowances, and discounted childcare. If you enlist in a rate similar to the long-term career you're thinking about, you get all of the training and experience as well, while getting a decent paycheck.
When I enlisted we were living paycheck to paycheck. The military has made us completely financially stable.
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