Joining the military can be a life-changing experience. There are numerous reasons why young people in the United States want to join the military. Whatever the motivation, entering the military requires extensive preparation.
Service members make up the vast majority of the military’s workforce. They will receive training in a specific job specialty and will do the majority of the hands-on work. In most cases, you’ll be required to sign up for four years of active duty followed by four years of inactive duty. You can either extend your contract or re-enlist if you want to continue serving after your active duty period ends.
Meanwhile, officers make up a much smaller proportion of the workforce. To join as an officer, you must typically have a four-year college degree and have completed an officer program. To advance in your career, you must compete for promotions. Most officers are managers in charge of planning and directing operations. Doctors and lawyers are two other types of professionals. Officers are frequently paid more than enlisted members and have access to additional military benefits.
You can join as an enlisted member and attend officer training later.
The U.S. military has six branches of service: the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Space Force. The requirements to join are similar for all those ones. The biggest differences are in age limits, test scores, and fitness levels. Men and women have to meet different fitness requirements. Besides the requirements listed here, each branch may have other requirements.
Age requirement for Enlisting
You must be 17 or older to enlist in any branch of the active military. The oldest age you can be to enlist for active duty in each branch is:
- Coast Guard: 31
- Marines: 28
- Navy: 39
- Army: 34
- Air Force: 39
- Space Force: 39
Educational and Testing Requirements for Joining the Military
You are required to take the ASVAB test. The ASVAB has 10 subtests.
- Your scores on four of those determine your Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score. This ASVAB score shows which branch(es) you may join. Each branch has its own lowest score for joining.
- Your scores on those 10 subtests determine which job specialties you qualify for.
You can prepare for the ASVAB by taking our practice questions. We also provide a free ASVAB Practice Test as well as a comprehensive ASVAB study guide for specific military branches.
Besides, you must have a high school diploma or a GED to enlist. The services accept only a small number of people with GEDs each year. You also can increase your chances of qualifying with a GED by:
- Earning some college credits and/or
- Scoring well on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT)
Health and Fitness Requirements for Joining the Military
You are required to pass a military entrance medical exam. This contains a physical exam, hearing test, vision test, and height/weight measurements.
Each service has its own physical standards and fitness requirements, depending on the demands of its mission. Even in the same branch, some jobs are tougher or have extra requirements.
Steps for Joining the Military
Once you know which branch(es) you’re considering, you should contact a recruiter. Your recruiter will give you an overview and answer your questions about that service. If you’re interested in joining as an officer, the recruiter would also explain any options you may be eligible for.
If you decide to enlist, you would have to report to a military entrance processing station (MEPS). It would take you a day or two to finish the pre-enlistment steps, including taking the ASVAB, having a physical exam, and meeting with a career counselor. Then you’ll receive orders for basic training. If you enroll in a delayed entry program, you’ll go home and get orders for basic training within a year.
Contact a Recruiter or Apply Online
- Air Force Active Duty: 1-800-423-USAF (1-800-423-8723)
- Air Force Reserve: 1-800-257-1212
- Air Force National Guard: 1-800-TO-GO-ANG (1-800-864-6264)
- Army Active Duty & Army Reserve: 1-888-550-ARMY (1-888-550-2769)
- Army National Guard: 1-800-GO-GUARD (1-800-464-8273)
- Navy Active Duty and Reserve: 1-800-USA-NAVY (1-800-872-6289)
- Marine Corps Active Duty and Reserve: 1-800-MARINES (1-800-627-4637)
- Coast Guard Active Duty and Reserve
- Contact an Air Force recruiter: 1-800-423-USAF (1-800-423-8723)
U.S. Military Branches
We provide you an overview of the six service branches of the U.S. armed forces you need to know before joining the military:
- U.S. Air Force (USAF), part of the Department of Defense (DOD), is responsible for aerial military operations, defending U.S. air bases, and building landing strips. Service members are considered airmen. The reserve components are Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
- U.S. Army (USA), also a part of the DOD, is the largest of the five military branches. Its responsibilities are major ground combat missions, especially operations that are ongoing. The Army Special Forces unit is referred to as the Green Berets for its headgear. Service members are considered soldiers. The reserve components are Army Reserve and Army National Guard.
- U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It handles maritime law enforcement, including drug smuggling. It’s also responsible for maritime search and rescue and marine environmental protection. It also secures ports, waterways, and coasts. Service members are considered as Coast Guardsmen, nicknamed Coasties. The reserve component is Coast Guard Reserve.
- U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), also part of the DOD, provides land combat, sea-based, and air-ground operations support for the other branches during a mission. This branch’s duty also includes guarding U.S. embassies around the world and the classified documents in those buildings. Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) members are referred to as Raiders. All service members are considered Marines. The reserve component is Marine Corps Reserve.
- U.S. Navy (USN) The Navy, part of the DOD, plays the role of protecting waterways (sea and ocean) outside of the Coast Guard’s jurisdiction. Navy warships provide the runways for aircraft to land and take off when at sea. Navy SEALs (sea, air, and land) are the special operations force for this branch. All service members are considered sailors. Navy Reserve is the reserve component.
- U.S. Space Force (USSF): The Space Force was formed in December 2019 from the former Air Force Space Command. The Space Force is a branch of the Air Force. It organizes, trains, and equips space forces to protect the interests of the United States and its allies in space and to provide joint force space capabilities.
Joining the Military: FAQs
Is it a good idea to join the military?
If you feel a sense of patriotism or duty to the American people, joining the military is a fantastic choice. You’ll be filled with pride after serving. Nothing beats walking around in your uniform and having somebody thank you for your service.
What disqualifies you from joining the military?
Age, citizenship, physical, education, height/weight, criminal record, medical history, and drug history are all factors that can keep you from joining the military.
Do I have to cut my hair to join the military?
Haircuts are a rite of passage during basic training in the military. Almost immediately upon arrival, your hair would be cut so short that you will feel as if you have been shaved bald (guys only). Following your initial haircut, you will receive a trim at least once per week throughout basic training.
That is all the basic information you will need to join the military. Hope that you reach your goal soon!
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