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How To Choose Which Military Branch To Join!

If you are seriously considering joining the military, you probably checked out at least two of the branches. I advise you to check them all out, even of it means just requesting literature and reviewing it. Although I was not interested in joining the Army, I did look at its brochures first to find out a little about its programs before I made my final decision.

Do Your Research!
A word of caution though: Sometimes (in reality, most times) brochures to not tell the complete story, and it is very difficult to base your decision either for or against on the contents of a brochure. When I was a recruiter, people were always telling me that they weren't interested because of what they had read about it in a brochure. I'd usually say something like "I understand why you wouldn't be interested in joining, but how could you be interested in something you know so little about? That's why I'd like to take a few minutes to meet with you in person and tell you a little more about your opportunities."

Smooth sales talk? Perhaps, but it was the truth. Would you buy a car based solely on the information contained in a brochure? Probably not! And unless you TOTALLY hated the car based on the information in the brochure, you would probably not completely dismiss it as an option.

Making A Choice
If, after checking into the military branches that interest you, there is clearly only one choice, then your decision has already been made (although I would question what you have based your decision on). But, if you are like most people, you will have at least two branches in mind, so read on!

Ask Yourself "What Do I Really Want?"
The process of choosing the right branch of the military for you is basically the same process that you used to determine if joining the military was right for you. You should start with your list of primary motivators and use the "yes/no" method to determine whether each branch can meet all or some of those motivators. Once you've determined which branch or branches can best meet your motivators, it's time to compare those branches. What the first branch meets, the second may not; but what the first branch doesn't, the second one might meet in a big way. Remember to look for the negative aspects as well as the motivators of each of the branches as you compare.

After making your comparisons, you may still find yourself with more than one choice. What do you do then? You could flip a coin, but I wouldn't advise it. Instead, you may want to look at some of these factors:

  • Length of enlistment- Some branches may require a longer term for offering the same benefits that you could receive from another branch.
  • Advanced pay grade- You may be entitled to an advanced rank in some branches based on certain enlistment options.
  • Length and type of training- How long will the training you'll receive take? Usually the longer the training, the more in-depth and useful it is. You'll also wan to consider how useful the training will be once you've left the military.
  • Enlistment bonuses- I caution you about enlistment bonuses as the only factor in deciding which branch to choose. If it comes down to a tie between two branches and only one offers a bonus, it's not a bad reason to choose that branch.
  • Additional pay and allowances- There may be additional pay you'd be entitled to that can only be offered by a particular branch. For instance, if you join the Navy, you may be entitled to Sea Pay and Submarine pay, something obviously not available if you join the Air Force.
  • Ability to pursue higher education- While all military branches offer educational benefits, you must consider when you will be able to take advantage of these benefits. If you are in a job requiring 12-hour shifts and being out in the "field" a great deal, when will you be able to attend classes?

I'm Still Undecided. What Now?
Once you have considered these factors, and perhaps some of your own, you should be able to decide which branch is right for you. If you still haven't been able to select one branch over another, though, consider the following:

  • Ask your recruiter if you can speak to someone who recently joined.
  • If there is a base nearby, you may be able to get a tour and look at its facilities.
  • If you are well versed in Internet chat rooms, you may want to look for ones that cater to military members- then ask a lot of questions.
  • Talk to friends and family members who are currently serving in the military. Be careful, however, not to talk to individuals who have been out of the military for a while as they probably do not have an understanding of "today's" military. Also avoid individuals who left the military under less-than-honorable conditions (for example, someone who was discharged from basic training for noncompatibility).

If you still are having problems deciding, maybe you should choose the service with the best looking uniform!

"Excerpt from the book Guide to Joining the Military, by Scott Ostrow (ARCO Press, 2001) used by permission. (Available for sale online and in book stores)"

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