Well-groomed, uniformed soldiers hawking brochures promising action-packed jobs and promising career opportunities are a familiar sight at high school career fairs.
While students wonder what the military might be like and parents worry about the commitment, many discount military opportunities based on myth and misinformation.
We’ve unpacked five common myths about military recruiting. The answers may surprise you and open new avenues for service, education and financial solutions:
Myth #1 Recruiters only want to enlist full-time soldiers.
Recruiters aren’t limited to signing full-time enlistment contracts. In truth, each service branch offers numerous programs and resources to help students meet education and career goals.
Students can consider versions of full-time soldier/part-time student programs as well as full-time student/part-time soldier options (commonly known as Reserves) as well as variations of the GI Bill that, after a typical four-year tour, will pay for huge portions of tuition, housing and books.
Visiting a recruiter is not just for students hoping to postpone or skip college. Recruiters can point students who want to finish college before serving as commissioned officers to programs that will both accommodate education and offer tuition assistance that rivals traditional college scholarships.
Myth #2 The military will take anyone.
Both the economy and technical advances have altered the admission landscape. With limited private sector work options, fewer active duty soldiers are leaving the service while more students are considering the service’s job security and benefits. As a result, branches have become more selective with admission standards.
You should prepare for your visit to a recruiter as you would a job interview. Presenting your very best impression is important because acceptance is not guaranteed. “We operate on the whole person concept,” says Darrell Lafrenz, a Naval Recruiting Public Affairs Officer. Beyond the basic physical and medical requirements, recruiters look for consistent academic performance and overall character during initial visits.
Straight A’s aren’t required, says Lafrenz, but a track record of being a reasonably good student who has stayed out of trouble is key. Recruiters especially like to see evidence of “a productive life,” that a student has held a job or participated in sports and extracurricular activities. “We like to see that a student has been involved in things that attempt to achieve a common goal — because that’s what we do.”
Enlisting in the military was once a last stop option for troubled and aimless students. Not so anymore. Instead of suggesting that the military will be good, in terms of discipline, service branches are asking, “Will this young adult be a good fit for our military?”
Myth #3 Recruiters will tell you what you want to hear.
Colleges tout academic prowess and national rankings as opposed to the incidence of crime on campus. Likewise, the military presents their best. “Let’s face it,” says Sergeant First Class Jeff Knuth, an Army recruiter in Madison, Wisconsin. “We’re going to paint our military in a positive light…just like any college recruiter.”
Of course, he acknowledges, for every option, there are drawbacks. Recruiters are directed to “recruit with integrity.” He says, “That means ethical recruiting with full disclosure.” Raise concerns in your meeting and ask for substantiated answers.
Myth #4 The service will decide your job.
Before committing to the military, you will take a career exploration test called the ASVAB to help discover your aptitudes. With the results, you and your recruiter can scour current job openings to determine a career track that makes sense for you and matches what the service needs.
In the Army, students pick their job and Knuth says that, 99.8% of the time, recruits end up in their chosen field. “If we don’t find anything that matches their interests, I tell them to come back in a few weeks and check again.”
Myth #5 Recruiters will convince your parents for you.
Students under 18 years old need parental approval before making a military commitment.
“Any good parent would be nervous about the prospect for a number of reasons,” says LaFrenz, so it helps to be open with them from the beginning. Include them in meetings and be ready to justify your reasons for wanting to serve. Recruiters will answer their questions, but should not be relied upon to convince them.
The most important thing, says Knuth, “is for students to get information from a subject matter expert, not someone who was in a few years ago.” There’s no way to get facts without asking questions of a knowledgeable source, such as a recruiter.
Carrie Schmeck is a special features and business copywriter from northern California.