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How Do You Become an Enlisted Member of the Armed Forces?

OK, so you have decided that you are passionate about becoming an enlisted member of the U.S. Armed Forces.

However, the million-dollar question is…

What is the path to joining the military as an enlisted member?

Well, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to join the military, applicants must meet age, education, aptitude, physical, and character requirements. These requirements vary by branch of service and for officers and enlisted members.

Although entry requirements for each service vary, certain qualifications for enlistment are common to all branches:

  • Minimum of 17 years of age
  • S. citizenship or permanent resident status
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Never convicted of a felony
  • Able to pass a medical exam

Applicants who are 17 years old must have the consent of a parent or legal guardian before entering the military.

Age limits for entering active-duty service are as follows:

  • In the Army, the maximum age is 34.
  • In the Navy, the maximum age is 34.
  • In the Marine Corps, the maximum age is 29.
  • In the Air Force, the maximum age is 39.
  • In the Coast Guard, the maximum age is 27.

All applicants must meet certain physical requirements for height, weight, vision, and overall health. Officers must be U.S. citizens. Officers and some enlisted members must be able to obtain a security clearance. Candidates interested in becoming officers through training in the federal service academies must be unmarried and without dependents.

Service members are assigned an occupational specialty based on their aptitude, previous training, and the needs of their branch of service. All members must sign a contract and commit to a minimum term of service.

A recruiter can help a prospective service member determine whether he or she qualifies for enlistment or as an officer. A recruiter can also explain the various enlistment options and describe the military occupational specialties.

Women are now eligible to enter all military specialties.

Become an enlisted member

Prospective recruits who wish to enlist must take a placement exam called the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which is used to determine an applicant’s suitability for military occupational specialties.

A recruiter can schedule applicants to take the ASVAB without any obligation to join the military. Many high schools offer the exam as a way for students to explore the possibility of a military career. The selection for a certain job specialty is based on ASVAB test results, the physical requirements for the job, and the needs of the service.

Applicants who decide to join the military must pass the physical examination before signing an enlistment contract. The contract involves a number of enlistment options, such as the length of active-duty or reserve-duty time, the length and kind of job training, and the amount of bonuses that may be earned, if any. Most active-duty programs have first-term enlistments of 4 years, although there are some 2-, 3-, and 6-year programs.

All branches of the Armed Services offer a delayed-entry program allowing candidates to postpone entry to active duty for up to one year after enlisting. High school students can enlist during their senior year and enter service after graduation. Others may delay entry because their desired job training is not immediately available or because they need time to arrange their personal affairs.

Education

All branches of the Armed Forces require their members to be high school graduates or have equivalent credentials.

Important Qualities

Leadership skills. Members of the Armed Forces work together to achieve their missions. Those who want to advance ranks need to be able to lead others in the completion of assigned duties or missions.

Mental preparedness. Members of the Armed Forces must be mentally fit and able to handle stressful situations that can occur during military operations.

Physical fitness. Members of the Armed Forces must be physically fit to participate in, or support, combat missions that may be difficult or dangerous.

Readiness. Members of the Armed Forces must be ready and able to report for military assignments on short notice.

Training

Newly enlisted members of the Armed Forces undergo initial-entry training, better known as basic training or boot camp. Basic training includes courses in military skills and protocols and lasts 7 to 13 weeks, including a week of orientation and introduction to military life. Basic training also includes weapons training, team building, and rigorous physical exercise designed to improve strength and endurance.

Following basic training, enlisted members attend technical schools for additional training that prepares them for a particular military occupational specialty. This formal training period generally lasts from 10 to 20 weeks. Training for certain occupations—nuclear power plant operator, for example—may take as long as a year. In addition to getting technical instruction, military members receive on-the-job training at their first duty assignment.

Licenses, Certification, and Registrations

Prospective recruits who wish to enlist must take a placement exam called the ASVAB, which is used to determine an applicant’s suitability for military occupational specialties.

Depending on the occupational specialty, members of the military may need to have and maintain civilian licenses or certifications.

Advancement

Each branch of the military has different criteria for determining the promotion of personnel. Criteria for promotion may include time in service and in grade, job performance, a fitness report, and passing scores on written exams. Enlisted personnel can be promoted to higher ranks, which may include serving in a supervisory position and being in charge of junior enlisted members.

Each military service may have other advancement opportunities for its enlisted personnel. For example, enlisted personnel may become warrant officers if they complete a bachelor’s degree, have several years of experience in higher enlisted positions, and meet age and physical requirements. The Army offers a direct enlistment option to become a warrant officer aviator.