“Mom, Dad…I think I’m going into the Air Force. I want to do something.”
These words from our then twenty-year-old son seemed to come out of nowhere. Though my husband was rounding the corner towards thirty years of active duty in the Air Force himself, our son had reiterated over recent years that he didn’t want the nomadic life we’d lived and wished to settle down somewhere.
Though military life was obviously familiar to our son, complete with the requisite military moves and deployments, his decision came as a bit of a shock to us, though maybe it shouldn’t have. Still undecided on a college major after several years of school, and newly engaged, he was ready to embark on adult life and begin his career. He’s now served in the Air Force several years, married that wonderful girl (now with a baby on the way!), quickly earned his associate’s degree, and, through his military experience in the civil engineering field, has decided to earn his bachelor’s in that field as well. Joining the military turned out to be a great decision for him.
I read recently that only about half of our nation’s youth can name all four of the US military service branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps—the Coast Guard does not fall under the Department of Defense), and a mere fifteen percent of young people today have parents with some military experience vs. about half the population less than thirty years ago.¹ While on the face these facts can seem alarming, I also recognize the opportunity for education.
Though it’s not possible within the confines of this space to give an in-depth overview of the process of applying to ROTC, the military academies, or enlisting in one of the service branches, what I hope to do is give you some reasons for and encouragement toward military service if your child is so inclined, along with a few practical tips.
4 Reasons Your High Schooler Should Consider Military Service
Those who’ve served on active duty can take advantage of the post 9/11 GI Bill educational benefit, which pays for college tuition up to thirty-six months and even allows for a monthly housing allowance in some cases. Under certain circumstances, unused benefits can be transferred to immediate family members. See the VA’s website for the most current guidance.²
Attending one of the service academies or enrolling in ROTC while in college are also options which can completely pay for college tuition. Those desiring to attend one of the service academies (for example, West Point or the U.S. Air Force Academy) should realize it’s a competitive process requiring a nomination and appointment. Research requirements well in advance.³
As well, on-the-job training, certifications obtained in specialized military career fields, and earned college credits all transfer well later to the civilian world.
Regular pay, robust retirement benefits, the use of services such as installation commissaries and exchanges (the military’s version of grocery and department stores), medical and dental care, monthly housing allowances or military housing, and more can be a draw towards military service. Many see travel as another benefit, with the opportunity to be stationed in an area different from where they grew up, possibly including overseas.
Job stability and security, the opportunities for specialized training, and full-time employment are often cited as other major factors for choosing to join the military. Some career fields also offer sizable bonuses for re-enlistment.
Answering the Call
Many young people consider military service as a personal response to global terrorism or other threats to national security. Serving in the military may be a family tradition or fulfill a sense of patriotic duty. The desire for the self-discipline, honor, devotion to duty, and high standards that come along with military service are also good reasons to join.
And remember, it’s not a lifetime commitment. Most first-term enlistments usually require a minimum of four years. Those interested should check with the individual service’s website for more details and talk to a military recruiter with their specific questions. Talking to a recruiter does not entail any obligation.
Those with no previous experience in the military world, like myself, are often surprised by the camaraderie and friendships that develop from the shared experiences of military life. As noted by the earlier statistics, there is a bit of a military/civilian divide, and those with no experience may not realize how supportive and like family military friends can become. While this may not be an obvious reason to go into the military, it can become one of the reasons to continue serving.
As with our son, the greater sense of purpose, not delaying adulthood, pride in serving country, and the opportunity to immediately begin to learn in-demand job skills were all big draws. While many of his peers are still “finding themselves,” he feels he is making the most of his young adulthood.
The idea of your child entering military service during this volatile time around the world may be scary—even terrifying. Military life is not without its challenges. But I would encourage you to not completely write it off as out of the question if your child is considering it. Now, more than ever, our nation needs qualified, committed individuals willing to serve.
Take the time to pray together, research options, and talk to a military recruiter so your child can make a well-informed decision.
Praying with you!