For thousands of young American men and women, serving in the military has long been a path to both social and economic mobility. Military service is a great way to see the world while learning valuable skills that can be transferred to civilian life. And, there are many benefits to military service; many individuals would not have otherwise had the opportunity to get a college degree or purchase a home without the military. And, veterans who opt not to go to college are more likely to earn more than civilians who do the same.
There’s no denying that the discipline, focus, and responsibility that you learn when serving in the military can benefit you for the rest of your life. But before you enlist, it’s important that you have a thorough understanding of both the risks and benefits of military life and understand exactly what a commitment to a career in the armed forces involves.
The Benefits of Joining the Military
With the cost of college at an all-time high and continuing to grow, many high school graduates are considering enlisting in the military in order to give themselves a better shot at affording a post-secondary education. And, they are also finding that military service can help them achieve many other goals with plenty of lifelong benefits. Some of the main benefits of joining the military after high school include:
Finding a Purpose
Between the ages of 18 and 29, most people are in a transitional period from adolescence and adulthood. At this age, it can be daunting to determine your identity, figure out what you want to do, and discover where you fit into an increasingly complex society. It’s no surprise that almost half of all college students drop out before graduating with a degree, and those who do get degrees might change their major with graduates averaging more than four years of study. While there are many different reasons affecting the dropout rate, many students quit because they are simply not prepared and may not be sure about whether they actually want to be at college or what they want to study. Serving in the military, for many people, provides the perfect combination of both independence and support that can help you find your footing and discover your purpose.
A College Degree without the Debt
The constantly rising costs of getting a college education have led to an increasing number of high school graduates thinking about alternatives to college. The average annual tuition bills for students at private colleges studying for a four-year degree was close to $37,000 last academic year, totaling just under $150k over a four-year program, and that’s before considering additional expenses like living costs, textbooks, electronics, food, and travel. Even with merit- or need-based scholarships, students only enjoy a discount of a few thousand dollars per year. Excessive student loan debt can have significant consequences over one’s lifetime, including affecting the purchase of homes, getting married, and having kids. More and more graduates are accepting jobs outside of their fields of interest, working long hours, or even working multiple jobs to supplement their income and pay off their student debt. While entering the military doesn’t guarantee a free college degree, it provides significant financial benefits for service members who do go to college as they are eligible for tuition assistance while on active duty or in the Reserves. This can cover up to 36 months of financial assistance for tuition, fees, supplies, textbooks, and accommodation.
Learn Valuable Skills
Each of the five military branches in the U.S.—the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard —offer training programs that can not only improve your service in the military but enhance your career opportunities as a civilian. Joining the military isn’t all about fighting; many veterans go on to pursue a wide range of career paths including news and media, engineering, arts and photography, human resources, healthcare, aviation, and many more. During your service commitment as an enlistee, you can also receive college credits for your training and experience that are accepted by thousands of universities and colleges. You will also have the option to undergo professional and technical training, allowing you to gain certificates, licensing, and credentials for civilian jobs like software engineering. In addition to professional expertise, employers will often value candidates with military experience, since serving in the military is likely to help you improve your leadership and teamwork skills, provide you with a structured, disciplined way of doing things, and build your character. Veterans are generally perceived as being dependable, trustworthy, and possessing a strong work ethic.
Higher Income Potential
In 2019, Pew Research used data compiled over forty years to create a report that suggested veteran households tend to have higher incomes and living standards. The difference is particularly pronounced in ethnic minority groups and among households who are headed by individuals with lower levels of educational attainment. This could be due to several factors, including that those who serve in the military enjoy a strong level of job security, along with more opportunities for gainful employment as a civilian, thanks to the several professional skill-building opportunities afforded to them by military service.
What Are the Basic Armed Service Benefits?
All members of the armed services are entitled to certain benefits both during and after service. These include:
Typically, enlistees will enter the service at the E-1 service grade with a monthly payment of $1,680, which is increased to $2,194 monthly within three years of service once the E-4 level is reached. The rates of pay are automatically increased year-on-year via a cost of living adjustment.
Members of the military service are also eligible to receive incentives and special pay based on factors such as skills, locations, or assignments. For example, this could include additional pay for the ability to speak a foreign language, undertaking hazardous duty, or taking on a special duty assignment.
Free Accommodation and Uniforms
Military members who are unmarried with no children are provided accommodation in barracks on the base. Sharing a single room entitles you to extra pay, and if you live off-base, you will receive a tax-free housing allowance. All active-duty military members are eligible for a tax-free monthly food allowance that can be used in both base dining halls and off-base. Recruits also receive a complete set of uniforms during their initial training and a clothing allowance to replace uniforms as they are worn.
Free Health and Dental Care
A program called Tricare Prime provides free health and dental care to all active-duty members. It is usually provided through an assigned primary care provider, typically located at the base. Veterans who have over two years of active service or a service-related disability qualify for lifetime Veteran Administration healthcare benefits. Members with a service-related disability can also qualify for over $3,000 worth of benefits each month from the VA.
Both current members of the military service and veterans are eligible for loans guaranteed by the federal government when buying a home. The program provides 100% financing of homes that conform to certain requirements. There is no limit to the number of times that a veteran can use this benefit for buying a home.
What Are the Branches of the Military?
There are five U.S. military branches: the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, and the Coast Guard.
The Army is the main force on the ground, with a primary function to defend and protect the U.S. and its interests. This is done using ground troops, artillery, armor, tactical nuclear weapons, helicopters, and other weapons. The Army is the oldest U.S. military service and was officially established by the Continental Congress in June 1775. It is also the largest of the military services and is supported by the Army Reserves and the Army National Guard, which offer trained personnel and equipment during times of need.
The Air Force
The Air Force is the newest branch of the military, established as a separate branch after WWII, which showed that airpower had more potential than ground troops for winning a war. The Air Force’s primary mission is to defend the U.S. and its interests using fighter aircraft, bomber and tanker aircraft, helicopters, and transport aircraft. It is responsible for all military satellites and controls strategic ballistic nuclear missiles.
Like the Army, the Navy was officially established in June 1775 by the Continental Congress, and its primary mission is to protect and maintain U.S. interests at sea. During times of conflict, the Navy supports Air Force airpower, as Navy aircraft carriers can often be used to deploy to areas that cannot sustain a fixed runway. Navy ships are designed to attack land targets from miles away using cruise missiles and heavy guns, while stealth attacks are often carried out by submarines. The Navy is also responsible for moving Marines to areas of conflict.
The marines are specialists in amphibious operations and their primary responsibility is to provide a route to attack the enemy from any direction by capturing and controlling beachheads. The Marines were officially established by the Continental Congress in November 1775 as a landing force for the U.S. Navy, but in recent years, their operations have expanded to ground-combat as well. The Marine Corps is mostly self-sufficient with their own airpower, but they use the Navy for administrative, logistical, and medical support.
The U.S. Coast Guard is the smallest of all the military branches and was originally established in 1790 as the Revenue Cutter Service. During peacetime, the Coast Guard is primarily responsible for law enforcement, sea rescue, boating safety, and the control of illegal immigration. In times of conflict, all or part of the Coast Guard can be transferred to the Navy by the President.
Which Military Branch Should I Join?
No military branch is “better” than the other, but certain branches might be better choices for individuals, depending on their interests, goals, and skills. If you are already a skilled pilot, for example, you may consider joining the Air Force, while those with plenty of experience on the water may be a good fit for the Navy. However, you don’t need to possess any of these skills to join, as full training will be provided to you as an enlistee.
Deciding to join the military requires some internal questioning. Before you determine which branch to join, learn more about what you will be expected to do and ask yourself which you see yourself doing the most.
If you want a complete change of lifestyle, are comfortable handling a gun, and want a career that provides you with a deeply ingrained sense of commitment, service, and pride, the Marines could be the best branch for you.
If you want a flexible lifestyle combined with a strong sense of being in the military, the Army might be for you. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty and could see yourself crawling through the mud and blowing things up while having the chance to travel the world, the Army could be a great fit.
If the ability to travel is non-negotiable to you, the Navy is probably the best branch to join. There are only a handful of jobs in the Navy that don’t spend a significant amount of time at sea; you can expect to spend a lot of time away from home assigned to a ship or submarine.
The Air Force
If you want to join the military but still feel like you have a regular job, the Air Force could be ideal. It’s also the best service to join if the quality of life, such as base housing units and dormitory conditions, is important to you. However, bear in mind that it’s often the hardest to get into.
The Coast Guard is ideal for anybody who wants a real peacetime mission and can see themselves working in law enforcement and sea rescue. It also provides you with a range of skills ideal for landing a civilian job or a job in another law enforcement capacity.
If you’re graduating high school soon and aren’t sure what you want to do next, joining the military could be a great step forward in your future career.