Why is it important to choose your military career carefully as a new recruit? There is an old Navy saying, “Choose your rate, choose your fate” that is applicable no matter what branch of military service you choose. (In the Navy, your “rate” or “rating” describes your chosen career field.)
And it’s true–those who don’t choose carefully or don’t understand that it’s important to do so as early as possible often wind up doing jobs they’d much rather NOT be doing. How can you avoid this?
Avoid Making A Classic Mistake
“I want to join the Navy because I like the water.” Or how about, “I love airplanes, so I want to join the Air Force.” Those are words that have actually come out of the mouths of some recruits.
What some don’t realize is that joining the military is a lot like going to college in one important respect–if you choose a career path based on nebulous concepts rather than your own personal preferences for employment, you’ll lose out on more than you gain. It pays to be very specific about your career choices as well as the branch of service you select.
For example, you may be interested in America’s space program, but if you ask a recruiter about joining U.S. Space Force, you will quickly learn that there are no jobs in space itself for enlisted troops.
If you dream of being an astronaut, choosing Space Force as your branch of service doesn’t get you any closer to that goal. If you like working with computers and are attracted to “cyberoperations” as the Air Force and Space Force put it, you may do well to investigate your options with an Air Force or Space Force Career.
But if you are interested in combat arms, search and rescue, or other more typical military-type “boots on the ground” jobs, looking at Army, Marine Corps, and Navy opportunities may provide you with plenty to think about.
The Air Force also has combat jobs, but many of these require more specialized training such as Pararescue jobs. The branch of service you choose often plays an important role in the opportunities offered to you.
Start Planning Early
How early? The best time to start learning about military jobs is when you talk to your recruiter. Yes, the other things you are told in the military recruiting sales pitch are very important–pay, benefits, paid time off, education, world travel, and all the rest.
But your first military job could make or break your plans to continue a military career. If you don’t think the job you do in the Army, Space Force, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, or Coast Guard isn’t the most important thing, remember that your first military job is how you will spend the next four years of your life. You don’t want to be stuck in a four-year job you hate.
What do you need to ask a recruiter in this capacity? There are three things to understand about military jobs.
Military Job Consideration Number One: Demand
The very first consideration your recruiter will make when talking to you about military career fields is how badly your chosen branch of service needs to fill certain vacancies.
The military has a certain number of jobs that are vital to the mission and must be staffed first. These jobs often feature staffing shortages and your recruiter may be eager to get you talking about them.
Your chances of landing a job in one of these categories (which change frequently depending on troop strength numbers and other variables) is much higher than applying to a competitive and overcrowded career field.
You will surprise a military recruiter by using a bit of DoD jargon on them in the recruiting office–ask which career fields are critically staffed, or feature the biggest enlistment or re-enlistment bonuses.
You’ll get an earful and not all the jobs are ones you will want to take. But there may be a handful that appeal to you and signing up for one of these could land you a nice monetary bonus just for signing up.
Understaffed specialties can include highly specialized jobs that require knowledge of foreign languages, computers, human physiology, or other technical concerns. Here’s a mistake some newcomers make–they assume that because they don’t know anything about these things NOW, they do not qualify.
That is NOT TRUE. However, your ASVAB scores will play a major role in your access to such specialized work. Those who are keen to enter highly technical or complex careers do well to study hard for the ASVAB and to do the best they can in all areas.
Number Two: Overcrowded Career Fields
Tell the recruiter what kinds of jobs you think you might enjoy or be good at and ask if there are equivalents in the military. But more importantly, ask the recruiter if the jobs you want are in career fields that actually have too many military people doing the same job. You won’t get into that career field or MOS in certain cases where there are already plenty of people working those duties.
Number Three: Weird Military Jobs
You never, ever know where a career in the military may take you. Are you a musician? Did you know that the military has thousands of uniformed service members who have jobs playing in bands as a recruiting and public relations tool?
Have you ever dreamt of being a reporter? The military offers these jobs, too, believe it or not. You can enlist in career fields that include work in entomology, food service, public affairs, mortuary affairs, or even as a meteorologist.
The key here is to ask the recruiter. If you are interested in work that is off the beaten path compared to other types of military service, tell the recruiter that and see how creative you can get with your career field options. And remember–as mentioned above, you do not have to be experienced in these kinds of jobs to get your foot in the door. As long as you can do the training provided for these military jobs, it’s safe to apply for one without experience.
Things To Tell Your Recruiter
As early as possible, tell your recruiter that you do not want to enter boot camp with no career field assigned to you. You do not want to be sent into basic training as an “open general” recruit who must choose a job later–at least not if you can help it.
In some cases getting a guaranteed job before boot camp may not be possible, but if you suspect your recruiter might not be giving you the entire picture in that respect it may be smart to talk to recruiters from other branches of service to see what they have to offer.
Tell your recruiter about the kind of job you might want, that you don’t want to enter boot camp without a guaranteed job if you can help it, and that you are willing to delay enlistment if it means waiting until a slot opens up in a job you really do want to explore.
Again, these options may or may not be possible depending on mission requirements and other variables, but it never hurts to start the conversation with what you definitely do want to try.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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