The choice to enlist in the military is not one that you can make overnight. If you are aware of the benefits and drawbacks to a career in the Armed Forces, though, and have decided that yes, this is the career for you, then it’s time to contact a recruiter. A recruiter will act as your mentor. They will walk you through the entire enlistment process, from helping you determine your occupational specialty to preparing your for the Oath of Enlistment.
Enlisting is a simpler process than joining the military as an officer because there is only one path to follow. The first step involves finding a local recruiter for the branch that you are hoping to join. A recruiter will be able to answer any questions you have about joining the service and be able to explain what your role would be within the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, or Navy. Your recruiter will also guide you through the process of enlisting. Find your prospective branch’s nearest recruiter by clicking on one of the following links and inputting the required information:
The requirements for joining the military are minimal: you must be at least 17 years old (until you turn 18, you must have parental consent to enlist); a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident alien; of good moral character; and in possession of a high school diploma. All branches require that you be in good physical shape (you must fall within height and weight standards) and don’t have any disqualifying medical conditions (contact your recruiter to learn more). Each branch has its own policies on visible tattoos and piercings, the number of dependents (spouse and children) you are supporting at the time of enlistment, and your past criminal record. If you are a conscientious objector and refuse to bear arms, you will not be permitted to join the military.
Each branch has different requirements for the maximum age you can be at enlistment; it depends on whether you’ve served in the Armed Forces previously, whether you’re planning to enter active duty service or join the Reserve, and which program you are hoping to join. For instance, to enlist in the Navy and serve on active duty, you can be anywhere between 17 and 34 years old, but to join the Navy SEAL program, you can be no older than 28 years old. Highly qualified individuals may be able to request age waivers from their branch of service if they are above the age limit for enlistment, but not all waivers are granted.
Beyond these initial requirements, you will be required to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a multiple-choice skills test that will measure your general knowledge and abilities in math, science, word knowledge, comprehension, mechanics, electronics, and logic to determine what positions within your branch you would be most qualified to fill. Generally, the test is given electronically, though a pencil and paper version is available as well. There are time limits for each of the 10 sections of the ASVAB, but if you are taking the test via computer, you do not have to wait for all test-takers to complete a section to move on. In this way, the electronic test is self-paced. Once you complete the exam, your results will automatically be displayed on the screen.
You will receive two scores: your ASVAB score and your AFQT (Armed Forces Qualifying Test) score. Your ASVAB score is your total score from all 10 sections of the test. Your AFQT score, however, is calculated from only four of the tests: two math sections (Arithmetic Reasoning and Mathematics Knowledge) and two verbal sections (Word Knowledge and Paragraph Comprehension). Your AFQT score determines whether you are eligible for enlistment, while your ASVAB score indicates which jobs within the military are the best fit for you. You can discuss your results on the ASVAB with a career counselor to learn more about what options are available based on your score and what each military occupational specialty entails.
When your recruiter has determined that you are otherwise qualified to take the ASVAB, they will schedule the test on your behalf. The ASVAB is administered at either a Military Entrance Processing Station or a Military Entrance Test site. The same day that you take your exam, you may also have to submit to a thorough medical examination and a discussion of your medical history. You may be subject to blood or urinalysis tests; the military has a zero-tolerance drug policy and administers tests randomly and frequently. The doctor will determine if you have any preexisting conditions that prohibit you from enlisting or make any jobs off-limits (certain positions in the Air Force, for example, have strict vision requirements). It may be helpful to bring copies of your medical record with you.
Once your test and medical examination is complete, you will meet with a career counselor to discuss the jobs available to you as determined by your score on the ASVAB and to select a career path. Some branches may request that you complete a career interview at this time.
Finally, understanding that you will owe a service commitment (typically four years on active duty and four in the Reserves for active duty enlistees or eight years in the Reserves for non-active duty enlistees, but this may differ depending on your branch and position), you will take an Oath of Enlistment and prepare for basic training. Once you have taken this oath, you are a member of the military and subject to rules and laws specific to service members. You cannot change your mind about joining at this time; your oath is binding. After you complete your enlistment ceremony, you will be assigned a location to complete your initial training.
If you are not yet ready for basic training but are committed to joining the military, you can participate in the Delayed Entry Program, which gives you up to a year to get into shape, finish up high school, or attend to family obligations, among other things, before you are required to report to basic training. Most recruits use this time to get into shape and achieve height and weight standards. During this time you will regularly meet with your recruiter.
Page last updated: 08/2018
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