Military Recruiters and advertisements promise job training, money for college, adventure, and leadership skills. Do you know enough to enlist? Before you join, it can be helpful to take a good look at what you're getting into.
The following information are recommendations from the American Friends Service Committee Youth and Militarism Program, adapted from their pamphlet “Do you know enough to enlist?”. AFSC has worked for years with people considering military enlistment.
Many people enlist hoping to get job training and work experience. But you may find that military experience hurts, rather than helps, your search for a good job. Going into the military may not be the best or only way to get money for college or vocational training.
Before you enlist, look carefully at what you will actually be doing—not just your job title. You may find that your job isn't exactly what you thought it would be.
*The military may not give you the job training and work experience you expect. Jobs with fancy sounding titles often are low-skill and non-technical.
*Many military jobs are so different from civilian jobs that you may not be able to use your training after you leave the military, or you may have to be retrained.
*The military is not required to keep you full-time in the job for which you are trained or for the entire time you are in the military.
*The amount of military education benefits that you can receive (Post 9-11 GI Bill) is based on your time in the military and requires an honorable discharge. This money also comes at a cost—spending years of your life in the military, the likelihood of deployment, and a higher incidence of injury or death than most jobs.
Am I trying to escape my own problems?
If you are thinking about joining the armed forces in order to get out of a bad personal or family situation, don't to rush to enlist. Don't make this important decision when you are upset, confused, unsure about your future, or pressured by your family.
Many people discover that their problems get worse, not better, in the military. Others find after enlisting that their situation at home improves or that they don't want to be in the military after all.
Don't enlist unless you're sure. If you change your mind after you join, it is very difficult to get out.
Am I willing to give up control?
If you enlist, the military will be part of your life for at least eight years, including time in the Reserves. A lot could happen during those years. The United States is currently engaged in combat in four countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Libya). If you're in the Reserves, the military could call you away from your home, job, or school.
What if you don't like military life? You can't just quit, and the military considers it a crime for you to leave your unit or disobey an order. A recruiter may tell you that you can give the military a try and automatically get out after six months if you don't like it. This is not true.
There is no such thing as a period of adjustment in the military during which you can just opt out.
Am I willing to kill … and be killed?
The military prepares for war. This purpose guides everything it does.
Are you willing to kill another person if ordered to do so? Would you destroy peoples' homes or food? Would you help others who are fighting, even if you're not in combat?
Would you risk your life in a fight for someone else's cause? Even soldiers who believe in fighting to defend their country have found themselves ordered to fight when they felt it was wrong. Once you enlist, you can't choose.
If you answer “no” to these questions, you're not alone and you're not unpatriotic. You don't have to join the military to serve your country.
Do I have other options?
Even though it may be hard, you may be able to find a job or go to school. Talk with employed friends or neighbors to find out how they got their jobs.
A school guidance counselor, nurse, or social worker may have resources and connections that you can use to find a job or job-training program, get money for school, or get help with a bad situation.
Organizations—such as a neighborhood job counseling programs, church groups, city and state employment and union training programs—also can help you find a job.
If you want to earn money for college, find adventure, or travel, don't assume you must enlist. The pamphlet It's My Life: A Guide to Alternatives After High Schoolcan walk you through many options for thinking about jobs and careers, serving your country, seeing the world, and paying for training or college.
If you talk with a recruiter
Don't rely only on the recruiter. Military recruiters are salespeople: their job is to “sell” you on enlistment. To keep their jobs and advance their careers, most recruiters must sign up a specific number of people each month. They stress the benefits of the military—not the problems.
Your decision about enlistment will affect your life and the lives of others. Don't rush.
*Talk with recently discharged veterans—both those who had good experiences and those who didn't—about the questions raised on this website.
*Also talk with a civilian counselor who can help you think about the military or suggest other options.
*Take along a relative or a friend. You have a lot to think about when you talk to a recruiter. A family member or friend can take notes, ask questions, and watch out for your best interests. Also take along a relative or friend if you discuss job selection with a military “guidance counselor” at a Military Entrance Precessing Station (MEPS).
*Never give false information or cover up anything. Be honest about police records, health problems, and school. If you lie to a recruiter, you will suffer when the truth comes out.
Do not sign any papers until you take them home for a parent, teacher, or someone else whom you know and trust to review. You have every right to request time to read the paperwork before signing. If a recruiter is pressuring you to sign without reading everything carefully, they are not looking out for your best interests. Check out Sgt. Abe—the Honest Recruiter for a detailed description of the enlistment contract.
Make sure to get all the recruiter's promises in writing in your enlistment agreement. Spoken promises will not protect you.
Find out whether you need to pass a special test, get a security clearance, or do anything else before you can get the job or options that you want.
Make sure you keep a complete copy of everything you sign. Don't rely on a recruiter's promise to provide you a copy at a later date.
Already signed up for the DEP?
If you've already signed up for the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP) and are having second thoughts, it's not too late to get out. Call the GI Rights Hotline at 877-447-4487. This is a free, nonprofit, and nongovernmental service.