Should I Join the Military?

“Non sibi, sed patriae. (Not for self, for country).”

No! Run far, far away! Whatever you do!

Okay, I’m totally kidding – sort of. You’d probably get a similar answer if you asked a good number of service members. Not because the military is actually terrible but because there’s almost an unspoken competition going on based on who can complain the most about the military. I’ve been putting off posting about this because I’d hate to put myself in a box and become a military blogger but I get this question so often that I decided it only made sense to write about it. Here’s my advice if you’re considering military service …

What people tend to forget is the seemingly imaginary word that follows the word, “military,” and that word is, “service.” When you join the military, you are in service to your country.  The moment you forget that will be the moment you are miserable. Always remember that and you’ll keep a positive outlook. However, get what you need out of the military because (as many service members would tell you) the military will definitely get what it needs out of you. That idea is what motivated me to write this post.

Ask yourself why you’re motivated to join. What do you hope to get out of the military that you cannot get as a civilian? Is it the medical benefits? School loan repayment? Tuition assistance? The GI bill? On-the-job training? Patriotic call of duty?

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From there, you have to make a means-to-an-end decision. Are the means worth the end? For me they absolutely were. I went to Florida State University and graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminology and a concentration in Spanish. Well, that sounds nice and all but when I graduated I had $51,000 in school debt. How, Sway? I was an out-of-state student so school was a little more (a lot more) expensive for me. I enrolled in Army ROTC for a spell while in undergrad but decided the Army, even with a commission as an officer, was not the way for me to go. I won’t go into my personal experience in undergrad because I know that it is not representative of the organization as a whole but let’s suffice it to say that I didn’t feel as if I was a part of the team.

The Navy’s commissioning program is a bit more competitive and given the status of our economy and the onslaught of applications for Officer Candidate School, the Navy could only offer me an officer position as a surface warfare officer. I was not at all interested in that line of work but on the enlisted side, I was offered mass communication specialist which meant I’d at least end up doing something that I love; writing. They sweetened the deal by offering me the Navy’s Loan Repayment Program, which pays up to $65,000 in school debt within the first three years of enlistment. Along with that, I’d be entitled to tuition assistance to complete my master’s degree and the GI Bill if I wanted to pursue a career in law or obtain my phD. That equals to more than $115,500 and up to 10 years worth of education for five years of service as layed out in my contract. Again, for me, the means were definitely worth the end.

A word of caution: do your research! The military provides a crutch in a lot of ways; they tell you when to eat, what to wear, when to be there, but what they won’t do is the research to make sure you’re on track with your personal goals. Really, how can you expect them to? When I was signing my enlistment contract, I did the loan repayment paperwork on my own because my recruiter hadn’t heard of it. You can’t expect to be able to blame anyone else for not knowing the information you have just as much access to. Do the education.

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One enlistment served its purpose for me. I won’t be reenlisting. I’m grateful for the lessons learned while serving and I’m considering keeping my options open by going the Reserve route. Jury’s still out.

Are you considering the military? What questions do you have? If you’ve served, what advice would you give?

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