The US Military is the largest military in the world and relies on the work of over 1.3 million servicemen and women. Military career paths cover an extremely broad range of jobs, roles, and work. Most people who work in the US Military are active duty officers or enlisted members, though some civilians do get jobs within the Armed Forces. The US Armed Forces currently consists of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force. Though these are the 6 primary branches, there are other organizations related to the armed forces with different roles. The National Guard is made up of reserve members from both the Air Force and Army. The US Merchant Marine service is a federally-sponsored civilian service primarily focused on the transportation of cargo and passengers in US waters. Each branch offers different opportunities and jobs in the United States. In 2019, the US Armed Forces budget was $693 billion, making it the largest budget of any military force in the world.
As a side note, the Space Force is an official branch of the US Armed Forces, but does not yet possess the infrastructure on par with the other branches. The Space Force currently relies on the infrastructure and personnel of the Air Force as it establishes itself. Many of the positions presently available in the US Space Force are specialized careers involving data systems, cybersecurity, and other high-tech operations
Military career benefits outnumber the benefits of almost every other industry. Education, training, health coverage, housing, tuition, and experiences unique to military service are all key aspects of what the military has to offer its ranks. Individuals in the US Military have the opportunities to work on military bases both across the US and around the world. Serving in any branch of the military allows for career flexibility, in both the short and long term. Individuals can serve in the military as a career for many years or for just a few and move on when they desire. The Military also offers comprehensive pay, health, education, housing, and other benefits to its veterans on a scale that no private organization can match.
For any branch, you must be 17 or older to enlist.
Individuals older than 28 may not enlist in the Marine Corps.
Individuals older than 31 may not enlist in the Coast Guard
Individuals older than 34 may not enlist in the Army
Individuals older than 39 may not enlist in the Navy, Air Force, or Space Force
You must pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).
Your score will determine which branches and job specialities you are eligible for.
You may also have heard of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). Scores on the four ASVAB math and verbal subtests are used to calculate the AFQT score.
You must have a high school diploma or GED to enlist.
Each branch only accepts a small number of GED enlistments each year, so not everyone qualifies.
If you have a GED and want to enlist, earning college credits or getting a high score on the AFQT can make you more eligible.
You must pass a military medical exam.
The medical exam includes a physical exam, hearing test, vision test, and height/weight measurements. Each branch has its own physical requirements and fitness standards.
Officers are higher ranking and usually have a bachelor’s degree or higher. There are five ways to become an officer.
Service Academies and Senior Military Colleges
Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)
Officer Candidate School (OCS)
Direct Commission (Individuals with advanced training who later join, such as Doctors, Lawyers, or other professionals)
Enlisted to Officer Opportunities
Most first-term enlistments require a time commitment of four years active duty and two years inactive duty (IRR). Certain branches also may offer two-, three- and six-year active duty or reserve enlistments, depending on the branch and the job you want. Taking on specialized training may require additional commitments of time. Pilots, for example, require nine years of active duty.
Joining the Military in any capacity always requires relocation or deployment to different parts of the country or the world.
Though there are many individuals in the Military who won’t encounter combat, there’s always a chance it could happen. Some jobs are more likely than others to be put in combat situations.
There are different physical requirements for male and female individuals wanting to serve.
In the past, women have been barred from serving in combat roles in the Military. However, as of 2013, women are currently allowed to serve in combat roles in the US Military.
Though it depends on the pay system you’re in, the general rule is that you receive a monthly annuity for life after 20 years of service, based on 2% per year served. The Military also offers mid-career retention bonuses and matching Thrift Savings Plan contributions. In other words, after 20 years of military service, servicemen and women can earn a sizeable pension and continue to enjoy the highly competitive health coverage.
Military career benefits don’t end once active duty ends. Under the Forever GI Bill, individuals can receive up to 36 months of benefits partially or completely covering the cost of in-state tuition and fees of public schools. Private or foreign schools are also available, but have capped rates. In addition, employers often prioritize hiring veterans and have veteran-friendly policies in place. Veterans who meet the eligibility requirements can receive VA health care benefits. Veterans can also receive vouchers to help secure and sustain permanent housing. For more info, visit https://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/housing.asp
Many private organizations offer discounts to veterans. Though there are too many to list here, check VeteransUnited.com for a good list of veteran discounts broken down by category.
Spouses, children, and dependents of veterans may also qualify for benefits such as health care, tuition assistance, life insurance, survivors’ pensions, and more. There are certain eligibility requirements, so for more information visit https://www.va.gov/family-member-benefits/.