What Everyone Should Know Before Joining the Military / Lo que deberías saber entres de enrolarte en las Fuerzas Armadas (FF.AA.)

The Military’s Not Just a Job. . . It’s Eight Years of Your Life!

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You’ve probably heard the ads and the recruiter’s sales pitch. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? All advertising does. But if military life doesn’t live up to the advertising, you can’t bring your enlistment agreement back to the recruiter for a refund. You are obligated to the military for a total of eight years, including time in the Reserves when you could be recalled.

What are some things I should know about military life?

Do you enjoy having someone constantly telling you what to do and how to do it? If not, you may have a hard time with military life. The military places numerous restrictions on personal behavior that would not be acceptable in civilian society. Military members are subject to military law 24 hours a day – even when off duty and off base – until the end of their term. Disobedience in the military can result in court-martial, prison, or the lifetime problem of a bad discharge.

If you can’t finish your first enlistment term, you could lose all or part of the education and other benefits you were promised and be forced to pay back any “bonus” you received. Historically, about one-third of new recruits in all the combined military branches do not finish their first term. 40% of Army recruits don’t (Army News Service, 10/23/2014).

Furthermore, section C.9.b of the enlistment agreement says your status, pay, benefits and responsibilities in the military can change without warning and REGARDLESS of any promises in your agreement! And the military has the right to keep you past your discharge date. In the eight years after Sept. 11, 2001, 186,000 people were kept from leaving the military when their terms were up (Armed Forces Press Service, 11/2/2009)

Will I lose some basic rights?

Yes. Here are just a few examples:

  • If you leave your work without permission or don’t show up, you can be put in jail.

  • Any disobedience can result in criminal punishment.

  • You can be punished without the right to see a lawyer or have a trial.

  • You may be ordered to commit acts that violate your most basic values, like killing another human being.

  • Your ability to spend time with your parents, partner, and other family members will be severely limited.

  • You will be subject to routine urine tests for drugs.


Will it help me get a job later?

Many people join the military expecting to receive valuable job training. But military training is designed for military jobs, not to help you get a civilian job later. Even in the technically oriented Air Force, many jobs require particular military skills that won’t do you much good in the civilian world.

Even if you get the training for a particular military occupation that you were promised, you still might not get experience in that job because the military does not have to use you in the field you were trained for. The enlistment agreement allows the military to assign you to whatever job they choose.

During the time some young people spend in the military, others who are the same age are spending those years in college or trade school, or getting work experience. As a result, the unemployment rate for young veterans in 2014 was 40% higher than the rate for people the same age who did not enlist (Veterans Economic Opportunity Report, US Dept. of Veterans Affairs, 2015).

As former Vice President Dick Cheney once said, “The military is not a social welfare agency; it’s not a jobs program.”


What about promises of bonuses?

Enlistment “bonuses” are not really bonuses paid just for joining: they are usually paid out over time, and you could have to pay back the money if you don’t complete certain requirements. Bonuses are not given to everyone, and when they are offered, the higher amounts are either given to people with special technical skills or who sign up for a longer term, or they are used to push people into very risky hard-to-fill jobs, like infantry or bomb disposal (Rand report MG950, 2010).


Is college money free and guaranteed?

Recruiters might promise that you’ll get to go to college “free,” but it’s not free – you must work for it! And the benefits will not be guaranteed.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill offers more money than in the past to those who qualify, and it allows military members to transfer unused financial aid to other family members, but there are conditions and possible problems you should know about. For example:

  • People must enlist for a total of 10 years to transfer unused college benefits to family members.

  • People who receive a less than fully honorable discharge lose all GI Bill benefits. This includes “general discharges,” which are often given for minor problems with military duties.

  • Those who leave the military early, as one in three do, may get reduced or no benefits.

  • Veterans who wish to attend college outside the state where they live may only get a small part of their total tuition covered. In 2015 the average extra tuition cost at a public four-year college was $15,650/year for nonresidents (Trends in College Pricing, College Board).

If you need money for college, there are many other sources of aid to look at, including grants and scholarships that are TRULY free. Colleges can help you find aid, and it pays to investigate the many alternatives yourself before signing away eight years of your life to the military. If you go straight to college, instead of the military, you can start earning the higher wages of a college graduate much sooner.

What discrimination could I face in the military?

The military claims it treats everyone the same, regardless of skin color; but in reality, it has serious problems with inequality in the ranks. One study found that even though the number of women, African Americans, Asians and “Hispanics” have increased over time, they are less likely to get promoted than white males and continue to be under-represented in the senior officer ranks (Rand report TR1159, 2012).In 2014, 16.9% of the enlisted personnel were African American, but they made up only 8.5% of the commissioned officers. “Hispanics” made up13% of the enlisted ranks, but only 5.9% of the commissioned officers (Dept. of Defense Population Representation, 2014).


Can the military give me citizenship?

No. Citizenship is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, NOT the military. You can apply for citizenship more quickly in the military, but you can also be turned down, as 7200 were during 2003-2014 (Al Jazeera, 5/8/2015). Then you could still be kept in the military and possibly be sent to war. Even if you get citizenship, it can be revoked if you receive a less than honorable discharge, and you might then be deported. For more information, please see the back of this for groups to contact.


What should women and LGBTQ people know?

In addition to the dangers of war, women experience a special threat: about 1/3rd of all females in the military are sexually assaulted, twice the rate for civilians (N.Y. Times, 2/26/13). And when assaults are reported, the rate of prosecution is very low, meaning the victims often must continue working in a hostile workplace. These problems still exist despite many years of promises to do something about them.

While the policy that banned LGBTQ people from the military has been dropped, “wide-ranging incidents of harassment and physical and sexual assaults” based on sexual orientation (LGBTQ Policy Journal, 10/13) have continued and will not simply end with a rule change.


War -- you think it won't happen to you?

Some people have been told by recruiters that they won’t be sent to war or see combat because: they are promised a non-combat job, they’ll be in the National Guard or Reserves, they are going to be officers, or they are female. Some have been told that current wars will be over before they finish training. But people in all of these categories have been sent to combat zones. At one point half the troops in the Iraq war were from the Reserves or National Guard. Thousands of people in the Navy and Air Force were given dangerous ground duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, in wars that have lasted 10-13 years.

Some recruiters claim that the risk of personal harm is small, that few people are killed or injured in U.S. wars. But in 2012, almost half of the 1.6 million military members sent to Iraq and Afghanistan had filed disability claims for injuries (Assoc. Press, 5/27/12).

The purpose of the military is to fight wars. If you are ordered to a war zone, you can’t refuse to go. And if you suddenly realize that your personal beliefs are against going to war, it can be very hard to get out of the military. Before enlisting, you should talk to a vet or someone who has experienced war, and then decide if it is something you can accept.


Service and making a difference

Many good people join the military because they want to make a difference, to serve others. This is a great goal, but after joining, you may find out that it’s not the kind of service you expected, and then it would be too late to change your mind.

Presidents have ordered our military to attack and occupy countries that never threatened us, like Vietnam, Grenada, Panama and Iraq. Instead of defending their country, some military members have felt they were used to defend oppressive governments or the profits of oil companies. But they had no choice unless they were willing to refuse orders and go to jail.

If service is your goal, it’s important to ask yourself some hard questions: Regardless of the rank or military job you are given, would you be willing to support missions you might not believe in and actions that could cause great destruction and the loss of many innocent lives? Would you care that the U.S. military is the worst polluter in the world? Would you be willing to share responsibility for such things in order to get money for college or the job that the military is offering you?

If you’re not sure how to answer these questions, take some time to think about them and consider the fact that there are many different ways to serve your community, your country and the world. For example, you could become a teacher, a fire fighter, a community organizer, a social worker or an emergency medical technician—all of whom make a huge difference in many people’s lives.


If you already joined the Delayed Entry Program (DEP)

If you signed up for the DEP (or the Army’s “Future Soldiers Training Program”) and then changed your mind, watch out for recruiters who say you can’t get out of it, or that you must report to boot camp to be released. Neither is true. To quit the DEP, there are simple steps you should take before your date to report for basic training. Don’t expect your recruiter to help you, and you should NOT go to a military base if you are told to report there to get released. For free help getting out of the DEP, contact the GI Rights Hotline, (877) 447-4487, www.girightshotline.org.


Things you should ask yourself before enlisting

  • Are you prepared to fight in any war, in any place, at any time that the government orders you to?

  • Have you checked out all the college financial aid and job training and placement possibilities in your community?

  • Is joining the military something you want to do, or are you being pressured into it by other people?

  • Besides talking to a military recruiter, have you spoken to any of the many veterans who didn’t like the military? Why didn’t they make the military a career?

  • If you become unhappy after you enlist, do you know how hard it could be to get out?

  • If you get a less-than-honorable discharge, do you know how it can hurt your future?


9 things to consider when you talk to a recruiter

1)  Recruiters are not guidance counselors. They are interested in you because if they don’t meet their quota of recruits, they can be forced to work overtime or be punished other ways. One veteran recruiter told a reporter for the Albany Times Union, “I’ve been recruiting for years and I don’t know one recruiter who wasn’t dishonest about it. I did it myself.”

2)  Get a copy of the military enlistment agreement (Form DD4) and read it carefully, especially page two, before you sign any papers. Download it here: http://www.projectyano.org/pdf/dd0004.pdf

3)  Talk the enlistment agreement over with your parents and friends, or with a counselor from the GI Rights Hotline. Ask about any parts of the agreement that you don’t understand.

4)  Take along a parent or friend as a witness if you go see a recruiter. Then you’ll have somebody to back up your side of the story if there is a dispute over what was promised.

5)  If you have a police record or medical condition, don’t hide it, even if the recruiter tells you it doesn’t matter.

6)  GET ALL PROMISES IN WRITING and have them signed by the recruitment representative! Spoken promises are worthless, but also remember that even written ones can be changed under the contract.

7)  Get copies of everything you sign. Keep them in a safe place.

8)  If you want a special enlistment option, be sure to ask the recruiter questions like the following:

  • For how long do I have to enlist to get this option?

  • Are there any extra requirements (schooling, physical standards, security clearance, etc.) that I have to meet to qualify for this option? What happens if I don’t meet them, but I’ve already enlisted?

  • What if there is no space later in the training program or job that I signed up for?

  • For options that include assignment to a particular base or area: Am I guaranteed this assignment for the entire time I’m in?

9)  REMEMBER: If you don’t like your new job, they don’t have to let you switch, and you can’t quit! Early discharges can be hard to get without a penalty.

If I don’t enlist, what can I do?

Looking for a job can be a challenge. Some helpful advice and job search tools are available from the Web sites below.

  1. Career InfoNet: www.careeronestop.org

  2. Idealist.org: www.idealist.org

  3. Teens4Hire: www.teens4hire.org

  4. CareerBuilder.com: www.careerbuilder.com

  5. AmeriCorps: www.nationalservice.gov

Or explore other alternatives like internships or community service www.nnomy.org

Can I prevent my school from giving my name to recruiters?

The law allows recruiters to ask your school for your name, address and phone number. Your school must tell your parents or guardian about this and give them a chance to “opt out.” Once they ask that your name not be released, your school may not release it without written permission. Students who are age 18 or over can opt themselves out.

You can ask your school if it has a recruiter opt-out form to fill out. Whether it does or not, any  written request from a parent or guardian must be honored. For more information and sample opt-out forms, see: www.nnomy.org.


What if my school is giving the military’s career test, the ASVAB?

Some schools give the military’s career test, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). If you are given the test, your personal information may be automatically shared with recruiters. You cannot be forced to give recruiters this information, but often schools do not tell you about that and make it seem like it’s required. For more information see: www.nnomy.org


Can I distribute this information at my school?

Yes. Students at public high schools have the right to free speech under the First Amendment. This includes the right to distribute fliers, palm cards, petitions and other material inside their schools, as long as such activities do not disrupt classes or interfere with students going to class. The school can have reasonable rules on when, where and how students exercise free speech.

For more information, see http://bit.ly/studentrightsguide. And Visit the Winning The Peace Organizers Page on the NNOMY Website


Before You Enlist! (2018) from Telequest, Inc. on Vimeo.

Watch “Before You Enlist,” a video of military veterans, including a former recruiter, sharing their stories.

For More Information

About Winning the Peace

Winning the Peace is a collaborative project of The National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth and associated organizations. It is a response to the Department of Defense’s consistently misleading and exploitative recruitment campaigns aimed at young people. Based on the experiences of Peace activists, veteran peace groups, and concerned parents and educators, the project  provides young people with information about military enlistment that is often missing from the official recruitment material.