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Armed Services Career Job Description, Career in the Armed Services, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Varies—see profile

Salary Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

The armed services—the U.S. Army, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Navy, and the Coast Guard—offer jobs in the United States and abroad that are comparable to hundreds of civilian positions. The jobs range from postal clerk and helicopter repairer to court reporter and dental hygienist. In each area of expertise, military personnel receive classroom and field training and are encouraged to advance to the limits of their capabilities.

Those who join the armed services, whatever their jobs may be, are trained to be professional soldiers. They must accept a life of discipline and order that is different from civilian life. The military has its own rules for proper behavior, its own courts for adjudication of wrongdoing, and its own requirements for advancement. Those who enlist should have a strong desire to serve their country in both peacetime and war.

In a field such as Maneuver Combat Arms, enlistees learn to operate and maintain weapons, vehicles, and other equipment. Beginners may be trained for jobs such as rifleman or ammunition handler. With experience and ability, they may be assigned to more difficult positions, such as armor reconnaissance specialist.

In the field of medicine, beginning military personnel help care for patients, treating minor cuts and wounds, serving meals, and transporting patients within a medical center. Those who had training prior to enlistment, such as registered nurses, are assigned similar jobs in the military. Those who have no previous training may learn to be X-ray technicians or physical therapy specialists.

The armed services offer a wide variety of careers for those who want to enter military service. (© Hans Halberstadt/Corbis.)

Some enlisted personnel are assigned to office work, typing correspondence, processing orders, or budgeting. Experienced personnel and officers have more complex and more responsible duties, such as supervising other personnel.

While some people spend their entire careers in the armed services, others enlist for three to six years, become well trained in their fields, and return to civilian life with valuable experience. Still others stay in the military for twenty years, retire with pensions, and then obtain civilian jobs.

Education and Training Requirements

Military service is now entirely voluntary, although in an emergency Congress can reactivate the draft. To enlist, applicants must be at least seventeen years of age. U.S. Air Force personnel must enter active duty before their twenty-eighth birthday; other branches of the armed services require that enlistees be no older than thirty-five. After taking aptitude tests, enlistees may enter any field for which they qualify and for which the service has need. If they are interested only in a specific training program and do not qualify, they are free to change their minds about enlisting. Some jobs are open only to those who have completed high school.

Military personnel can enlist for three or more years of active duty. Those who wish to enlist for six years of reserve duty must serve at least four months of that time on active duty. Some enlistees may be qualified to apply for Officer Candidate School (OCS) training. College students can join the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and begin training while in school. The program provides a monthly allowance. Full-tuition scholarships are also available. When ROTC students graduate and are commissioned as officers, they must serve on active duty for two years.

Some individuals join the military by entering one of the service academies—the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO; the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT; the army's Military Academy in West Point, NY; or the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Applicants must be nominated by a member of Congress or have a family affiliation with the military. While at the academy, their tuition and expenses are paid. After graduating, they must serve on active duty for five years.

Enlistees get classroom education as well as on-the-job training. They may participate in off-duty programs ranging from correspondence courses to classes at military bases or local civilian schools. Training continues throughout their military service.

Getting the Job

Each branch of the military service has its own recruiting operation, with recruiters working from local offices, and provides publications that describe career opportunities and military life. High school and college placement offices and state employment offices may also have some of these brochures.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

There are many possibilities for advancement in the armed services. Those who work hard and show leadership abilities are given additional training to prepare them for advanced positions. Almost all who enlist are rapidly promoted to higher pay grades.

The military has more than 1.4 million people on active duty and about 1.2 million in the reserves. Depending on its needs, it may limit the number of positions in certain areas of expertise. However, job turnover in some fields can be high, so opportunities usually exist for anyone who wants to enter military service.

Working Conditions

Members of the armed services must be willing to accept orders from superiors without question. In combat zones, they may work long hours with very little sleep and no time off. They may be stationed on the front lines of battle, where they may be killed or seriously injured. In noncombat situations, they usually face work conditions similar to those in the private sector, including a forty-hour workweek.

Living quarters for military personnel vary from barracks at training camps and trenches in war zones to comfortable apartments at military bases.

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary according to length of service, type of job, and level of performance. Beginning personnel earn about $11,000 per year. High-ranking officers with many years of service can earn more than $100,000 per year.

Where to Go for More Information

U.S. Air Force
(800) 423-8723

U.S. Army and Reserves Recruiting Services
1307 Third Ave.
Fort Knox, KY 40121-2725
(800) USA-ARMY

U.S. Marine Corp
2008 Elliot Rd.
Quantico, VA 22134-5030
(800) 627-4637

U.S. Navy Recruiting Services
4015 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22203-1991
(800) 872-6289

U.S. Coast Guard Recruiting
4200 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 450
Arlington, VA 22203
(877) 669-8724

Although their salaries are somewhat lower than those received by civilians doing similar jobs, military personnel receive other benefits that raise their total compensation. Besides education and training, they receive free meals and living quarters when they reside on a military base or an allowance for food and lodging when they live off the base. They get a uniform allowance, free medical and dental care, thirty days of paid vacation each year, life insurance, and retirement with a pension after twenty years of service. Military personnel receive special pay for hazardous duty. Some recruits may be offered an enlistment bonus.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service