This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri May 9th 2018.
Throughout the Bible, Jesus’ message was, you don’t get until you give. Benjamin Franklin wrote “there are no gains without pains. If you want more, you have to do more.
I’m sure there are at least a couple people graduating from high school whose plan for the future is simply to get the best job they can find, and there is nothing wrong with that. There are several local business owners who did just that.
What do you want? Decent money, a nice place to live, afford a nice car, money left over for fun, and be able to go to college? Or, do you want to get married and have all those things. And what about the job, do you want a job that you can enjoy, a job that is respected and carries responsibility?
I recently wrote about who the people are who are enlisting in the Army. By far the largest percentage are those who already know the Army. Either their parents were career Army or they grew up next door to the Army, but if you haven’t been around the military, it is an unknown, and many people fear the unknown. Plus there is pain.
First there is the enlistment process, you have to be medically, mentally, morally, and physically qualified to enlist. There are the ASVAB tests. If you want high tech job such as a highly classified satellite communications specialist or you want to learn to be a computer hacker, then you have to score very high on the ASVAB. Study for it. You need to be in very good physical condition before basic training. Start running and exercise, pushups, situps, and pullups. What job? All jobs are open to women. There are currently a few women in the infantry. What kind of job do you want? Be honest with yourself. Most women I know don’t want an actual combat job, some do. For years, if an enlistee couldn’t do anything else, they made him or her a cook, which was considered the bottom of the list of Army jobs. Not true anymore, now a cook is a respected culinary specialist.
Then there is training. Reception processing is the pits. It is stuff that has to be completed. The first day at basic training is hell, it is meant to be, and basic training is getting tougher. The purpose of basic training is to convert undisciplined civilians into disciplined soldiers. My advice is to try to master every task quickly, and have fun. Try to see humor. By about the third week, most basic training classes have gelled together and really do start having fun. As of this writing, basic training is 10 weeks, but I expect it to go to 11 or 12 this summer. Advanced Individual Training (AIT) varies from 7 to 8 weeks to over a year for cardiology specialists, or computer hackers. If the job you choose has an airborne option, I highly recommend it. That is jumping out of airplanes. It’s not scary, it’s fun, and the units are the elite of the Army, with the best leaders. The 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina is the most trained, hardest worked and most used division in the Army, and it has the highest morale in the Army.
After training life is different, radically different, you are another soldier. If you are single, you will live in the barracks. Big deal, you have your own room and your car is parked outside. If you are married you can live in family housing on post. There are apartments and individual houses. They are nice houses with maintenance and utilities paid for with your Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which for a Private at Fort Leonard Wood is $876 per month, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina it is $1,134, or you can take the money and live off post. For a young newly married couple I recommend living on post. Everything you need, gas stations, Post Exchanges (stores), are available, plus every post has at least one giant commissary, which is like a grocery store super center. Every post has multiple gyms, chapels, athletic facilities, and recreation equipment available. Medical care is free for the soldier and his or her family. The cost for delivering a baby in an Army hospital is less than $50. Dental care is free for the soldier. Dental insurance which covers about everything for spouse and children is $11 per month for the wife or $29 for an entire family. A married PFC E3 (Private First Class), who has been in the Army about a year, living in family housing on post and claiming 2 dependents on the W4 form, will have deposited in his or her bank account about $1,000 on the 1st of the month and again on the 15th of the month. That equals about $460 per week take home pay or a wage of about $13.50 per hour, after your house and insurance is paid.
Combat units have field duty, training posts like Fort Leonard Wood don’t usually. The Army works five days a week. In the 24 hour a day places, like hospitals or military police, the individual soldiers still only work five days a week. A normal day starts with PT (physical training), then an eight hour day and you’re off. Weekends are off. Federal holidays that are on Monday means a three day weekend off. Every soldier gets 30 days leave (paid vacation) per year.
Don’t want to miss out on college? Every post has an education center where several college and universities conduct evening and on-line classes, and the Army pays for 16 semester hours per year. Advanced education is pushed in the Army, every semester hour is worth one promotion point, up to 75 points in an 800 point system for promotion to Sergeant and 100 points for promotion to Staff Sergeant.
There are over 150 different jobs in the Army. Some require great physical effort, some do not, some require intense academic study to learn and maintain proficiency, some do not. Many are skills that transition directly to a civilian job, some are not. The military is very selective about who it admits into the service, but people are people, and what may be considered a great job by some, may be the pits for someone else. I was once in charge of a section in the division personnel shop in the 82nd Airborne Division. There was a PFC in the office who wasn’t happy with his job. He wasn’t a goof off, he did his work, but he would rather have been somewhere else. One day I asked him what he would like to do, if he could have any job in the Army. He lit up with a gleam in his eyes and said; “Drive a tank!” I have no doubt that there were probably tank drivers who, after spending hours in the motor pool scrubbing and maintaining their tank would have traded places with him in a minute. If you don’t know the Army, it’s hard to know if you’re picking a job that you will enjoy, so do some research. Try to find comments online from people in different jobs. Talk to people who have been in the Army. Talk to the recruiters. The Army recruiters in Rolla, Missouri are a very good crew. Sergeant First Class Joel Watts, who is in charge of that office, has been extended on recruiting duty at least once, maybe twice, which means he is doing a good job, which also means they will tell you the truth. Also try to find and talk to people who have retired from the Army. Whether or not they have been in a job that interests you, over a period of 20 years they were probably around it at some time. I will be happy to talk Army with anyone at any time.
Aside from the job a soldier has, life in the Army could be called a “protected life”. Soldiers don’t worry about making a living and keeping their job, they don’t worry about getting sick and missing work, and they don’t worry about health insurance. They concentrate on learning their job better and doing it better, and doing the things they need to do to get promoted to the next rank, like accumulating college hours. Currently about 45 percent of the people who enlist in the Army will re-enlist at least once, and 17 percent of those who enlist will spend at least 20 years in the Army and retire.
This is a battalion in the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Vicenza, Italy having a family day.