Questions and Answers about the Military
The answers below come from American Friends Service Committee, Militarytruth.org, various veterans’ experience, and other commonly available sources.
1. How long is my enlistment commitment actually for?
Your enlistment period will last 8 years. Some portion will be active duty and some portion will be on reserve dirty, Reserve duty can be made active.
2. Can the armed forces make me stay longer than what I have contracted for?
Yes, the military has the right to change your contract and extend your service longer than you agreed to. A policy called stop-loss that legally keeps troops in the service longer than expected has been commonplace since Sept. 11, 2001.
3. What are the most dangerous military jobs?
The most dangerous jobs are the ones that can threaten your health and safety. These "combat related jobs" may be appealing at first glance, but look beyond the "adventure" appeal and see what you get:
In the Near East wars 34,875, or 2.6% of immediate combat personnel, were killed or wounded. This doesn't count unknown numbers of emotionally disturbed or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) casualties. Commanders, not medical professionals, decide if a troubled soldier is returned to the war zone. Only 22% with PTSD in those wars was referred for treatment. U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2006.
A disproportionate number of American adults who are homeless are veterans. In 2019, an estimated 40,056 veterans were homeless on any given night, about 11% of the adult homeless population. About 1.4 million other veterans are considered at risk due to poverty, lack of support networks, or dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
The number of active duty, Guard and Reserve members and veterans who commit suicide has climbed from 5,800 in 2005 to 6.150 in 2017, for a daily count of twenty on average. The highest rate is among the youngest, ages 18 to 34. www.mentalhealth.va.gov. 2019
The following combat related jobs may earn you "Special duty" pay, from a very low $50 to as much as $1,000 per month.
* Parachute Duty
* Flight Deck Duty
* Demolition Duty (EOD)
* Experimental Stress Duty
* Toxic Fuels (or Propellants) Duty
* Toxic Pesticides Duty
* Chemical Munitions
* Submarine duty
* Flight Duty
* Diving Duty
* Sea Pay
* Other fields as needed
* Dangerous Viruses (or Bacteria) Lab Duty"
4. Do I have any say in where I go, and how long I’m there for?
No, the military determines where you go and how long you are there. You do have the right to request transfers to different units, but there is never a guarantee that your request will be granted. However, if you go to a tech school of any kind and (typically) graduate in the top 10% of your class, you’ll normally have first pick of the geographical assignments that are available in your specialty, again subject to “the needs of that service.” After that, you can watch for openings in your specialty, at bases you’d like to be transferred to with some “reasonable” potential of success, depending upon how long you’ve been at your current assignment (varies from service to service).
5. How much does a newly enlisted service member get paid per week?
A new service member who Is not an officer can be paid $1,638.30 a month after the first four months. An average of about $5.19 an hour, based on an 80-hour week.
Basic Pay and allowances can easily be found on the web at https://www.militaryfactory.com/military-pay-charts.asp , http://militarypay.defense.gov/Pay/Basic-Pay/, etc.
Because of situations in the painful memories of some ex-military members where some enlisted members even have to successfully apply for food stamps and other Social Services aid, the military has attempted to increase pay and allowances to preclude such stories from becoming public. It remains to be seen whether the frugal lower-ranking enlisted family may have to do the same.
6. Am I guaranteed the ability to go to college if I want to?
If you are on active duty you are not guaranteed the ability to go to school when you want to. Your commanding officer must give their permission. You also might be deployed to a remote or combat area for more than 15 months at a time making courses, even online courses, tough to complete.
Military skills training is important to the Army, but so is encouraging its soldiers to attend college or take continuing education courses. As a soldier you may take advantage of the Montgomery GI Bill and the Army College Fund as ways to pay for your college education – up to a total of $70,000 for those soldiers on active duty who have re-enlisted or do dangerous or hazardous to health duty.
From http://usmilitary.about.com: “Each military base has an Education Office, who have arranged for colleges and universities to conduct college courses on-base, leading to various degree programs. However, realize that it takes much more time... than if you were going to college full time as a civilian."
The Montgomery G.I. Bill may be highly touted by recruiters, but using it after you leave the service may be a bit “iffy,” because of either the qualifying criteria, or lack of motivation. Because of this only about 50% of veterans, those that have contributed to that system, have been using those benefits.
On the downside, according to the US Veteran’s Administration, only 35% of veterans receive GI Bill funds for college, while only 15% ever receive a college degree. A veteran attending college receives MGIB in monthly installments, but colleges require tuition up front. (In Harms Way, Veterans for Peace, Col. James and Professor Shirley Kennedy, Winter 2005: Ensign, 2004, pg 22, www.objector.org)
Money for College Without Risking Your Life!!
* The Free Application for Federal Student Aid: http://www.fafsa.com
* Oregon Student Assistance Commission offers scholarships:
Many organizations offer programs that allow you to serve your community and earn a stipend for college.
Corporation for National Service
National Civilian Community Corp.
International Student Exchange Programs
American Friends Service Committee
7. Can I do a Job I want to do, or am I assigned one?
There are more than 800 different types of jobs available in the various branches of the United States Armed Forces. Various services have programs where the enlistee is guaranteed a specific career field IF they meet the prerequisites and qualifications for the selected field before and after enlistment. Your Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery ( ASVAB) score is the initial criteria, but through long experience in each of the services, the job you get also depends on job-specific needs and, most of all, availability of slots and training. You can pre-negotiate!
To get the job of your choice from the Army requires two things: (1) There must be an available vacancy for the job, and (2) you must be qualified for the job, and availability is based on “the luck of the draw.” Beware of jobs with fancy sounding titles as they may be low skill jobs like driving a fork lift.
For new enlistees:
Under the Air Force’s “Guaranteed Job” program, the applicant can be guaranteed training in a specific job (Air Force Specialty Code). The Air Force also has a Qualified Waiting List program and “quick ship list” program that recruiters may not want to discuss.
The Navy offers two programs: Guaranteed Job, and Undesignated Seaman.
The Marines also offer two programs: Guaranteed Job, and general field. Very, very few Marine applicants get a guaranteed job (mostly those with college degrees or high ASVAB scores, applying for certain, designated technical specialties).
The Coast Guard offers the fewest guaranteed jobs. One normally enlists in the Coast Guard, undesignated, then “strikes” for a job after a period of on-the-job training in “basic coastguardmanship” at their first duty station.
After you’ve been in for a while, you might also be able to transfer into another field, IF you have enough time in your current specialty for that branch of service to have been “paid back” for your schooling (as applicable), your ASVAB scores are in the “acceptable range” for the specialty you want to transfer to, you have sufficient service time left to complete both the schooling and the “pay back” time, and you have the approval of your immediate superiors for such a transfer (i.e., sometimes you could be doing too good of a job to be released for that transfer!).
8. If I change my mind about being in the military can I resign?
Only an officer can resign. Enlisted members must serve their time or face harsh penalties. Voluntary discharges can happen, but are rare.
You could put up with it, or risk being court-martialed, receiving a dishonorable discharge, spending time in a military jail, or getting a demotion and reduction to pay. Alternatively, all services have procedures to address conscientious objectors (COs) within the military. This can be a very arduous path without assistance, but it can also protect the successfully processed individual from the stigma of a less-than-Honorable discharge. Attempting to go this route should be weighed against the potential of simply toughing it out until you’re released – unless, of course, you’re then caught in a stop-loss program as some have in the Iraq War!
The Pentagon said desertion decreased — about 2,500 troops deserted in 2005, down from almost 5,000 in 2001. (AP, August 31, 2006) However, the GI Rights Hotline received more than 36,000 calls in 2005 and about 19,000 in the first six months of 2006, up from fewer than 1,000 in 2001. (The GI Rights Hotline https://girightshotline.org/ )
9. Will the skills I learn in the military be useful in civilian life?
It depends on what your job specialty is. Much of what you will learn to do in the military will only relate to military jobs and not civilian jobs.
It should be noted that military technical schools are typically very object-oriented toward military requirements and, therefore, much shorter than commercial schools. Attempting to later get academic credit for such schools can turn out to be somewhat disappointing, but taking supplemental classes around your specialty (such as discussed in Question 6, above) can be very helpful. It should be noted that, for some (few) jobs, the military may not have a specific training school available, so might send the recruit or job transfer candidate to a corresponding civilian school. What prospective employers will more readily accept, however, is comparable military experience in trade or service-oriented industries, such as auto mechanics, plumbing, electrician, electronics, computers (including computer programming), etc.
10. What are the negative aspects of my training?
While combat military training is definitely aimed at killing, and there are those that become emotionally scarred by accomplishing that action, there are still many (actually the majority) that can rationalize their actions in that regard and return to civilian life with no problem. It all depends upon the individual. Additionally, outsourcing is increasing, the majority of jobs in the military are for support functions to the fighting force and, while also trained for combat, are normally not involved in direct combat. Understand that enlisted Basic training can be very stressful to some individuals if you aren’t prepared to (1) having your individuality stripped (2) being indoctrinated to obey orders without thinking and (3) having someone in your face and shouting at you. One ex-Army reviewer stated:
“The keyword in your answer is ‘rationalization,’ which can be defined as being a delusion that one did something good or morally right while in combat. That’s often accomplished through a sense of Nationalism (my country, right or wrong), or that killing Iraqis somehow makes the world a better place. I maintain that the scarring begins in Basic Training, where an enlistee is systematically stripped of dignity, self-worth, moral values and individuality… necessary components to create a combat specialist, devoid of sensitivity and instantly obedient. The combat experience amplifies that training. In a theater where one cannot visually tell friend from enemy, it is necessary to consider all strangers to be the enemy if one is to survive. To me, only a sociopath can go through that experience without being damaged. Then the military refuses to acknowledge what it has done to its members by accusing the victims of weakness after first denying the existence of PTS altogether. We’ve seen this over and over in our own lifetimes.”
Samuel Exler (1923-2008), a veteran of World War II, served in the 104th Infantry Division in Belgium, Holland, and Germany, earning a Bronze Star. After the war, he became an advertising copywriter, but he was also an accomplished poet, his poems appearing in such journals as American Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, and Poetry East. Of his war poetry, Exler said: “My belief that our history should not be forgotten lies behind these poems.”
Be All That You Can Be
I barely remember what it was
drilled into my bones. Barely remember
the boring words of abuse
harrowing my mind. Barely
remember how the boots
of close order drill
stomped across my thoughts—
pride skinned off, training’s blunt knife
carving me into a dogface—an animal
taught to suppress its whimper
at death’s approach.
Taught cursing, taught fear, taught
not to speak, not to have thoughts;
taught to have no will, to make
no decisions, taught
ass kissing for small favors,
taught to pick spittle-soaked cigarette butts
from the ground every morning.
Taught to kill.
11. What do I do if an officer gives me a command that I believe is illegal?
Military training is designed to mold service members who respond to orders without thinking. Of course, if you believe an order is unlawful you have an obligation to refuse to act upon it. If the lines are blurred, most will just obey. Those who refuse, if the order is illegal, could still face penalties.
In a military non-combat situation, you can, in private, question the officer about the suspected illegality, or talk to your CO or, if that is impossible, get to the Judge Advocate General’s office (JAG) for a resolution.
In a military combat situation, you can, again in private, question the officer about the suspected illegality. But be prepared for potential consequences ranging from acknowledgement and withdrawal of the order, to being labeled as “non-cooperative,” to being jailed, dishonorably discharged, or, in the extreme, even becoming KIA from “hostile fire”… i.e., watch your back!
12. What is post-traumatic stress disorder?
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a severe mental health affliction that develops, when one experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, such as combat or the effects of combat. Flashbacks, nightmares, depression, and inability to think straight are some of the symptoms of PTSD.
13. Will I receive any compensation if I am permanently disabled in war?
Yes, you can receive compensation if you are disabled but the payment will be based on your actual disability. The military rating system for measuring disabilities and calculating disability payment has long been thought to be unfair. A person who is blinded may only get a 50% disability rating, for instance. It is also highly dependent upon the extent to which the military recognizes a military-related “injury,” as witnessed by the Vietnam “agent orange” situation that took decades to resolve, or the first Gulf War hard-to-diagnose medical problems experienced by returning veterans, or the still-to-be-diagnosed problems associated with the heavy use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions being contested by the DoD.
However, any service-related injury is grounds for compensation, not just those related to war. In my case, ototropic hearing loss is not recognized (exposure to adverse, nerve-damaging cleaning agents), but aircraft engine noise is recognized, which I had plenty of exposure to during my enlisted days. Battling “the system” for ototropic hearing loss is a wasted effort, so I simply cited aircraft engine noise.
14. Have you ever seen combat and do you think exposure to it is healthy for me?
Any recruiter who tells you that experiencing combat is healthy must not be aware of the thousands of war veterans who are suffering from PTSD, surviving without arms or legs, or whose quality of life will never be what it was before they witnessed combat. Any recruiter attempting to “impress” prospective recruits will be wearing a uniform with all his/her medals. Asking about each one, discounting those that are simply “service during” awards, should give you an idea of whether that individual has actually experienced a combat situation, or not.
“It is the recruiter’s job to lure young men and women into harm’s way by disguising the truth, making it seem honorable, patriotic and safe. Isn’t it reasonable to assume the recruiter’s answer to this question will be less than forthcoming? Better, I think, to ask how it feels to hold your best friend in your arms and watching him die."
15. Will I be deployed to the Middle East?
Nearly every job is a “deployable” job. If you enlist in the Reserves or the National Guard there is a very good chance that you will be deployed to the Middle East rather than serving weekend duty stateside. Active duty enlistees should also be prepared to deploy. Forces are stretched thin and therefore new recruits should always be prepared to go to war.
16. Can I get out of the Delayed Enlistment Program without being prosecuted by the military?
The Delayed Enlistment Program is geared toward high school seniors and participants are led to believe they are legally obligated to the military before they graduate. The DEP contract is unenforceable until you are ON THE BUS. You will NOT be jailed, blacklisted, or generally discharged as long as you apply IN WRITING to be released prior to your ship date. (Ref. http://usmilitary.about.com/cs/joiningup/a/recruiter3_5.htm) Point-in-fact, simply not showing up without written pre-announcement in not effectively prosecutable by the military.
17. What about women in the U.S. Military?
1 out of every 7 soldiers is female. Almost 14% of female soldiers are single moms. (Ref. https://www.cfr.org/article/demographics-us-military)—We apologize, but this website appears to have been taken down or the page is not loading for an unknown reason since June 2019. We are leaving it here for reference.
19% of Reserve women reported sexual harassment, 10% reported sex discrimination, 2% reported sexual assault. (US Department of Defense 2005, Reserves Survey) 37% of women who reported a rape or attempted rape had been raped more than once. 14% of the victims reported having been gang raped. (Journal of Industrial Medicine, 2003)
Suzanne Swift, a veteran of the Iraq war, in custody at Fort Lewis, Washington. Swift completed a tour of duty in Iraq, where she was sexually harassed and assaulted by three of her commanding officers. Her efforts to report her treatment were met with disrespect and dismissed. Finally, Swift suffered a breakdown due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and went absent without leave (AWOL). She was apprehended in Eugene, Oregon, in June 2006, and instead of seeing her rapists investigated, Swift herself faced court martial and prison time. (Ref. www.registerguard.com/news/2006/06/15/home.php) Also ref. #23.
18. I’ve heard that the U.S. involvement in past wars may not have been as altruistic as our textbooks depict. Is there any truth to the fact that many of our wars were for a profit motive?
See the website www.militarytruth.org and the “Costs” page for references on this topic. Some of the answers may surprise you.
From the VFP Newsletter, Fall 2008, page 12, article by Jack Bussell: “War is, and has been, the most destructive action ever taken by humans. Nobody wins in war except those who make weapons.” Then a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “There never was a good war, or a bad peace.”
Why do veterans earn less than similar non-veterans? Why are veterans imprisoned more often? Why are 1/3 of all homeless people veterans? Why did Former Secretary of Defense Cheney state that the military is “not a jobs program” but exists to prepare to “fight and win wars?”
Money for College?
Why do 65% of recruits who pay the required $1200 into the Montgomery GI Bill never get a dime in return?
How does getting yelled at and ordered around provide self-discipline? Why is it a crime in the military to talk back to your boss or quit your job?
Women in the Military?
Why do the Veterans Administration’s own figures show 90% of recent women vets reporting sexual harassment— 1/3 of whom were raped?
Why do people of color make up 35% of the enlisted people in the military, but only 15% of the officers?
Does shooting, shelling, or dropping bombs on kids really sound like fun? How about killing or dying for oil?