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Joining the military has long been an option for young people. Some will join because they come from a line of military service, and it’s all about the pride and honor. While others will join as a means to escape a bad situation, a way out. The military has much appeal when you are coming from a terrible place such as the streets, an abusive home, or simply poverty. Others join as a way of gaining some life and work experience.
This article is not about your “reasons” for joining the military, but about how you can get the most out of your time in uniform.
Admittedly, most of my points will come from hindsight. When I joined up in 1997, I thought I had all of my ducks in order, and that I was squared away. Though I was more prepared than your “Average Joe” walking in from the street, my recruiter still managed to bamboozle me while benefiting himself. More on that within the points I’ll be making.
So let’s get started!
1) Don’t be afraid to walk out!
Keep this in mind, the recruiter has a quota to meet. Not only that, he has certain jobs to fill, and he doesn’t give a damn about what YOU want to accomplish. His main goal is to meet his agenda. This is the truth, and I mean no offense to any recruiters out there. I’m sure that some care about the individual recruits, but my experience says otherwise.
Know what you want to do before you walk in there! This may sound basic and simple, but when you walk into a recruiter’s office, you should already know exactly what you want to get out of the service. If you do not, they will sell you the stars and heaven while steering you towards the job that THEY need to fill.
That’s why an article such as this one will be helpful. Initially, I went over to enlist in the Marine Corps. I worked with a recruiter out of the Fordham Road Recruiting Station. I knew what I wanted to do, and he knew what HE wanted me to do.
I met an officer recruiter while I was training with them as a “poolee,” and I wanted to follow the Officer career path. I was well on my way to getting a bachelor’s degree, and that was the path I wanted to take. The officer recruiter saw the potential in me, and he wanted me to work with him. The recruiter I started with refused to allow me to work with him, he told me that I didn’t have the mechanical and electrical scores to be an officer. He told me that I would never make it in OCS, and that I would be a great infantryman. Due to the “politics” of the recruiting office, since my first contact in there was Sergeant, the Captain could not take me on as a recruit.
Before actually enlisting, they had all of us recite an oath. Mind you, I hadn’t been to MEPS or signed any paperwork at all. However, based off of this, the Sergeant was threatening me, stating that my ass was his, and that I couldn’t change my mind anymore.
His forceful style really pissed me off, and I thought to myself, if these guys are limiting me so much before I even join, imagine how they will treat me when I truly have no choice? At that point, I decided to walk out of his office and moved on. He continued calling me and trying to use the scare tactics, but I told him that he had nothing on me, and I knew it. He then attempted to take a smoother approach and offered to work with what I wanted. Even so, at that point, I no longer wanted to work with him. He proved to be a manipulative piece of work. He since went on to get into some other trouble, but I won’t be covering that here. You can google Sergeant Tollinchi, if you want to know more about that.
2) Read everything thoroughly before you sign a damn thing.
I mentioned earlier, that even though I was relatively prepared, my Air Force recruiter still managed to bamboozle me. Well, that would not have happened had I followed this piece of advice here. READ EVERYTHING THOROUGHLY! Senior Master Sgt. Defrulo once said that I was the most “callingest” recruit he had ever had. This should be an indicator of how prepared I was, but apparently not prepared enough. I made one mistake working with Defrulo. I trusted everything that he said to me.
My education up until that point was related to technology and computers. As such I wanted a job that was in the same field. Defrulo was sneaky; he put me up for three jobs saying that they were all relating to computers and technology. He showed me only portions of the AFSC description (job list) while concealing the remainder. The parts he showed me highlighted using computers and working with computer equipment. The parts he didn’t show me, had I not been afraid to ask him to let me read it all would have shown me that the computers would be used to enter patient data as an administrator.
The only technology we had access to as 4A0 techs was entering data into a computer, and that was assuming they put you in that work area. Most likely, you’d end up working in outpatient records where you would do A LOT OF FILING! So much for getting that technology-based job!
Please, I implore you, read the job description from top to bottom, then read it again. Take it to your friends and have them read it, analyze it, and don’t let them scare you or rush you into accepting what THEY want you to do.
3) College Degree/Credit counts towards a higher rank.
Once again, I have to go back to my experience with USMC Recruiter SGT Tollinchi. “Rodriguez, you can’t jump ranks in the Marine Corps. You go in and work your way up with honor! Your college won’t do you any good. Besides you advance pretty fast.” Really bro? First, you won’t let me work with the officer recruiter, and now you won’t even let me put on Lance Corporal? Man, this guy really was out for self and didn’t give a damn about helping me at all.
So yes, having college credits (I’m not sure what the minimum is nowadays) and or any form of college degree will count towards coming out of Basic training with a higher rank. You will go in as an E1, and upon successful completion of basic training, you will be granted the rank of E3. This is the same whether you have a two-year degree, or a four-year degree. Though, I would advise you to look at the officer career path if you have a four-year degree or higher.
4) Bring a knowledgeable veteran with you.
This ties into the earlier points that I made. If you bring someone like me, or a friend or relative who has been through the process, it goes a long way to keeping the recruiters honest. They will be less likely to try to pull a hustle job over you. Remember, the goal is to get bodies in, WHERE they are needed. This may not necessarily be in line with your own goals. The more experience you have on your side the more likely you are to get the most out of the military.
5) Study for the ASVAB.
This may not apply if you are going the officer path, but most of you will take the ASVAB test. I made a major mistake with this one and didn’t study, or even look at the test up until the day I sat down to take it. Though Tollinchi was clearly not a friend, he was right about one thing. I totally bombed on the electrical and mechanical portions of the test. I was looking at questions, and items that I had never, ever seen before in my life. Gears, currents, pulleys, all sorts of crap that I had no damn clue about. I guessed for nearly every single question in that section. Had I been adequately prepared, I wouldn’t of had a problem with that. Tollinchi had me taking the test within a day or so of walking into the office.
Everything else I aced, because these were areas that we learned in school. However, those two areas were never taught to me, and you would think that a recruiter would help you in preparing, or advise you on what you will encounter. Nevertheless, this was not the case. They just forced me to take the test ASAP, and then tried to recruit me where they wanted me.
The military can be a great career path. How you start is crucial to this happening though. Tollinchi tried to sell me on the “You can become an officer later, for now, go be a grunt.” Well, “later” may never come. You may end up deployed, and could lose your life in service to the nation. Also, you will find that you will be very busy with your job, and time is not as readily available as it is when you are a civilian. Lastly, a SGT Tollinchi type could end up being your boss in the enlisted ranks, then what? You think that guy would help you advance your career? I don’t think so.
Of all the branches, I would advise you to look at the Air Force. I know of two guys who went in with me, and have since remained in military. They are seemingly doing great, and BOTH of them went on to become officers in the Air Force. I think you have greater opportunities there, and depending on your job; you’ll be less likely to end up deployed or in a dangerous situation. This is in no way meant to discredit the men and women who fight on the front lines for our nation. However, if that is not your goal, then consider the Air Force, and also research what kind of role your job would play in a wartime scenario. You may get deployed to a combat zone, but the further away you are from the front lines, the better your odds are of coming home to your friends and family.
I truly hope that none of what I have written is viewed as disparaging to the Marines, Air Force, or any other military branch. I wrote this article with the recruit and future service member in mind. The goal being to help you understand how you can get the most out of the military, without sacrificing your future or life. Case in point, how many civilian jobs do you think you can get driving a tank? Well, Tollinchi sure as well wanted me to be a tank driver. Really? “Yes Rodriguez, it is such an exciting job. Imagine how cool it would be to tell people, ‘I drive a tank.’ Right Rodriguez?” Sure it is cool, but what job will I be able to get in the civilian sector with that particular skillset?
I just want you guys to do what is right for you, not what is right for them. If this is perceived as me attacking our brothers and sisters in the service, well, I’m sorry about that, but that’s your problem and not my intent.
Growing Up Bronx