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Thinking about possible career paths to take right after high school can be quite overwhelming. One of the best choices out there is to consider joining the military. But before you dip your toes in this career path, it is always a good idea to get to know more about being military personnel and understand what the job entails.
Some military positions might be open to high school graduates, while others may require a college degree. There are noticeable differences in terms of basic pay along with military skills and specialized training required for a particular job.
LET’S SUM IT ALL UP:
Being a part of the military services can provide you with various benefits. A military salary is quite competitive compared to many careers in the civilian world. Usually, you will need basic training when you choose to enter military life.
College graduates gain better opportunities and have an edge over their fellow applicants, but it is also possible to start your military journey with just a high school diploma. This is true for enlisted ranks. Most military officers, however, require at least a college degree.
Military Career: An Overview
The core mission of a military serviceman is to defend the country. Despite the differences in military positions, each job is essential to accomplishing the primary goal – maintaining the U.S. national defense.
Many service members work specifically for the military such as infantrymen and fighter pilots. However, there are also occupations that exist in the civilian workplace. This includes doctors, nurses, and lawyers, among others.
There is a hierarchy in the military, with defined roles for enlisted and officer careers. Of this, 82% is made up of enlisted personnel while the remaining 18% is composed of officers who manage operations and enlisted personnel.
The Different Branches of the Military
It is important to note that the U.S. armed forces are made up of different branches, mainly the Army, Air Force, Navy, Space Force, and Marine Corps.
It is important to remember that the U.S. armed forces are made up of different branches, mainly the Army, Air Force, Navy, Space Force, and Marine Corps.
When the 1947 National Security Act was implemented, it created the National Military Establishment which eventually became the Department of Defense. This act established the Air Force as a distinct branch of the military.
With 330,000 active personnel, the Air Force makes up the largest force in the world. Those who are interested to join this military branch can enlist full-time or part-time, either as part of the Air National Guard or the Air Force Reserve.
Established by the Second Congressional Congress in 1775, the Army is tasked to help the country win wars by seizing and controlling the land and resources of adversaries.
Some of the positions available in this military branch include construction engineer, air defense system specialist, and communications operator, among others.
Tracing its roots back to 1790, the Coast Guard operates under the supervision of the Department of Homeland Security during peacetime. Should there be a congressional declaration of war, it will be a part of the Navy. Currently, the Coast Guard employs 42,000 active personnel.
Operating under the command of the Department of Defense, the Marine Corps closely works with naval forces to conduct expeditionary missions. Beyond the scope of military conflict, the Marine Corps take part in disaster relief missions and other humanitarian efforts.
The U.S. Navy holds the distinction of being the largest in the world, boasting 290 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft. It has more than 347,000 active personnel.
Tracing its origin back to the first militia regiments in the 1600s, the US National Guard has units that come from all 50 states, along with the District of Columbia and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
Benefits of a Military Career
Being in military service can usher in a wealth of opportunities that can exceed those offered by civilian employment. The military provides immense support to its members and even extends those benefits to their families. The benefits range from health care and life insurance to paid vacation and retirement plans.
For healthcare, active-duty service members have the privilege to avail themselves of free medical and dental care. This benefit includes their spouses and dependent children through enrolling in military healthcare for a small fee and deductible annually.
Military members who are in active-duty service and want to take a time off are entitled to a 30-day paid vacation each year. In comparison, entry-level civilians typically receive just the standard 14 days of paid vacation leaves. Vacation time can be requested by sending an adequate advance notice to their supervisor.
Active-duty service members can also take advantage of the life insurance available at their disposal at a cost of just $29 per month. This amount can be automatically deducted from each paycheck.
Unlike their civilian counterparts, service members can retire earlier. They only need to qualify for the prescribed service years. Their options can be receiving a defined benefit that translates to a monthly pension for life or receiving a lump sum which is a discounted portion of their retirement.
Other benefits are available to veterans and their dependents under the Department of Veterans Affairs, including home loans, educational assistance, and disability compensation.
Joining the Military
When you join the military, it is good to know several options that can bring you better benefits. Needless to say, you need careful consideration and planning before you enter this career. You may want to consider positions and fields that will best match your interests and skillsets.
You can expect specialized training and other requirements that you need to meet before you can become a military member. It also matters if you have a college degree or not. For those with a college degree, the pay is considerably higher.
You can earn as much as $121,357, with a base pay of $82,803. On the lower spectrum of degree-holding military service members, you may be able to get around $77,000 for your base pay, with annual compensation of up to $96,900.
The base pay can increase depending on your rank and time in the service. Those with specialized skills or specific tasks performed can get special pay, such as an additional $150 every month for hazardous duty.
Military Positions that Require a Degree
If you want to get more success in the military field, you can consider earning a college degree that will boost your credentials. Explore the following options:
Behavioral Sciences and Human Factors Scientist
The main task of behavioral scientists is to examine the human dynamics of Air Force activities and missions. It is also part of their job to be the technical consultants who try to improve organizational efficiency and promote quality of life for all aviation personnel and their families. They should be able to provide deep insight into the human behavior of military servicemen.
To get into this position, you need to at least have a bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences, psychology, or other related fields. It is vital that you complete and pass the Psychological Operations Qualification Course and other approved courses. You can be qualified for the position if you have at least 24 months of experience in a Behavioral Influence Specialist position or if you have acquired a master’s degree in an approved discipline.
Air Battle Manager
A-rated officer career field in the Air Force, an air battle Manager (ABM) is tasked to provide command and control capability to airborne and ground units. Since you are responsible for overseeing every aspect of air combat, you must be knowledgeable and experienced in handling weapons, aircraft, and surveillance strategies. You are also expected to develop and conduct air-training simulations and see to it that units are effective and have greatly improved.
As an air battle manager, you should know you will be making crucial decisions so you must be able to utilize strategies by drawing from your knowledge and experience. This job demands confidence, decisiveness, and composure as the success of the operation in these traits.
The minimum education requirement that this role calls for is a bachelor’s degree. On top of that. You need to have pilot training between the ages of 18 to 33. It is also required that you complete the Officer Training School or OTS, Air Force Academy or AFA, or Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps or AFROTC.
Space Operations Officer
Another military position under the Air Force is that of the Space Operations Officer. This position requires completion of a bachelor’s or master of science degree. In this job, you are expected to provide support in relation to the military’s readiness and accomplishment of missions.
You are usually tasked to plan space operations, manage acquisitions, and develop policies. It is also part of the job to manage space flight planning, training, and mission control, along with other activities that are involved when launching and recovering a spacecraft. It is not uncommon for space operations officers to give consultation and oversight of space systems functions.
While a degree is required before you can enter this military position, it is possible for enlisted service members to transition to an officer position through various pathways, allowing them to earn their degree while serving.
Identifying foreign communications is important in military operations, especially since the country’s defense relies on information coming from foreign languages. As a cryptologic linguist, you should be able to translate and analyze conversations from the signal equipment and alert appropriate authorities if necessary. You are also expected to create transcriptions and translations needed for international correspondence.
In order to serve in this position, you should first take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam which helps you better understand your strengths. In some cases, a college degree might be required. A cryptologic analyst must undergo 10 weeks of basic combat training and three to 52 weeks of advanced individual training.
If you are not fluent in a foreign language, you will be required to train at the Defense Language Institute for 6 to 18 months before you can take part in the advanced individual training. It is better if you have a talent for foreign languages and show interest in speech, communications, and foreign languages.
During military operations, army lawyers are expected to provide legal support. This responsibility includes prosecuting criminal cases and offering ethical opinions to commanders and their staff. In some cases, they can be asked to defend the army and its soldiers in military legal matters.
Judge advocates are licensed, attorneys and judges. This position requires you to fight for justice at home and around the globe. You may also be asked to provide important legal advice that senior Army officials can use.
To be in this position, you need to meet the minimum education requirement which is a Juris doctor.
Many military operational missions require crucial information that is essential to their success. As an intelligence specialist, you will need to college, analyze, and process information that you can then disseminate through official reports and mission briefings. You are expected to be knowledgeable of the number, location, and tactics of enemy forces as well as the battle areas. This type of knowledge is critical to the development of military plans.
You will be able to gather information through the use of photographs, along with electronic monitoring with the use of [radar, satellites, and sensitive radios. Much of the job also relies on human observation. As a result, intelligence specialists are able to develop targets and provide situational awareness to personnel and key leadership involved in the operation.
You need a bachelor’s degree in order to qualify for this position. It is also part of the requirements for you to complete basic military training, including those spent in classrooms and in the field. This training often involves physical training, weapons training, and military life and customs.
Clinical and Rehabilitation Specialist
Physical therapy and treatment are important in the military. This job is in the hands of what they call clinical and rehabilitation therapists. This position requires you to provide medical care during operational deployment, be it in a war or complex humanitarian emergencies.
Often considered autonomous providers, the clinical and rehabilitation therapists evaluate and treat service members with and without a physician referral. You will often be expected to provide a wide range of definitive care and rehabilitation.
Moreover, you may work under the government public health effort to educate recruits and cadets on how to lead a more active and productive lifestyle. To become one, you have to earn a master’s degree in physical therapy as is often required.
Public Affairs Specialist
Often found working under the Coast Guard branch, a public affairs specialist is an enlisted professional who oversees communications for the agency. You will often need to write news releases and feature articles, along with the production of videos for the Coast Guard’s official websites and social media channels.
Most of the time, you will stand as an official spokesperson that aims to raise awareness on pertinent issues. There are cases where you will have to supervise and assist the administration of public affairs programs through thorough research and distribution strategy.
As a public affairs specialist, you must be able to keep detailed and accurate records, as so much of your job depends on the gathering and dissemination of information. You must be able to write clearly and concisely. You may be required to earn at least an associate’s degree to qualify for this position.
Direct Commission Engineer
Being able to work in the fields of civil engineering, naval engineering, or specialized C51 communities, the direct commission engineers often work with a Coast Guard assignment officer. Industrial operations that harness their knowledge of naval engineering are the common setting for this position. You are tasked to manage the repair of surface vessels.
Prior service members with a bachelor’s degree in science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) or command, control, communications, computers, cyber, and information technology (C5I) field are the best fit for this position. Eventually, you will be able to advance in rank and get an opportunity to attend graduate school.
Imagery Analysis Specialist
Often a part of the Marine Corps intelligence network, the imagery analyst specialists are tasked to process and analyze images gathered from different sensor platforms. They have to assist commanders in choosing accurate target acquisition and performing reconnaissance mission planning for multi-source imagery reconnaissance.
The images you will derive from this operation can be used to update the military intelligence databases at different levels, whether it is at the national, theater, or organic levels. In order to qualify, you have to earn a college degree, preferably with coursework in geographical information systems. It is also important that you are eligible for top-secret security clearance.
Counterintelligence/Human Intelligence Specialist
As a specialist in counterintelligence and human intelligence, you are responsible for designing to block the enemy’s sources of information, prevent sabotage, and deceive the enemy. Part of your job is to gather political and military information that is vital in doing your duty.
Counterintelligence specialists are trained to scan for people or enemy agencies who are engaged in espionage, subversion, sabotage, and terrorism. Human intelligence, on the other hand, is tasked to obtain intelligence information through the help of human beings who serve as both sources and collectors.
Both roles require you to be adept in counterintelligence and human intelligence. You must have a working knowledge of how foreign intelligence services and terrorist organizations are employing operations and techniques. It is common for this role to specialize in a foreign language as well as familiarize yourself with the area, customs, and traditions of the people from where you are deployed.
The information you gather is important in planning the mission of air, ground, and special operation troops across all military branches. You can qualify for this position by meeting the minimum education requirement of a bachelor’s degree or higher if required.
The work of a criminal investigator entails looking into criminal allegations and offenses that endanger the safety of the military personnel, along with the resources or facilities. You can specialize in a wide range of criminal offenses including narcotics, cybercrimes, armed robbery, death, and economic crimes. There are instances when you will need to look into felonies and other significant crimes of military interest based on regulations, military, and federal law.
As a criminal investigator, you will work under the jurisdiction of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Your duties range from analyzing crime scenes and conducting overt operations to interrogating suspects and witnesses. During hostage negotiations, you will form a close collaboration with law enforcement agencies.
This position may require a bachelor’s degree or higher. You will also be asked to complete basic military training along with classroom study and on-the-job experience that has to do with military/civic laws and jurisdiction, crime scene processing, investigation and evidence collection procedures and techniques, and interpersonal communication skills, among others.
Part of the navy, nuclear officers are expected to lead the supervision, control, and command of a fleet of aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines. They are responsible for overseeing the personnel and propulsion systems on board the vessels. It is also part of their job to have knowledge and experience in using high-tech weaponry in battle and ship defense.
You will be tasked to perform regular foot patrol of the entire protected area, vital area installations, and gates to ensure the facility’s security. You are also responsible for training newly enlisted sailors. To qualify for this position, you are required to have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a STEM discipline.
Occupying the same position as civilian doctors, navy physicians are responsible for administering care to service members and their families. The only difference is that you will be employed by the United States Navy and can enjoy an accelerated career track. You can receive benefits that range from assistance for your medical school costs and living costs, provided you have met the requirements outlined by the Navy.
You are going to be designated as an active duty physician in a location chosen by ranking officers for at least four years. To qualify, you must have a Doctor of Medicine degree and pass a full medical evaluation.
Environmental Science Officer
Environmental scientists are often responsible for supervising the scientific research for environmental health and industrial hygiene. When employed as an officer in the U.S. Army, you will work under the health care team. Part of your duties involves helping in the prevention of illness and injury among military personnel.
You are expected to recommend a course of action to control potential health hazards by identifying and evaluating them. You will also need to assess weapons, equipment, clothing, and material systems. As an environmental scientist, you should be able to assess weapons, equipment, clothing, and material systems along with the development of environmental health and industrial hygiene criteria/standards.
In order to qualify as an environmental specialist, you will need to have a bachelor’s degree in physical or biological sciences.
Preparing for the Military in College
An essential part of a student’s formative years in college, ROTC helps prepare students to become military officers, no matter which branch you will go for. ROTC was created through the National Defense Act of 1916 and offered at 1,700 higher education institutions all over the country.
Most ROTC programs give cadets the option to avail of paid education, provided you will commit to four years of military service upon your graduation. Each branch has its own version of ROTC training. Among the military branches, the Army operates the most rigorous ROTC programs, involving field training and leadership development.
Skills You Need to Launch a Successful Military Career
Many military positions vary greatly from one to the other, so it can be hard to nail down the skills you will need to succeed in this particular path. However, there are skills that prove valuable no matter which branch or position you are in. Here are some of them:
Stamina and Physical Fitness
Military servicemen are often required to be in top physical and mental shape to enjoy the rigorous training and work that they are dealing with in their jobs. Without enough stamina and physical fitness, you might be prone to injuries. You will stay longer in the military if you are healthy physically and mentally.
Changes in military life are constant. You can be deployed in different areas and often move around frequently. There can be challenges that come along with the evolving state of war and peace that you need to keep up with.
In short, you should know how to roll with the punches. Being able to adapt quickly to changes is an important skill when it comes to your mission and personal success.
Being required to operate in all types of environments, with some in hostile and unhealthy developing areas of the world, knowing and showing empathy is a useful skill to have. You must relate to the local socio-economic background, race, culture, and religion.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why should a student pursue a career in the military?
A military career ushers in a wealth of opportunities. It will always be an in-demand job since the armed forces are an essential part of the country’s security and the United States will always maintain a sufficiently large force.
Unlike the common misconception, the military is not a dead-end job. It serves as a good training ground for acquiring new knowledge and skills, and can eventually help them reach their highest potential.
Do you need a degree to join the military?
No. There are various options for joining the military. Enlisted members, who often do the hands-on work for the military, need only to earn at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent. For officers often faced with managerial tasks, you may be required to acquire a college degree at the very least. In fact, many officers have a master’s degree or higher.
A bachelor’s degree in military science can give you an advantage over other applicants. Since you already covered military subjects, you can proceed to more advanced training. In some cases, you even have the chance to choose positions.
How do you find the military career you are interested in?
Choosing a military career needs careful consideration. You can do this by conducting thorough research on possible careers within the military. Start by looking at the different branches and knowing the different positions available.
You should look at the qualifications that each position might require. For example, some military careers require you to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. Others have age limits. Many military careers also need applicants to undergo rigorous training before they can fully be a part of the military. It is good to know which field will pique your interest and match your knowledge and skills.
Does a military job pay well?
The short answer is yes. The military actually offers a competitive salary that can even exceed that of most civilian careers. If you land specialized roles, you can also expect additional pay. Most military compensations include a housing allowance and insurance contribution.
It is important to understand, however, that military salaries can come from two sources – base pay and special pay. Across all service branches, the base pay is often the same but it can increase as you go up in rank and serve more years. As for special pay, this scheme is provided to selected military members based on their specialty and specific tasks.