Joining the military is a life-changing decision largely because it's a generally irreversible one, which makes it incredibly important to get all the relevant facts before you sign on the dotted line. Speaking to a recruiter armed with pertinent, relevant questions is paramount in order to make sure you get the best out of your time in the military.
In this guide, we'll cover the most important questions that you should ask your recruiter if you're considering signing up. We'll provide general answers to those questions where applicable, but you should always ask your recruiter for more details specific to your situation. We'll also cover some myths and misunderstandings about the recruitment process and your recruiter's ability to guarantee certain things.
General Advice & Questions
First and foremost, anything a recruiter tells you should be considered unofficial until and unless you get it in writing. If it's not in your enlistment contract, it's not binding. Sometimes recruiters make honest mistakes regarding what they tell new recruits; some recruiters intentionally mislead recruits for various reasons. In either case, the end result for you is the same: a military career path that's ill-suited to you. Be sure to ask the following questions.
Why should I join this particular branch?
Recruiters for different branches of the military are in competition with one another and will always have a sales pitch for why you should join their branch over the others. Listen carefully to what they say and gauge their objectivity. An honest recruiter will be forthright about both the pros and cons of life in their branch. Be sure to have preliminary interviews (at least) with recruiters from other branches besides the primary one you're considering.
How does this branch differ from the others?
Your recruiter should be able to give you a broad overview of how each branch operates and answer any questions you have about the differences in training and day-to-day life.
Should I go active duty or reserve?
Active duty and reserve lifestyles, benefits, and obligations are very different. A good recruiter asks questions about your skills and goals and will recommend active or reserve status based on what's best for both parties, not only what's best for the military.
What are the pros and cons of becoming an officer?
Enlisted personnel and officers, in some ways, live in two different worlds. Before committing to the officer path, ensure that you understand what your privileges and responsibilities will be.
How will serving in this branch help me reach my long-term goals during and after my term of service?
If a recruiter talks mostly about what the military needs and rarely about what you need, they likely don't have your best interests in mind. You'll be a much happier, healthier and more effective service member if your military career path meshes well with your other goals, so don't be afraid to put them on the table.
Recruitment Process and Pre-Enlistment Training
Like all other aspects of military life, the recruitment process is a rigidly defined one with many distinct steps. Before you start asking questions about your life as a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine, get some information on what to expect in the coming weeks.
What can I expect during the recruitment process?
The recruitment process lasts several weeks to several months, depending on your age, desired job, physical fitness and several other factors. You'll take written tests, PT (physical training) tests and go through several rounds of interviews and negotiations. Ask your recruiter for a timeline and a basic overview of each step.
When will I ship out?
This is often a difficult question to answer in the early stages of recruitment. If you'd like to wait to ship out until after you finish school, get married or pass some other major milestone, ask about the DEP (Delayed Entry Program).
Can I complete training with a friend if we enlist at the same time?
This is another complicated question, and the short answer is "maybe." To maximize your chances of staying with your buddy throughout training, both of you should work with the same recruiter. Like everything else, you'll need to get it in writing — ensure that you both have the same job, training station and (if possible) initial duty station specified in your contracts.
Once you get past the initial round of basic questions and answers, choosing your military job is the next step. Begin by asking your recruiter these questions.
What's the minimum ASVAB score I need for the job I want?
If you're dead set on getting a particular job in the military, you'll need to achieve the required score on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). Your recruiter can provide study materials and tips for taking the test.
Can you put me in touch with someone who works (or worked) in the job I'm considering?
This is one of the best questions you can ask a recruiter early in the process. Your recruiter may not know such a person, but if they do, they should be happy to connect you. Speaking with someone who does the job you want is one of the best ways to get an accurate idea of what it's really like.
Where can I go to do more research about this job?
The bigger the life decision, the more important it is to consult a variety of sources for information. Do plenty of research and listen to what various people have to say about your desired military job. Seek out those who have positive, negative and ambivalent views and do your best to piece together an objective picture.
Is there an enlistment bonus for this job?
Often, the military will offer extra cash or other benefits to recruits who agree to serve in the most-needed roles. Large cash bonuses can be tempting to the point of overwhelming one's better judgment, so be sure to weigh all of the other relevant factors carefully.
To some extent, the terms of your contract will depend on your chosen job. Recruiters have some power to customize your contract in certain respects, but other things, such as the contract's total length, are generally fixed. Good questions to ask include the following.
Can I sign a 4/6/8-year contract?
With rare exceptions, all military contracts are now eight years in length, although you generally have a few options regarding how those eight years are allocated. A typical active duty contract specifies six years of active duty service and two years of IRR (Inactive Ready Reserve) service, during which you return to civilian life and have no military obligations. However, you may be called back to active duty if the military has a critical need.
How can I earn college credits while enlisted?
If you're interested in obtaining a college degree, there are several ways to do so as an enlisted service member. Some military job training programs offer credits that civilian colleges will accept as transfer credits, although this method is unreliable — colleges frequently change their minds about what credits they will accept, and you're unlikely to be grandfathered in when they do. In some cases, you may be allowed to take online classes while completing your military training, provided you maintain good grades on both ends. If you're interested in becoming an officer, you might consider enrolling in a military academy.
Will I/Can I be stationed overseas?
The answer to this question changes frequently and depends largely on the military's current needs. If you want to be stationed overseas, your request is more likely to be granted if you choose a job that's in demand in that part of the world (the same goes for requesting particular stateside duty stations). If you don't want to go overseas, you may be out of luck — the military can and will send you wherever it needs you.
Given the current global climate, what are my chances of going to war? Where might I go? Which military jobs are more likely to be deployed?
The answers to all of these questions will depend on the current state global affairs. Of course, those in combat-focused military jobs are more likely to deploy to active combat zones than those in administrative or support roles.
Pay and Benefits
It's no secret that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines don't make a ton of money, but there are other benefits that, for some people, can make up the difference. Be sure to ask the following questions about pay and benefits.
How much will I be paid?
Your base pay will be determined solely by your rank and your total time in service. The fastest way to get a raise is to get promoted. You may qualify for other forms of pay such as a housing allowance, hazard pay or extra money for food. Your eligibility for extra pay depends on many factors that your recruiter can review with you.
What are your tuition aid programs and what are their terms?
Money for school is one of the most common benefits the military offers to draw in new recruits, but the exact amount and form of this benefit can vary. Some people think you can go to any school you want and the military will effectively hand the school a blank check, but it's not that simple. Be sure to get details regarding your specific educational situation.
What healthcare benefits will I be eligible for?
This, too, will depend on many factors. While you're in training or on active duty, you will have to either rely on military healthcare providers and facilities or pay your own way through the civilian system. In general, veterans who are discharged honorably can freely use VA (Veterans' Administration) healthcare facilities for life. There is an enormous amount of red tape around healthcare benefits and the specific ways in which you can use them, so take extra care to get clarity on this point.
Basic and Job-Specific Training
For many people, Basic Training is the single biggest challenge of their lives. It's a physically and mentally demanding program that leaves little time or energy to think about anything else. Your military training will be less grueling if you have a clear idea of what to expect, so ask your recruiter:
What happens during Basic Training?
In some ways, Basic Training is the same across all branches, but there are some significant differences, particularly concerning rules and privileges. Ask your recruiter to walk you through each week of Basic Training so you can do some preparation ahead of time. You can also prepare yourself by reading our guide on how to prepare for Basic Training.
How long does training take?
Depending on the branch, Basic Training lasts anywhere from eight to twelve weeks. Your job-specific training could take anywhere from one month to a year or longer. Ask your recruiter also to account for processing and transit times as applicable.
Where will I be stationed for my job-specific training?
Some military jobs have only one location for job-specific training, whereas others have several. You can request a specific training station if there is more than one to choose from, but there is no guarantee that your request will be honored until it's in your contract.
How will my job-specific training differ from Basic Training?
During Basic Training, you will have close to no freedom or privileges. If you graduate and progress to your job-specific training, you should be allowed more freedom — but you're still in the military, and you'll always have to be prepared to adjust based on what the military asks. Your recruiter can provide some details on the phases of training and how they differ from one another.
What are the PT standards?
Physical fitness standards vary by branch, age and sex. During your first weeks of training, the standards will be lower, and they'll gradually become more demanding as you progress. If you can pass a final PT test before you ship out for Basic Training, you'll be way ahead of the game. Shop PT Clothing
Myths & Misunderstandings
The following statements are either universally or frequently untrue and you should be suspicious of any recruiter who tells you any of them.
"You can quit anytime you want."
Once you sign your enlistment contract and swear in at MEPS (a Military Enlistment Processing Station), you're committed, and quitting will almost certainly come with serious, lifelong consequences.
"If you back out before boot camp, you'll go to jail."
If you get cold feet, do it before you ship out and before you sign any legally binding documents. It's much easier to change your mind before you leave for basic training. One advantage of a Delayed Entry Program is that it gives you more time to think carefully about your decision.
"College will be completely free."
No matter what, you'll always pay something toward a college fund during your first year of service. What's more, education benefits rarely cover the entire cost of a bachelor's degree, much less a master's or PhD. In some cases, you may be able to apply for an extension of benefits, but not until you've exhausted all of your initial benefits—and approval is never guaranteed.
"You can't choose your job in the military."
Recruiters usually don't come right out and say this (because it's untrue), but some may surreptitiously imply it if they've been directed to recruit for particular jobs.
"There's no signup bonus for that job."
Again, unscrupulous recruiters may say this if they want you to choose one job over another, but current signup bonuses are posted right on the branch's website, so be sure to check for yourself.
"This job will teach you great skills for civilian life."
Some military jobs translate well into the civilian world, but others don't. Generic buzzwords like "leadership skills" and "discipline" shouldn't carry much meaning — these skills and character traits are self-cultivated and it will ultimately be up to you to develop them in the military or in civilian life.
"The job you want isn't available right now, but you can pick a different job and switch later."
It is possible to switch jobs in the military, but it's difficult and doesn't happen often. Many stars have to align: your current job has to be in low demand, your desired job must be in high demand, your current and future commands will have to approve the request and the military will need to have the resources to retrain you. None of these are guaranteed.
Talking with a recruiter about joining the military can be intimidating, especially if you're unprepared. With this list of questions, you can have a frank, productive conversation with your recruiter and feel more confident about your future military prospects.
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