Sunday, April 12, 2015

About Joining the Military

One of our Veteran Agents in the Field was kind enough to put together this very lengthy and detailed piece about his opinion and knowledge of joining the military for any of you Cappy Cappites out there who are kicking it around or wanted more information.  It's very lengthy, but very thorough and just wanted to put it up here in case it would benefit some of you:

I know that you’ve mentioned the merits of going into and staying in the military in light of the shitty economy and, especially in the case of men, to have a solid purpose and direction in their life.  As a veteran myself, I know these merits personally, for I was in a somewhat similar situation over ten years ago when I found myself without a job and struggling to find something substantial after my IT job at a severely dysfunctional and corrupt non-profit (the United Way . . . wink-wink) went belly-up and I was faced with a slack job market soon after the one-two punch of the 1999-2000 tech bust and 9/11.  Fed up, I did something radical and joined the Army at the age of 31.  (At 18 years old, I could have done it, but didn't.  But, back then, I still operated with the belief that college was the key and that there were plentiful jobs out there.)
Now, I work for the government in Washington, DC and have excellent pay and benefits.  Being a veteran certainly helps in this day and age because there are many more resources out there for them to where being a vet puts you in a special and, dare I say, somewhat protected class.  If you know how to exploit these resources, you can do fairly well for yourself, but you have to be creative because, especially when it comes to the government, lethargy, apathy, and bureaucratic friction are the order of the day.  It’s not all that different for the private sector, where, even if you find a good mentor who can point you in the right direction, he or she is likely limited in what they can do where they work because HR still rules the roost in several cases – and we all know how HR works.  Creativity and persistence, as well as patience and a high tolerance for bullshit, will yield some good fruit.
I wanted to share some of my experiences with the military below, outlined in the following points.  I’d like you to share these points in a video for those guys, especially younger, out there considering joining the military so that they’re forearmed with substantial knowledge from a guy who’s smarter than the average bear (I do listen to you, after all) and who was there on the ground seeing this unfold.  However, I want to caution that, at the time I enlisted, I was older than the average recruit and so had some biases going in.  But, I counterbalanced that with my own innate smarts and hustling to create my own luck to get what I wanted.  My cousin did the same thing at a slightly younger age in the late 90s when he was stuck with a marine biology degree, debt, and no job.  He came out decently on the other side and now works for JP Morgan as a VP, since JP Morgan is very vet-friendly and there still are fairly plenty of jobs on their side.  Vets’ preference, baby.
With that, I’ll begin.  Take everything I say here with a grain of salt, realizing that this is my own opinion, and do your own homework by talking with other vets.  Keep in mind that I enlisted in early 2004, almost one year after the Iraq debacle kick-off, and before the waves of PC bullshit started infiltrating the military (e.g., women allowed in combat roles and the sexual assault witch-hunts).  I also was in the Army, so everything I say here references my experiences in the Army.  I can’t speak to the Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, or to the Reserves and National Guard, though I can bet money that many points here can be applied to those other services.  Again, do your own homework and make your own decisions.  The key point here is to make an INFORMED decision, based on facts and not on emotion.  When you join the military, you’re taking a risk and one that you can’t back away from so easily as you would just up and quitting a regular job. 
Understand that the Army is run like any other large and bureaucratic government, or even corporate, organization in this day and age: badly and wastefully.  Add in Congress’s relentless dysfunction despite Republicans still loving the military as a pork project, and you have hemorrhoid pain.  Add in PC bullshit, and you have a witch’s brew.  Some will, rightly so, describe the Army as “faux socialism” since you do get goodies (e.g., health care, educational benefits, a pension) in return for signing your life over for a certain number of years.  If you refuse to give into patriotism, a sense of “duty and honor,” and adopt a somewhat mercenary mindset, those of you that are using the Army as a less-than-stellar option to get more wind in your sails for your life are on the right foot.  This is what I did when I enlisted.  I needed more momentum in my life and sucked it up with the Army’s bullshit.
Now, as with any organization, there are smart people, good and decent people, mediocre people, functional illiterates, and psychopaths.  Politicians are the routine mediocre and psychopaths.  So are your fellow soldiers, senior enlisted, and officers.  The more you devalue yourself and the more you drink the Kool-Aid, the higher you can go in the ranks.  If you want to do 20 years and get the pension, this will likely be your path.  If you’re a short-timer to get the goodies, you can retain some of your mind, personality, and dignity.  In the Army, you can meet some cool and downright incredible people, and some of these people could turn into lifelong buddies.  You’ll also meet many dysfunctional and evil shitbags.  Don’t be one of them, if possible.  (The Army, generally, doesn't attract the best and the brightest.)  Work with them, but don’t hang out with them.  You’re not required to.  The only thing you’re required to do is follow orders, follow regulations, and respect rank.  You might get a shitty situation or you might get a cake situation.  Consider yourself very fortunate if you get the latter.  If you get the former, work with it and get what you can out of it.  Most of the time, you’ll have a bit of both.  (See the last section for more on this.)
Understand that, on the day that you go to your MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) and raise your hand to take the oath to defend the Constitution (uh-huh) you incur a total EIGHT-year commitment in the military. 
Let me say that again for the cheap seats:  EIGHT YEARS. 
You could spend these 8 years either totally on active duty in one service (e.g., Army), or in the Reserves or National Guard.  You could also be in the Army for a few years and then maybe go into the Air Force either on active duty or Reserve or National Guard.  You could also do 2-3 years of active duty in one service and then not be in anything for the rest of the 8 years or for up to 20 years and then get a pension.  This non-active duty time is called the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR).  While in IRR, you have to check in periodically so that the military knows you’re out there, at the ready.  This wasn't a bad gig for many people until 9/11 happened and then Iraq kicked off.  Then, they found themselves called up and retrained to be in jobs like infantry or military police (MP).  These were guys who might have worked clerical jobs in the past while on active duty – and, these might have been guys in their late 40s and early 50s just waiting to put in their 20 years.  No matter.  If the military has tabs on you, they can call you up in the event there’s another war.  All of these people, including those in the National Guard, especially, were called up because there was a severe shortage of personnel due to the massive draw-down that happened (and is currently happening, though to a lesser degree, because of sequestration, which are the automatic budget cuts that Congress was too spineless to stop) in the late 80s and early 90s, after the Cold War and under Bill Clinton. 
When you come off of active duty and go into the IRR, you won’t receive your official discharge paperwork until your IRR time is over.  Until you get that official paperwork, you’ll be in a “separated” status.  Keep this in mind.  Also understand that, you’ll be in the IRR from the day you raise your hand to take the oath until you ship out to basic training/boot camp.  I was initially unaware of this until I checked my enlistment paperwork after my first deployment.  I enlisted in July 2003 and didn't ship out until January 2004, so that gave me a good six months of IRR time, which applied to my total 8-year commitment.  Consequently, I had 1.5 years to wait until I got my official discharge paperwork in July 2011.  I’m now no longer in the military’s grasp.
Lastly, if you should decide you get out before you hit the 20-year mark, you’ll meet recruiters again who will try to entice you to stay in.  If you want to stay in, that’s your choice.  But, it’s better to WANT to stay in to get more of what YOU want or try again to get what you want if bad luck befell you during your first term of enlistment.  I remember when I was in Germany just six years ago listening to a recruiter try to entice one of my buddies to stay in, saying that he’d be promoted and get a bonus, yadda, yadda, yadda . . . My buddy, when asked, said that he had something like $90,000 in the bank, so he was good financially.  The recruiter sat their dumbstruck and didn't say anything except, “Um, well . . . so I think you’re good.”  I couldn't help but smile because my buddy had the military equivalent of fuck-you money.
Get it in your head that recruiters don’t give one corn-enhanced shit about you personally.  They’re there to meet their quotas and make it easier on themselves because they might be recruiters in your particular area since the Army allows you to do recruiting duty for up to three years, usually to create stability (maybe in their own hometown) and to get out of deployments for that time period.  After their duty, then they have to go where the Army sends them.  True, there are some “nice” recruiters who are generally aboveboard and are more helpful than others in answering your questions, but they’re all salespeople trying to get you in.  Don’t fall for the allure of being in the service and let yourself be swayed by false promises or, more charitably to the recruiters, their incomplete and/or distorted knowledge about what things are like in areas you have an interest in.  (For comparison, think how many job descriptions don’t match with the actual job.)  Recruiters aren't the smartest bunch, too.
To get what you want in the military, you have to go in with a mercenary mindset and hustle to get it.  Once you enlist, you’re government property, even though you get meals, a roof over your head, clothing, training, free medical care, and a chance to travel.  As the CO (commanding officer) of my first unit said to me once, “The Army will gladly let you work as many hours as you want without one more ounce of what they’re required to give you.”  Also, if you don’t take charge of your career, then the Army will gladly do it for you.
The way you effectively deal with recruiters is to go in there with a no-bullshit attitude and know what you want.  You do the latter by researching the positions that the Army has available (you have the Internet now, so no excuses for not doing this) and telling this to the recruiter.  For example, in my case, I had two positions in mind: IT specialist (which was fairly new at the time in early 2004) and a linguist, with a concentration, I hoped, in Arabic.  I wisely chose the former as this would set me up better once I came off of active duty after six years, which was the length of my initial enlistment.  If the recruiter doesn't give you what you want, you walk and can go to another recruiter, or come back later if there are other slots open.  Never, ever be desperate to enlist, if you can help it.  If you can’t get your first job, but you want to ship out right away, then have another job you want to do, with a solid payout once you finish your first enlistment.  Remember that the military isn't twisting your arm to enlist.  There’s no draft (except maybe a “poverty draft”) and you’re free to enlist or not to enlist. 
One way you have leverage over recruiters to get what you want is to score well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) as well as a high school diploma.  For the Army, a 31 composite score is necessary for enlistment, and a minimum of 50 is required for specialized jobs, like the technical fields, and for enlistment bonuses.  Generally, the higher you score on all areas of the ASVAB, the higher your score, and the greater the likelihood that you’ll get the job of your choice, excepting barriers like how many slots are open, enlistment times, etc. 
Every Army enlisted soldier has to go through Basic Combat Training (BCT).  This is where you learn to “be a soldier” – which is less intense than it was about 20 years ago, so some people told me.  Typical length is 8 weeks long, where you do lots of PT, do weapons training, do drill and ceremony, etc.  Check out YouTube videos for some insight into this.
The following are the Army bases where you’d be assigned for BCT:
·         Fort Benning – Columbus, Georgia
·         Fort Jackson – Columbia, South Carolina
·         Fort Leonard Wood – St. Robert, Missouri
·         Fort Sill – Lawton, Oklahoma
At the time I was in, there were one or two others, but I guess those have since closed down.  Also, I understand that all four now have females, whereas Benning accepted only males.  (Better, in my opinion, because the problems you have with Army females start earlier when they’re in BCT with you.)
Understand that, because of PC influences, BCT is watered down – and it has changed to reflect what the Army decided had to be done in light of the outdated Cold War tactics and how they didn't serve soldiers in dealing with “asymmetric warfare.”  (Look it up.)  Because of this, BCT, especially with females, is a big head game.  Take nothing personally and get your shit done to get through this.  Take the opportunities with PT to get in better shape than you are now, because you’ll be doing a lot of PT.  Keep on the straight path and keep your nose clean.  If you’re lucky, you might make some lasting buddy-ships, some of whom might go with you to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) after you all are done with BCT.  If you have the right attitude, you should do fine.  A big plus, especially when it comes to weapons training, is if you came from a gun-loving family and started shooting when you were younger.  I didn't and so sucked at marksmanship.  But, that wasn't why I went into the Army in the first place.
AIT is where you receive your job training.  In your research for what job you want before you enlist, check out how long the training is going to be.  My job was IT specialist, and my AIT was six months, one of the longer ones.  By far, the longest AIT is for a linguist, especially if the language you’ll be studying is difficult like Chinese, Arabic, Korean, or Persian/Farsi.  Language training itself, done at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, could take up to a year or slightly more.  Then, afterward, you might be trained to do intelligence (likely) for another few months.  I remember a guy I used to know many years ago who enlisted in the Army in the early 90s and wound up being trained as a Korean linguist and then in intelligence.  Adding up the time he spent in the IRR before shipping out to BCT, his BCT time, his language training (at least one year), and his intelligence training, he arrived at his first duty station in Korea with almost half of his four-year enlistment over.  Yes, gents, this is so.  Though you have a total 8-year commitment, whatever training you receive while on active duty counts toward your total active duty time. 
On that note, I also want to underscore the following.  Unless you don’t really care what happens to you  during your Army time (and there are people like that), take every opportunity you can to take training on the Army’s dime, especially technical training that will help you get a job in the civilian world when you get out.  You want to get IT certifications?  Use tuition assistance to pay for it.  You want to get your EMT certification?  Make sure you enlist as a medical specialist and get that.  You can also use some of your GI Bill money WHILE ON ACTIVE DUTY to get a degree, including a master’s.  Again, in my case, I used it to get a master’s degree because I already had a bachelor’s.  If you want to position yourself well before you get out, and already eliminate the hurdles of having a degree and the certifications, you have no excuse not to start working on this after you get to your first unit.  Admittedly, there were many active duty soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who were working too much and dealing with other shit at home (e.g., cheating girlfriends or spouses and the damaging fallout from them) where they couldn't apply themselves to degree programs or other training programs.  Now that things are relatively calmer, you should have some more free time.  Yes, do your partying and enjoy yourself here and there, but DO NOT piss away your time and not get out with nothing less than an associate’s degree and a few certifications.  To take it one step further, you could start an online business while on active duty.  This is something I wish I’d done while I had the time, but I was more focused on study and traveling in Europe, which I did a lot of, to my satisfaction.
Finally, do online courses for your degree, and do them with an accredited non-profit university.  Do not take out any loans if possible and take your time if you have 4-6 years.  All of this saves you time.  Having that bachelor’s, unfortunately, is still a must in today’s over-credentialized world.  The sooner you knock it out, the less headaches you’ll have later on.  I can remember some of my old unit-mates telling me not long after we all transitioned off of active duty how they regretted not getting at least an associate’s.  Now, they’re stuck, unemployed, and trying to attend school full time, even with the GI Bill. 
Generally, it’s better to be an officer, especially long-term.  You get better pay, deal with less bullshit (e.g., clean-up and landscaping duty), and are more respected when you get out because you’re seen as “management material” by private-sector employers.  But, all is not a bed of roses and you have to be circumspect in deciding to go down this route. 
First, if you have a degree, regardless of major, you’ll already qualify to be an officer.  (Even better if you have a medical degree because you can come in at a higher rank like Captain or Major if you’re a nurse or doctor, respectively.)  This is what happened to me, and my recruiter was trying to push me in this direction.  But, something in the back of my mind told me to be cautious, especially since I didn’t have all of the facts before me and, at least in my mind, wouldn't be making an informed decision.  So, I chose to go enlisted instead, with the intent of maybe becoming an officer later if I wanted to reenlist.  It wasn't until later when I could give shape to my doubts.
Understand, firstly, that officers are trained to be generalists – managers.  Enlisted are trained to do a job and, given the job, will do that job for the duration of their active duty and maybe their Reserve and National Guard careers.  With the Army, both officers are enlisted are trained to fight or to lead others to fight.  No surprise that the core of the Army is the infantry and combat arms.  (Same with the Marines, though there’s greater stress on combat training (“you’re a rifleman”) first.  All other jobs are secondary and are in support of combat arms.  As enlisted, you’re trained to be on the front line.  As an officer, you’re trained to lead these front-line soldiers.
Whether you begin your initial enlistment as an officer or become an officer later, you attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Georgia, where you have your weapons training and do other things like land navigation.  At the time you begin OCS, you create a “dream sheet” of three branches, one of which has to be combat arms (e.g., Infantry) if you’re male.  You hope that, at the time you get out of OCS and are assigned your first unit, you have your first choice.  Don’t count on it.  “Needs of the Army” will trump most things.  If your first choice was Signal (i.e., communications), you might instead wind up with Air Defense Artillery (combat arms).  The only way you can change this is if you find someone in your class with the branch you want and he or she wants the branch you have.  You do a one-to-one swap.  If not, then you’re stuck with what you’re assigned – for the duration of your first enlistment.  When Iraq and Afghanistan were full force, you, as a privileged and patriarchy-benefiting scumbag of a male, could have wound up with Infantry and then be on the front lines with your men.   Nice – not.
Some of the worst officers I've seen have been early 20-somethings coming straight out of college or ROTC and who have no real-world, or otherwise, leadership experience, with the entitlement attitude to boot.  Not all are like this, of course, and I’ve seen some shitbag officers who were shitbags prior enlisted, but who lucked out and went to OCS to get a better job.  In general, though, prior enlisted (and older) tended to make better officers because they knew what it was like to be enlisted and knew what jobs in the branch entailed.  Think of the civilian world – an IT project manager, for example, would, in general, be more effective if he or she worked as a network administrator or programmer for a time before taking management courses, or even daring to consider himself or herself a competent manager. 
Next, many agree that the best of both worlds (for the Army) is being a warrant officer (WO).  A WO is a technical subject matter expert who runs a shop or a section.  He or she is a commissioned officer, but doesn't deal with running a battalion or division unless necessary.  Think project or program manager instead of “general management.”  Less bullshit and more focus on the technical side of the house.  You especially find WOs as helicopter pilots and Signal officers.  WOs were prior enlisted before they became WOs.  You don’t become a WO straight out of the gate like you would a commissioned officer.  The downside of being a WO is that is takes much longer to attain the next rank because you have to know your technical area solidly and because of time-in constraints.  This is why you find many WO4s and WO5s (two of the highest ranks) in their 50s and 60s, with at least 20 years of total service.  It’s also about slots, which I’ll address below.
Finally, back to being enlisted.  In my view, there’s no shame in being enlisted, even if you have a degree.  (Case in point, during both basic training and my tech training, there were many people who had worked in IT and had some college credits, which meant that they had a higher rank going in.  They enlisted because they had shit for job prospects and wanted to better themselves.)  Going the enlisted route makes perfect sense if you’re going to be a short-timer and are very focused in what you want.  I was in the Signal branch and I went enlisted because I wanted to work to get that hands-on experience and maybe a certification or two (which the Army, and the other services, could pay for).  When it comes to IT, as many of you out there know, experience matters more than education.  After six years (my initial enlistment term), I came out having done networking, a bit of programming, and working with databases.  With my general demeanor, many people have mistaken me for an officer, and are surprised to learn that I was enlisted.  I didn’t take the certifications, though, but that didn’t hinder me in getting my present job.  But, I certainly used my GI Bill benefits while on active duty to help pay for a master’s in IT, which has been much more valuable in the long run.
Also, with being enlisted, as I mentioned with the recruiters, unless you get the exact job you want, you could be stuck with a shit job for at least four years, then have to reenlist to “reclass,” as they call it, to something you want to do, for another four years or so. 
As is the case with OCT, at the time you enlist, you can create a wish list of where you want to be stationed when you’re finished with BCT and AIT.  Don’t assume that you’re going to get your choice.  At the time I enlisted (and it probably is still the case today), the only way you could get a choice is if you chose OCONUS (Outside of the Continental United States), which is anything other than the 48 states.  OCONUS, regarding duty stations outside of deployments, means Europe, Asia, Hawaii, Alaska, or the territories like Puerto Rico and Guam.  Two main choices are Germany and Korea.  If you choose CONUS (Continental United States), you won’t have a choice with your first enlistment.  You go where they assign you, and that’s based on “needs of the Army” and you’ll probably end up on a larger base like Fort Benning or Fort Stewart in Georgia, Fort Hood in Texas, or Fort Lewis in Washington State.  Them’s the breaks, but if you have a mildly positive attitude, it can work out.  Some bases really suck and others are rather tolerable.  Do your research on the base and the surrounding area, keeping in mind that the nearest city to an Army base is heavily dependent on the base itself.  So, expect to see lots of tattoo parlors, check-cashing places, bars, and assorted welfare recipients.  (Plentiful with somewhat effortless single-mother pussy, but wear a rubber.)
If you happen to get Germany or Korea, you did have a choice, but, as is also the case with staying CONUS, you don’t have a choice with WHAT UNIT you’ll end up in.  Again, “needs of the Army.”  In my case, for example, I did BCT at Fort Benning and then went to Fort Gordon, also in Georgia, for my AIT.  My first duty station, which I learned not two weeks into AIT, was Benning.  Kind of funny when you look at it, because I wound up crisscrossing the state.  When I arrived at Benning, I was first to go to a transportation unit but then got moved up to the HQ unit because they needed my skills there.  This was a logistics battalion of which the transportation unit was a part.  I deployed with this logistics battalion for one year.  In early 2006, I got in touch with my branch manager (Signal) at Army HQ and requested a transfer to Germany, which I then did in November 2006, being stationed in Mannheim in the southwest, one hour south of Frankfurt am Main.  I wound up in a Signal unit and then deployed with them in late 2007.  A buddy of mine from AIT with the same job, in contrast, wound up at Fort Stewart in Georgia with the 3rd Infantry Division, a large, cumbersome, and moderately dysfunctional unit.  He stayed there for all of his six years and deployed three times.  He was unable to get out of 3rd ID and Stewart.  That happens.  To get away from 3rd ID, he’d have had to reenlist (which is when you truly do have a choice as to what BASE you go to, but not unit) for another 4-6 years or get out.  (He got out, and is now working for Oracle in San Francisco as a software developer.) 
The upshot to this is: you have little choice where you go, but you have a choice in what to make of where you’re at.  In my case, I spent my entire Army career in two places: Benning in Georgia and Mannheim in Germany.  Each had their respective merits and demerits.  The unit at Benning was run better and I did my job all during the two years I was with the unit, both in garrison and deployed.  But, Columbus, Georgia was lacking in things to do, even though I had a car and took some day trips to Alabama and Atlanta.  The unit in Germany was run a bit worse and I didn’t do my job except when deployed.  But, I was in Germany and near two main train stations and one major international airport.  You can bet your sweet ass that I took advantage of that, traveling to France three times, Switzerland once, Italy twice, Greece once, Malta twice, Turkey once, Austria once, and all over Germany.  It was all about seeing and seizing the opportunity.  After all, in garrison, you work 9 to 5 and have your weekends free, and have four-day weekends whenever there’s a major US holiday like Memorial Day and President’s Day.  If you’re stationed in Italy you can do the same thing with Europe.  In Korea, you can travel all over Asia, though if you’re in the north near Seoul, you’ll probably be working your ass off with field exercises and, consequently, won’t have that much free time. 
Final note: I touched on the fact of doing your research with bases and the surrounding areas.  Understand that, with most bases, one or two units are the major force there.  All other units are classified as either support units or “tenant” units.  For example, as I mentioned, 3rd ID is the main unit on Fort Stewart.  If you get assigned there, you might wind up at the division level, or at the battalion or company level of a unit supporting 3rd ID.  If 3rd ID deploys, then all or mostly all of the support units will go with it.  If you get assigned to a “tenant” unit, you might not deploy, though that’s not set in stone.  (Case in point: with the logistics battalion, the battalion JAG clerk, a black single mother, found a way to get out of the deployment and so the battalion had to scrounge to find a JAG clerk, which they found in an early 20-something, nerdy and pimply-faced guy who thought that he was set with his desk job in garrison.  “Needs of the Army,” baby.)  Also, realize that getting assigned to a plum base might not be it’s all cracked up to be.  “Plum” might be Japan (very hard to get unless you luck out or reenlist and get some strings pulled), Spain, or it might be one of the bases near Washington, DC (e.g., Fort Meade, where the NSA is) to include the Pentagon.  DC area bases are stuffed with top officers and senior enlisted, so as junior enlisted, you run the risk of being someone’s bitch in a more political atmosphere –though you’ll be doing a desk job and not out in the field pitching tents.  (Higher brass is also someone else’s bitch, as a major could be the secretary and dog-walker to a one-star general.)  You also have to deal with DC traffic and the high cost of living, and plenty of government employees with their own entitlement mentality.  Given that, you might be better off, cost of living-wise, at a place like Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, though you’d have to deal with another kind of Shitsville entirely. 
If nothing else, read up on and understand deeply Army regulations, especially those that govern solider appearance and behavior.  Many of these regulations are online, so you can access them much easier than you could in the past, when soldiers tended to be more ignorant because of lack of information.  Knowing the regulations better than anyone else means that you can protect yourself when you encounter a shitbag who won’t let up on you.
For example, in Germany, I had a higher-ranked supervisor who I didn't get along with because I could tell that he was a self-serving shitbag who could get what he wanted because the battalion leadership needed him for deployments.  The guy was Indian and came from a somewhat well-to-do family.  (However, unlike the stereotype, this Indian wasn't the sharpest bayonet in the drawer.)  He enlisted in the Army to get his American citizenship, but was going to do his 20 years so that he could also get a pension.  This guy wasn't well-liked by many people in the battalion, and fate conspired to make him my supervisor.
One thing he did early on was to get on me about my haircut.  According to regulation, all males’ hair must be short and off the collar.  You could either shave your head bald (which I did) or do a high-and-tight.  (Look it up.)  I usually kept my hair blocked off in the back, as I had been doing for many years.  Mind you, no one either in BCT, AIT, or at my first unit said anything about this, as I usually kept my hair very short and they probably didn't care.  Not so this Indian guy.  The regulation, I admit, said that, in the back, the hair was to be in a taper instead of a block.  I couldn't argue with him about this, but I managed to put it off until things got busy with the pre-deployment preparations.  Then, after my unit moved from Germany, it fell by the wayside.  I never heard about it again, either from him or anyone else.
The point here is that anyone, including you, can circumvent or flout regulations when necessary.  Regulations exist for a reason, but there are many that have been there on the books for a long time, and in my opinion, make little sense today.  Yet, everyone has to follow them, or suffer the consequences.  One thing to keep in mind is that all leadership is required to maintain current regulations and not take away from current regulations.  They can also add to existing regulations as they see fit, but “within reasonable bounds.”  For example, a unit commander can push to have all soldiers starch and press their uniforms even though this isn't necessary and can damage said uniforms.  This is frivolous, but you’ll run into trouble if you don’t follow it.  On the flip side, if a shitbag is trying to get you to do something dangerous, you can pull out the regulation and shove it into his (or her) face to get them to back away, even going up the chain of command to get him or her to stop.  You’ll still suffer some consequences, but at least you can shove back and stand your ground. 
This is the Army guys – when you signed on the dotted line and raised your hand, you gave up some of your rights as a private citizen for the goodies.  If you’re not ready to do this, then you have no business being in the Army. 
A crucial subject since many of you out there are younger clueless men with raging hormones.  Pay close attention because, as it is in the civilian world, the stakes are high and you could SERIOUSLY lose your ass, over a piece of ass, and dignity in this minefield if you don’t know how to navigate it.
First, understand that there are fewer women than men in the Army, so you’re dealing with a pre-existing unfavorable sex ratio.  There are certain fields, mind you, where there are generally more women than men (e.g., medical and clerical, though clerical jobs have all but disappeared).  In general, the easier the job, the more women you’ll find.  This was also, until recently, mandated by the ban on women in combat roles. 
In my experience, many Army women, whether they’re white, black, Hispanic, or Asian, are both unattractive and low on the intelligence scale.  After all, even in the case with men, the Army and the military won’t attract the best and the brightest.  There are outliers, of course, but don’t expect to find them.  Also, with Army women, since many Army guys are thirsty, the women’s attitudes tend to be horrible because of entitlement mentality – which also existed before they went in because of feminism, etc. 
Case in point: note the phrase “queen for a year.”  This refers to a chick on deployment, usually a 5 at best, where she might be the only Slot A (hat tip to Terence Popp) of maybe 50 or more men.  You can do the math on that one.  In my case, I remember during my second deployment to Iraq being at a small outpost of at least 150 mostly infantry guys.  We had one female MP who would stay at the base for a few days every month or so.  At best she was a 6 – in the face, but not in the body.  Though she was a competent MP, imagine her near-effortless pick of dick.  It sucks, boys . . . and she certainly wouldn't be sucking you if there are officers or senior enlisted around . . . wink-wink.
Of paramount importance is the following.  If you have the urge and it’s too strong to ignore, jerk off or, if you’re over in Asia or Europe, put aside some cash and avail yourself of hookers.  Because many Army chicks are both entitled and mentally disturbed (daddy issues, physical or sexual abuse at home, low self-esteem, substance abuse), if you avail yourself of the Slot A (and B and D) and she has remorse, you can rightly assume that she knows she can sashay her fat ass over to the MP station at any time and file a sexual assault charge.    You’ll then be yanked aside and have to go through an investigation.  Very stressful and potentially life-upending.
I’ll give an example.  At the start of my second deployment, one of the senior enlisted (an E-6, staff sergeant), who had a girlfriend in Germany and was tapping ass on the side occasionally, suddenly disappeared from our unit while we were in Kuwait for in-processing and training.  I didn't find out until two months later that a chick he had banged once or twice in Kuwait filed a rape charge against him.  The Army removed him from Kuwait and our unit and sent him to Fort Sill, Oklahoma to sit in limited confinement while his trial, which could have led to a court-martial, was going on.  I later found out that he was at Sill for a good seven months.  Eventually, they found out that the chick lied and had filed two other sexual assault charges with two other men.  She had a history of mental illness.  The E-6 was cleared, he was reinstated on active duty, and got his rank back.  (But, we never saw him again in Germany.)  He could have been court-maritaled and received a dishonorable discharge, which would have fucked him.  He escaped this fate, though I’m sure that he definitely was shaken because of it.  In general, though the guy should have kept it in his pants, especially since he had a girlfriend who was in his corner, what he went through was unnecessary.  But, if you stick your dick in crazy, this is what happens.  Don’t say you weren't warned.
On another note, dealing with Army women is often a challenge because of their entitlement mentality and because they’re given a lot more slack than the men are, which then creates work problems and fosters resentment from others.  For example, there was one blonde chick in Germany – quite the looker, at least a solid 7 who was thin and had a nice ass – who routinely ducked morning formation and didn't get disciplined for it because her supervisor let it slide.  She missed formation because she often had been drinking the night before and woke up hung over.  (Yet, she swore she didn't have a drinking problem.)  She also had three tattoos and had been getting British dick while deployed, so go figure.  Another example was a whiny, sometimes belligerent, and all-around insufferable black chick who talked back to supervisors when they required her to do physical labor.  While in Kuwait, she conveniently got herself knocked up by a senior enlisted dude and then was sent back to Germany to wait out the deployment – because, of course, how could you deploy a pregnant slut to actually do work?  So, she did clerical work and probably stayed in for a few more years while she got free health and pre-natal care.  Great while you can get it, but then the kid is going to be yet another single-mother raised kid.  God bless America!
My advice: avoid these chicks and only work with them when necessary.  If you choose to fuck them, get a vasectomy and freeze your sperm first.  Then, make sure to record the two of you making the beast with two backs, to protect yourself against a sexual assault charge.  The witch-hunt is now greater than it was when I was in, so you have to tread very, very carefully in this area.  And, as I said, if you’re in Asia or Europe, then just go to the brothels.  The attitude toward prostitution is more favorable in these places and the quality of pussy is that much better.  Army women, even if attractive, tend to be sluts or might be tempted to be sluts.  If you had your choice between a fat Hispanic chick, at best a 5, in the barracks, with the risk of her going to the MPs if you didn't “satisfy” her right, or a brunette 8 Ukrainian in the red-light district in Amsterdam, where you pay her 100 euro for one hour with no hassle, which would you prefer?  I know which one I’d choose.
Lastly, I strongly advise against being married while in the military unless you choose to do your 20 years and make a career of it.  If you’re a short-termer and doing only one enlistment, you have shit to do, so get it done.  The fewer distractions you have, the better.
Never marry an Army chick because of the risk of getting a psycho (and a petri dish of prior dick STDs) and because deployments, if they happen, can stress and tear apart a marriage, with any kids being collateral damage.  You’re better off finding a non-Army chick who is very patient and understanding and who will be in your corner for the long haul.  Not a given, mind you, since there are plenty of younger uneducated chicks looking to get their hooks into an Army guy to get his sperm and spousal benefits.  This also applies to Germans, Italians, Asians, etc., wherever there’s an Army base and are looking to capitalize on young dumb Army guys.  (Pussy for resources – remember that.)  I’ve seen this one too many times and it doesn’t turn out well, for either the guy or the girl.  For example, one 19 year old dumbass on my team during my second deployment gave his wife complete access to the bank account before he deployed.  A few months in, she went incommunicado and, in tandem, had drained the bank account.  He was calling frantically, from Iraq, via Skype every day to find her and eventually found out that she had left town and went back to stay with her parents in another state.  Subsequently, they divorced – and then he was back on Skype cyber-stalking this redhead he knew from his hometown.  Eventually, the battalion pulled him from our side after six months because he had too many personal issues at home.  Good riddance.  Then, there are the other stories of Army chicks or Army wives “forgetting” their birth control.  You know the story.
Bottom line: if you want to get married, do it AFTER you get out and after you set yourself up.  Then, apply the necessary protections and countermeasures as the fine Mr. Clarey and other Manospherians have enumerated.
About whether you should stay in or get out once your first term of enlistment is over, that’s a decision that only you can make.  Sure, there are many benefits of staying in, not the least of which are the continued benefits that you’d get from a highly structured environment (especially, that you continue to get paid even when you’re doing nothing or shoveling shit) and a pension (if it’s still around nearly 20 years later).  However, I can say from experience that, the longer you stay in, the more “Army-unized” you become.  First enlistments for shot-termers are always the best in terms of flexibility, especially if you get the job you want and set yourself up well by the time your enlistment is over.  Next best is if you do under ten years, correcting whatever mistakes you made in your first enlistment, and doing better by the time you get out.  Doing the full 20 (or over) isn’t for everyone.  I’ve seen former infantry, Special Forces, and combat arms, for example, who retire after 20 years with severe health problems and a sense of bitterness about them.  They reached a point where they decided, “Eh, fuck it . . . I’ll just do my 20 since I’m already invested in this too deep.”  Don’t get to this point.  Stay in because you WANT to – not because you have to.  Those that stay in because they have to have more or less the same problems as those in the civilian world do: cunt of a wife to support, kids to support, health problems, etc. 
Recently, the military pushed for the Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA), called the “15-year retirement.”  This allows you to shave 5 years off of the total 20 if you so choose.  You could do this, but you’d get only 35% of your base pay in retirement (based on the rank you were at retirement) vs. the up to 50% of your base pay for the full 20.  The Department of Defense did this to try and thin the ranks to get people out to save money.  Again, it’s up to you, but knowing this for the future will help you in your decision-making.  Always do your research.
Some are cut out for the 20 and do well.  Many more aren't cut out for this, and so get out earlier.  Remember as I said in the beginning, the military is “faux socialism.”  Sure, you get the benefits, but what are you giving up to get those benefits?  Since 9/11, military pay has gotten better, but historically, career military people typically couldn't do anything else in the civilian world and so chose to be a professional solider, cook, tank driver, pilot, etc.  You can do this, or choose to do something else.  Just make an informed decision.
Finally, a word about the bennies both on active duty and when you get out.  I want to note first that you will get all of your bennies if you get an honorable discharge only.  Get a dishonorable discharge, and you've fucked yourself over in many ways.  Get a less-than-honorable discharge (LTO), and you get some bennies, but not as many as you’d get with the honorable one.  In short, you really have to fuck up to get a dishonorable discharge, so it happens fairly rarely.  More common is the LTO, so be careful in what you get yourself into.  Case in point: a guy from South Carolina I was stationed with in Germany got an LTO not two years into his first enlistment.  He was a mechanic who, admittedly, was working for some shitbags in the motor pool who had it out for him.  But, the guy, rather than learn how to play the political game and keep his nose clean, chose to fall back on his “redneck” (his words) ways and cause trouble.  Eventually, the motor pool guys found a way to fuck him over and which resulted in a LTO.  Almost a year I transitioned off of active duty, I heard that the guy was in SC, degreeless, working at an auto parts store, and living out of his truck.  Not the one you want.
Back to the bennies . . .
First, I mentioned the GI Bill, which is maybe the most valuable one of the suite of bennies.  I said that you can use the GI Bill while still on active duty, which I wholeheartedly recommend for short-timers, especially, to get a jump on getting your degree and/or credentials before you get out.  No time to waste, so get cracking on this.  There’s also tuition assistance while on active duty, but recently, because of sequestration, there’s some concern about how much has been cut and how long this might be going on.  Best to do your research.  (Now that there are online course offerings through Udacity, Coursera, etc., you can offset this.)  With the newer Post-9/11 GI Bill, there’s the Yellow Ribbon program that some colleges participate in, where you might get all of your tuition paid as well as a living stipend, based on the military’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).  Do your online research on this as there’s a ton of information.  That’s all I’ll say about that.
Second, there’s the Veterans Administration (VA) medical benefit.  Admittedly, if you can get a decent job with decent medical benefits, use those instead of the VA.  The VA, in general, is shit because of the bureaucracy and because it’s a political hot potato.  The VA is best used if you have a service-related injury.  For example, did you get your limb blown off from an IED during deployment?  The VA would cover that.  Did you hurt your back lifting too much shit during down time?  The VA can cover that.  However, I can’t stress enough that, before you come off of active duty, make sure to DOCUMENT every ache and pain that you think is service-related BEFORE you transition.  Get it in writing from the military doctor’s (and dentist’s and specialist’s, if connected) office, along with any medication (other than the ubiquitous cure-all for the military, ibuprofen) that you were taking for it.  After you transition, make sure to go to the nearest VA clinic or hospital in your current town or city and get into the system.  As of right now, current Iraq and Afghanistan vets are entitled to five years of free(-ish) medical care from the VA, even if you don’t have a service-connected health issue.  But, again, don’t use the VA unless you absolutely have to.  The last time I used the VA was over 2.5 years ago when I went for an MRI for my lower back, since I have microtears in two discs because of overexertion while on active duty.  I got it done and didn't pay a dime.  Why? Because I had this documented and it’s service-connected.  I’m also thankful that I didn't get royally fucked up in any combat situation.  These are the really pathetic bastards that really need VA medical care.  And, given how the VA is one, the troubles they have in getting medical care is really tragic. 
Third, there’s the benefit of having a security clearance.  When I enlisted in 2004, the job I chose required me to get a Secret clearance because I’d be working with sensitive information on computer networks.  The process began shortly after I was in BCT and, because I had a clean record (i.e., no drug use, no arrests, no jail time, paid off my debts in a timely fashion, etc.) I was able to get my clearance before reporting to my first duty station.  Yay for me.  Others weren't so lucky, and got stuck in AIT for a few more months while the clearance process chugged along.
The benefit of having a clearance is twofold: (1) you have access to jobs that not everyone can get, especially government jobs like in the Department of Defense; (2) it shows to certain employers that you can be trusted with sensitive information and that you’re, at least on the surface, and upstanding person.  Having a clearance is a nice feather in your cap, especially if you already have your degree and your certifications.  Also, having the highest clearance you can get (which, currently is the Yankee White one, which give you access to the White House) moves down the chain to the so-called “public trust” designation.  In other words, the highest clearance you can get means that you can do anything below you, so to speak.  If you have a Top Secret, you can work in a Secret position, for example.
However, let me counter the benefits by giving the negatives.  I speak from experience on this one, since I've held both a Secret clearance and a Top Secret clearance for a total of 11 years.  Yes, having a clearance gives you access to jobs that the great unwashed masses can’t get, but you won’t be special in a smaller lake of thousands of clearance holders.  Not long after 9/11, the Federal government suddenly needed lot of people to work in the defense sector, both on the government side and the contractor side.  If you had a clearance during that time, you were like the hot 20-something chick and all boners were pointed at you.  You could more or less write your own ticket, especially with contractors.  Well, those glory days are behind us.  With the Iraq and Afghanistan wind-down and budget cuts, many of these jobs have been eliminated and contractors are left scrambling for other work, while their clearances expired in the process.  Not a good position to be in.  Also, if you don’t have a certain type of clearance at the time you apply for the job, you most likely won’t get it. 
For example, the clearance called Top Secret with Secure Compartmentalized Information and a Full-Lifestyle Polygraph enables you to work at places like the CIA and the NSA.  I have one step below this clearance and so would have to have my clearance upgraded to the Lifestyle Poly to qualify for them.  It hasn't happened.  Why?  Because it takes time and money to run the investigation and upgrade the clearance.  Few contractors seem willing to do this now, in this slack market, and the Federal government is hamstrung by its own stupidity in upgrading clearances.  Shortly after 9/11, there was a critical shortage of clearance holders.  Now, you have a glut of clearance holders, made worse by more stringent hiring practices.  And, if you’re trying to apply for a job that requires a clearance and you don’t have one, you might as well forget it.  Again, takes too much time and money to get it working.  The government has overclassified documents and facilities too much and is now feeling the pain.  Compare this to what the good Mr. Clarey has said about progressive credentialism.  It’s like constipation and impacted shit.  Until the system flushes this out, it will just hurt more and more as time wears on.
So, the upshot is, especially if you want to work in the defense sector, make sure to get a job that requires as high a clearance as you can get.  Then, when it’s almost time for you to get out, start negotiating with contractors (if that’s the route you want to go, instead of the Federal government) to bump up your clearance if the job requires it.  If you have software skills, you’ll likely bet a job faster than if you have other skills, since software engineers are always in high demand.  Whatever you do, DO NOT come out with just training in very specific Army (or Navy, or Air Force) systems designed by defense contractors.  That is, if you just know a system the Army uses, you’re severely limiting yourself to what jobs a contractor might be bidding on with the Fed.  The contractor, especially if it’s a smaller one, probably won’t get the contract because the giants like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics will have the market sewn up.  I wonder sometimes about those dumb-asses who worked just in radio and microwave who are scrambling for jobs now.  When the money was flowing, they could find work.  Not now, I’m sure.


grey enlightenment said...

get into one of the several academies.. you never have to see combat . Or coast guard

Tom Roberts said...

Great write-up. Thanks for taking the time. As a GovCon, now positioning to sell services to other GovCons (software/BD help) I can attest to the TS SCIs getting hammered by the current job market. It [used] to be that those clearance holders had it made, not so much working for .gov, but for the GovCon's. I had a friend paying Oracle DBAs 300K over in Langely. So, there has been a softening in the market which requires that you take alook and position your skill sets around what is priority funding: Cyber, for example.

Alex in Montana said...

I joined at 18 in 1965. I wouldn't today and told my son not to. I got the GI Bill and got a science degree from a Big Ten Scholl and a Masters from Harvard. That was the good.

You join a military today that fights in Muslim countries and against Muslims - members of a fanatical political sect that hates you and wants you dead or a slave to them.

You can't say anything bad about Islam. You must have Muslim American soldiers next to you. You have Muslim 'allies' you have trained who can turn on you in in instant.

Imagine all this in 1942: FDR says the Japanese and Germans must be respected and so forth. You must be careful in killing them so as not to upset their cultures or self esteem and the rest of the cultural Marxist nonsense.

Am I exaggerating? Yes, but you get the drift. Put your life on the line against an enemy you can not name. Throughout history only desperate men join a mercenary army like that because I can tell you that you are not fighting for your beliefs or your country - you are fighting for Obama and his lunatic friends. No thanks

That is insane.

One Fat Oz Guy said...

That line about women being entitled and getting a pass for bad behaviour goes double for women in Engineering companies.
The place I do some work has a lazy woman who not only got a bonus and a pay rise, she did it when most of the men around her didn't due to economic pressures.
She still complained it wasn't enough!

PaladinPhil said...

Man, I wish I had a write up like this when I first joined. I messed up, continually messed up, and ended up leaving with a foul taste in my mouth.

I definitely agree with his assessments about all manners of females related to the military. I have seen horror stories, heard horror stories, and watched things crash and burn.

Army females aren't much fun. Base hanger on's could properly be called "camp followers" looking for an easy mark to take to the cleaners for their pension and benefits. Yeah short term? stay single. Long term? Find a wife as far from a base as feasible.

vandiver49 said...

@ Grey Enlightenment:

Not true, I went to USNA and wound up in the Green Zone! But you are right that the Coast Guard is a great option.

MJack said...

The only good reason for joining the Army is that you want to be a solder.
The only good reason for joining the Navy is that you want to be a sailor.
The only good reason for joining the Marines is that you want to be a Marine.
If you want to join the military for any compilation of other various reasons, join the Air Force. Period.

Anonymous said...

When in Korea, we were told by the medics that if we wanted to have sex we should get a whore from downtown, despite that being illegal. The reason for this was the insanely high STD rate of Army women. It was safer to have sex with a whore then an Army woman.