Military Workers, Enlisted


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Your educational preparation will depend to an extent on your career goals. At a minimum you will need a high school diploma or its equivalent to join a branch of the armed forces as enlisted personnel. Take high school classes in mathematics, including advanced classes such as algebra and geometry, and science. Take computer science classes since many positions will require you to have technical skills. History classes, government classes, and classes covering geography will also be helpful. English classes will help you develop the skills to follow directions as well as to communicate clearly and precisely. Also, consider taking a foreign language, which may expand your job opportunities. Remember to take physical education classes throughout your high school years. You will be required to pass physical and medical tests when you apply to the service, so you will need to be in good physical condition.

Postsecondary Training

Your postsecondary training will depend on your career goals. If you wish to enter the military right after high school, you will take the path of enlisted personnel. You will agree to an enlistment contract, pledging time to the service—usually eight years. Depending on the branch you join, you may spend between two and six years on active duty and the remaining amount of the eight years in reserves. You must pass medical and physical tests as well as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam.

Basic training comes next and will last between eight and 13 weeks. During this time you will have classroom study, physical training, and training in military skills and protocol. After basic training, and depending on your skills and performance, you may be assigned to a job that calls for on-the-job training or be assigned to a job that requires further technical training. This training may last from 10 weeks up to a year, depending on the position. Many people combine this training with courses they take when off duty to work toward an associate's or bachelor's degree. Many enlisted personnel have at least some college-level education. A select few enlistees are chosen for officer training after completing basic training and they receive additional military training.

If you wish to attend college after high school, you have a number of options available. You may want to attend one of the four service academies: the U.S. Military Academy (for the Army), the U.S. Naval Academy (for the Navy and the Marines), the U.S. Air Force Academy (for the Air Force), or the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (for the Coast Guard). Competition for entry to these schools is intense; you will need to have an excellent academic background, involvement in community activities, and show leadership qualities, among other requirements. Most applicants also need a nomination from an authorized source, which is usually a member of the U.S. Congress. You will graduate from one of these academies with a bachelor of science degree, and you are then required to spend a minimum of five years on active duty, beginning as a junior officer.

It is most important to make an informed choice when deciding on which postsecondary route you wish to take. Therefore, do as much research as you can. Talk to several recruiters, find out what jobs are available and what position you can realistically expect to be assigned to. After all, not everyone can become a member of the Blue Angels, the precision aircraft flight team that represents the Navy and the Marines.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The need for certification or licensing will depend on the job you have. Pharmacists in the military, for example, must hold a license, the same as civilian pharmacists. However, it is important to note that the military does not offer certification or licensing for many jobs that require these credentials in the civilian sector. If you are interested in receiving training in the military for a certain job and plan to transfer your skills to an equivalent job in the civilian sector, find out if additional training and/or certification or licensing is needed in the civilian workforce.

Other Requirements

To join any branch of the military you need to be a U.S. citizen or have permanent residency status (that is, hold a green card). You must be at least 17 years old to enlist in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The maximum age to enter the Army is 35; the Navy, 34; the Air Force and Coast Guard, 39; and the Marine Corps, 29. (The maximum age limit is subject to change depending on such factors as the nature of the military service and the demand for recruitment.) You also cannot have a criminal record. There are height and weight standards that you should ask your recruiter about since they may vary among the services. Some jobs have special requirements, such as certain vision standards, which you will also need to find out from your recruiter.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Enlisted personnel do not need previous experience. Anyone entering the military should be prepared for a regimented lifestyle. Those who are successful are able to follow orders, work as part of a team, and adapt well to unexpected or sudden changes. You will be required to relocate, probably several times, during your military career. To advance through the ranks you must be willing to learn new skills as well as take on a variety of assignments. Although military life can be very rigorous, many find it both challenging and highly rewarding.