Careers in the US Armed Forces

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Careers in the US Armed Forces


Whether your interests are in engineering, medicine, law, business or even broadcasting, the armed services can provide the resources to pursue a profession or trade.

Petty Officer James Penney, an engineer in the Navy, as well as a recruiter now based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, makes it clear that “when you come to the recruiting office, we can’t guarantee jobs, but there are options.”

All enlisted recruits meet with a career counselor who can help place them on meaningful job training paths. After basic training, most sailors go onto “A” schools, which function like apprenticeships, offering experiential learning in the career of your choice. Officer Penney chose a career as an engineer and also trained as a firefighter, which opened a world of options. “I can go to any state or base and work as a firefighter,” he says.  

Lee Heft, an instructor at the Military Information School in Norfolk, Virginia, trained as a broadcaster. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1975 after high school graduation. He joined the Armed Forces Network (AFN), which is the military’s worldwide broadcasting center, while stationed in Guam.

This took him to multiple bases overseas as a station manager, and a fruitful career as a teacher after his discharge.

“I don’t know as many jobs that translate so well to the civilian world,” says Heft. “AFN DJ’s have at least four years of experience, and we’ve done this in extremely stressful situations.”

Typical Day
Expect a day in the life during your armed services career to mirror that of the civilian world. Keep in mind that many careers involve being stationed overseas and in times of war, so be ready to do your job in unexpected conditions.

A typical day as a civil engineer would depend on your branch of the armed services, your job title and where you are stationed. A civil engineer in the Navy may work as a contract manager; he or she would spend the day supervising a construction project on base, coordinating schedules and workers. In contrast, a civil engineer in the Army Corps of Engineers could spend the day overseeing the restoration of a protected region, such as the Florida Everglades.

A career as a DJ on the AFN will involve the same tasks as a typical civilian DJ, such as hosting a show, organizing a playlist, preparing announcements and managing a library. Many stations will host news and entertainment shows as well. Responsibilities for a talk show DJ could involve finding guests, writing and researching content and using editing software to finesse pre-recorded spots.

Most careers in the armed forces require a four-year degree from college. Keep in mind the armed forces often provide scholarships for students completing their education who will go on to serve. Most commonly, students use the scholarship provided by the GI Bill to help pay for college.

Career-focused grants are often available as well, but are application only. The Army Nurse Candidate Program can provide $1,000 a month to complete your bachelor of science degree. For those who do not want to commit to years in the service, consider joining the military reserve, where you still may qualify for the GI Bill scholarship.

Some careers do not require a degree and are taught through apprenticeship. The Air Force has the Community College of the Air Force, which provides both education and job training for enlisted airmen in fields such as aircraft maintenance or telecommunications. Similarly, the Navy offers enlistees’ experiential learning through its “A” schools, which could entail anything from submarine to information technology training.   

Salaries vary for branch of service, rank and occupation. A new enlisted recruit with four months of training will receive a monthly salary of about $1,400. The amount is higher for officers; they could earn $2,655 a month upon recruitment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Keep in mind service in the military offers room, board and health insurance as well as other benefits.

Job Outlook
As long as the United States has need for a robust military, there will be positions in the armed forces. In other words, there is no need to worry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 184,000 people must be recruited each year to make quota. While certain branches, such as the Air Force, have experienced cutbacks in active duty personnel in recent years, all are still actively recruiting.

Jonathan Peters is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles.


Teen Board Sound Off

Q: Are you considering joining the military? If so, what kind of career training do you hope to get?

“Actually, one of my choices is to join the Coast Guard, giving me a great opportunity to help my country while getting my education. If I join the Coast Guard, I would be able to meet a new group of people who have the same interest as I do, which would be a great experience.”

Stephanie Wu, junior at Academy of Our Lady of Guam, Barrigada, Guam


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