Why Join the U.S. Military
Before getting into the steps for how to join the U.S. military, you need to decide why you want to join the military. Joining the U.S. military means being part of an organization greater than yourself. The military promises great opportunities. However, people should be prepared to make sacrifices. It is called “military service.” In a society that is very self-centered, service is hard. So, it is important to understand that the military is a hard choice.
Historically Americans have joined the military out of a deep sense of patriotism and duty. In the 21st Century, the 9/11 terrorist attacks influenced thousands of Americans to defend their country in uniform. Thankfully, in the last two decades, there have not been any significant terrorist attacks on the magnitude of 9/11. Moreover, the national security landscape has shifted. The U.S. is no longer fighting wars in Afghanistan and the U.S. troop presence in Iraq has significantly decreased. However, the world is a very dangerous place. America’s enemies are numerous.
The United States needs patriots who are willing to continually stand watch. The U.S. needs brave citizens to support defend the U.S. Constitution. If you have decided that you are one of these great American patriots, then take the next steps to join the U.S. military. This guide on how to join the U.S. military will become a basic template and help you understand the next steps.
1. Research and Choose Your Branch
There are multiple branches in the U.S. military. They fulfill different missions. It is important to research and learn about each one of them. In summary, they are the following ordered by total troop strength:
- U.S. Army : The largest branch of the United States military, tasked with land-based operations and national defense. If you want to drive a tank, this is your branch!
- U.S. Navy: The maritime branch of the United States military, responsible for protecting sea lanes, projecting power globally, and maintaining maritime security. If you want to get your sea legs, join the Navy!
- U.S. Air Force: The aerial and space warfare branch of the United States military, specializing in air superiority, global mobility, and cutting-edge technology to defend the nation’s interests both on Earth and beyond. If you are interested in planes, drones, and cutting edge technology, look no further!
- U.S. Marine Corps: An elite and amphibious branch of the United States military. It is often the first to respond to crises and threats worldwide. The Few, the Proud. Marines are tough!
- U.S. Coast Guard: Responsible for safeguarding the nation’s waters, ensuring maritime security, and conducting search and rescue operations.
- U.S. Space Force: The newest branch of the United States military, dedicated to protecting American interests in space, ensuring space domain superiority, and advancing space capabilities for national security. If you love Star Wars, here you go!
As you can see, each branch has its own unique missions and opportunities. Consider factors like the type of work you’re interested in and where you’d like to be stationed.
At the same time, it is important to recognize that within each branch there are a wide variety of jobs known as military occupational specialties (MOS). As of 2021, the U.S. Army had 482,416 active duty personnel (Source: Statista). Across the Army, these personnel fulfill a range of roles and responsibilities. For example, each branch of the military has significant administrative and logistics functions. As a result, joining the Army does not mean that you will necessarily be driving a tank or serving as an infantryman.
2. Meet Eligibility Requirements
To enlist in the military, you must meet certain eligibility criteria:
- Age: Generally, you must be at least 17 years old (with parental consent) or 18 without parental consent.
- Citizenship: Typically, you must be a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident (Green Card holder). Some branches may have exceptions for non-citizens with specific qualifications. In exceptional cases, waivers may be granted for those not meeting certain criteria.
- Education: A high school diploma or GED is typically required.
- Physical Fitness: Meeting minimum physical fitness standards, including height and weight requirements, is essential.
- Moral and Ethical Standards: A clean criminal record is necessary. Certain offenses may disqualify you.
- Drug and Alcohol Use: You must be drug-free and have no history of drug abuse. It may be possible to get certain waivers, but the best option is to steer clear. Just say no to drugs!
- Medical Health: Good overall health and specific medical requirements must be met.
- Dependents: If you have dependents, additional criteria apply, as the military considers their well-being.
- Financial Responsibility: Demonstrating financial responsibility is crucial. Excessive debt or financial issues can impact eligibility.
- Security Clearance: Some roles require a security clearance, contingent on your background, including criminal and financial history. The bottom line is that if you have financial problems, you are more likely to be influenced by foreign agents. This is why financial responsibility and well-being are important.
3. Take the ASVAB Test
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is a critical step in the enlistment process. Your ASVAB scores will determine which military jobs you qualify for. Getting a good score on the ASVAB will open up more career options. Check out the official ASVAB website to learn more to include finding resources to help prepare you for the test. In order to do well on the test, there are several steps you can take including:
- Taking a practice test
- Learning about and familiarizing yourself with the test format
- Using study guides and preparation books
- Seeking out online resources. Also consider using ASVAB preparation apps.
- Seek out tutoring
- Finally, learn study techniques and ways to get better at learning. Here are a couple helpful books to get you started: Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, and The Study Skills Handbook.
4. Find a local recruiter
Visit a military recruiter from each branch to discuss your options. If you know exactly which branch you want to join, then go to that one. But, if you are learning more, then contact all of them and learn more about the enlistment process. Ask good questions and smart questions. Make sure the recruiters are professional and competent. They are the face of the service. You should want to join a service that is professional and competent.
You will be able to find the recruiting office online. Each service will have an option to find the closest recruiting office near you. You will then want to call and set up a time to go see the recruiter. When you interact with the recruiter, it is important to be professional. Shave and dress professionally. Make a good first impression so that they will know you are serious. Be responsive when working with them. Be honest with them and respect their time.
Considering the recruiting challenges over the last few years, recruiters should be eager to meet and speak with you. Be ready to ask good questions. This step by step guideline will give you a good understanding of what you will be discussing with your recruiter. Review this guideline before going to meet with your recruiter.
Finally, talk to other people that have been in the military or are in the military. Ask them about their service. If you know anyone that has gone through the process recently, then reach out to them and ask them about their experience. In summary, you should be gathering as much information as possible. Each conversation is an opportunity to learn more and prepare yourself for a commitment to serve America in uniform.
5. Pass Medical Examinations
Understand that a mandatory medical screening will be a large part of putting together your package to qualify to join the military. There is a screening known as the “Military Entrance Processing Station” (MEPS). You will hear this term when you talk with a recruiter. Understand that this is a full medical examination to determine your physical and mental ability to serve in the military. Check out this link at the U.S. Army website to learn more. Realize that you will need to be in good physical condition. Some conditions might require a waiver. There are others that will disqualify you entirely. Be honest. Integrity matters. You do not want to join the military under a false pretense.
6. Background Check
Expect a background check to verify your criminal record and other background information. Be honest during this process. If you have done drugs or struggled with alcohol, do not lie about it. There might be opportunities to get a waiver. Similar to the medical screening, you do not want to join under false pretenses. Learn about the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). If you provide false information, you are already going to be in violation of the UCMJ. There can be legal consequences and you can be discharged from duty for “misconduct” or a a “fraudulent enlistment.” The point is to be honest with your recruiter. They will look for ways to help you and find a possible waiver if it is applicable. However, if your crime was serious enough to be disqualified, then do not compound it by committing another crime under the UCMJ.
7. Complete the Enlistment Process
If you decide to proceed, then you will sign an enlistment contract and take the Oath of Enlistment. Begin memorizing the Oath of Enlistment:
“I, [Full Name], do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
Your decision to join the military is a commitment to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Memorize this oath because it is why you are joining the military. Furthermore, if you don’t know anything about the U.S. Constitution. Then buy a copy and read it. Get the U.S. Constitution here.
8. Prepare Mentally
The military is a mentally tough job. It will take a lot of mental resilience and toughness. You will go through a lot of difficult times. Prepare yourself to push through pain and discomfort. In Marine Corps training, we had a saying, “Get comfortable, being uncomfortable.” It is important to realize that it feels good to set your mind to a tough task and achieve it. Furthermore, a lot of the difficulty of military life is boredom. You need to be patient. The term “Hurry up and wait will be used a lot.” If you are impulsive and fidgety, then you will need to change your behavior and learn the discipline of patience.
Be ready to never give up and to focus on the end game of joining the military. To prepare mentally, study and read some great books about the military. Here are some good ones to read to get started:
- Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALS Lead and Win. Check out the book review.
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
- With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa
- Gates of Fire
- On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace
- “Three Great Military History Novels“
9. Prepare Physically
You will want to be in good shape when you join the military. The military can be physically grueling. Some jobs are more physically demanding than others. One of the best ways to get into shape is to begin a cardiovascular regiment that includes running. You should mix distance running with interval running. Interval running involves doing fast laps around a track or sprints. You will also want to mix in strength training with functional training. Finally, you will want to work on your flexibility and core strength. Here are a few good resources for physical fitness:
- The Complete Guide to Navy Seal Fitness
- The Armstrong Pullup Program
- Special Forces Fitness Training: Gym-Free Workouts to Build Muscle and Get in Elite Shape
- US Marine Corps Physical Readiness Training for Combat
Finally, you will also want to learn about the basics of hiking. If you join the infantry, you will do A LOT of rucking. Learn about how to do it before joining the military.
10. Prepare Personally
Get your personal affairs in order. The military will be very difficult for your family especially if you have a spouse and children. Learn about military resources for families. Make sure your family is involved in the process as you get ready. You need to keep your loved ones informed and make sure they know what to expect. Make sure you prepare and plan for any personal matters to be handled as you are going to be out of touch during Boot Camp or Basic Training. Discuss this with your recruiter as you go through the process. Seek the guidance from others that have gone through it and make sure you know what to expect.
And you are off! Basic Training | Boot Camp
If you are joining the Marine Corps, get ready to step on the yellow footprints. And remember that they don’t promise you a rose garden (hence the poster image). Basic training or boot camp will be an an intense program. It will challenge you mentally and physically. However, if you have taken the necessary steps to be physically and mentally ready, then you should head off with confidence.
You will be nervous. Everyone gets nervous. You might have second thoughts. Everyone will have moments of doubt. But do no forget why you are there. You have decided to sacrifice for a cause greater than yourself. You are doing your duty and serving your country. This is an incredible honor. Work hard, push through the pain, and earn it!!
Joining the U.S. military is a significant decision that can lead to a fulfilling and impactful career. By following this step-by-step guide, you can navigate the enlistment process with confidence and prepare yourself for the challenges and opportunities that await in the military.
By taking these steps and staying committed to your goals, you can embark on a rewarding military career that serves both you and your nation. Write down your goals and post them where you will see them every day. Then focus on achieving them. Remember that there are people who are there to help you, so you don’t have to go it alone.
For more information on joining the U.S. military, contact your local military recruiter or visit the official website of your chosen branch. Good luck on your journey!