This was originally published in the Belle Banner, Belle, Missouri December 26th 2018.
If you are a senior in high school, or a junior and don’t have solid plans for life after high school, and more classes in college doesn’t turn you on, or maybe you can’t see going through the application process for scholarships and grants or going in debt to go to college, or maybe you are tired of school and just want to get a good job and start life, what an opportunity you have.
If you fairly smart, and by that I mean of average intelligence. High school grades may or may not be an indication of a persons’ intelligence. High school grades are often the reflection of how a specific class was exciting and inspiring. If the class was not exciting and inspiring grades were probably less than in other classes. If you are a high school graduate, fairly smart, in good health, and good physical condition (not too overweight), and never been in trouble, the Army offers a tremendous opportunity. That is not just for new high school graduates. If you fit those requirements and are not yet 35 years old, you can still enlist, married, single, married with children, but single parents cannot enlist.
Health care is free for all soldiers and their families. The day a new enlistee processes into the Army, with his or her marriage and birth certificates, that soldiers’ family has 100 percent, no deductible, health and dental care. Housing is free. Single soldiers live in dorms, married soldiers live with their families either in family housing on a fort or they may live off post and are paid a family housing allowance based upon the cost of living at that particular location. Meals for the soldier are free. Soldiers who live in a dorm eat free in a Dining Facility. Soldiers who do not live in a dorm are paid a subsistence allowance equivalent to the cost of meals in the Dining Facility.
The pay is respectable. I recently wrote a fictional story of young lovers Jack and Judy. After eight months in the Army they are living in family housing on post, with take home pay of around $500 per week. Considering the value of the free family healthcare and free house and all utilities that is the equivalent of a civilian making $800 to $1,000 per week. Plus reduced cost groceries in the post commissary and “Walmart style” post exchanges and reduced and “no cost” recreational facilities, and on-post day care centers, and on-post elementary and middle schools.
There are around 150 different jobs in the Army, and almost 100 of them carry civilian certifications. Going to college while in the Army is partially free. Most on post and online colleges and universities, with classes for soldiers, have aligned their cost per semester hour with Army Tuition Assistance, which pays for 16 semester hours per year. Leaving the military, after three years, college is completely free under the GI Bill. That’s tuition and fees and books, plus around $1,000 per month living allowance.
We have a great Army Recruiting Station in Rolla, Missouri, with three very good, honest sergeants. They do not lie to people to get them to enlist, but their jobs is enlisting soldiers into the active and reserve army. They try to fit people into army jobs that the person desires, that are compatible with the persons’ skills and abilities, and are available
Now, for the things army recruiters won’t tell you. I won’t write what I think are bad jobs in the Army. I may tell you personally, but what I have considered bad jobs in the Army I have found soldiers loving them. The Army is so varied from job to job, from unit to unit, and from location to location.
The first significant thing, that a recruiter may or may not spend time on, is that the military is completely voluntary. Every soldier is a volunteer and wanted to get into the Army. That is assumed now, but I was in the Army during the draft, and there were many people drafted who did not want to be in the Army and that attitude was reflected in their performance, and their attitude affected everyone around them.
Next, the Army will expect more out of you than you can deliver. That may sound negative, but it’s not. You are challenged and you feel different from civilians and you treat them differently, as they treat you differently. That is a good feeling that lasts forever. When you are on your job with your army team, you do your best to accomplish the mission, everything else is secondary. The mission may be tough or long or hard, but it won’t last forever. Then you look back and see that you did some amazing things. Maybe you saved someone’s life or maybe you saved thousands of dollars by making a suggestion to do something a better way, or maybe your team came out on top of a big administrative inspection.
One of the fears many people have of the military is leaving home and leaving their family. The Army is family. In the Army every soldier has his or her place, the higher the rank the more authority and responsibility. That means accomplishing missions and maintaining the force. If someone seems sad or irritable or depressed, every soldier who sees it will step up and do everything they can to help. Just like family. Someone wrote of an example – If you are drunk in the middle of the night, call your boss and he will pick you up or send someone who can, even a few hours away. A buddy will give you a ride to the airport, because you don’t want to leave your car parked there. Soldiers are continually giving and lending things to each other. It‘s fascinating and happens all the time. If a soldier has a serious problem he or she can go to their boss who can direct them to programs and facilities on post. A civilian with the same problem would lose their job. And finally, whatever religious faith a soldier may or may not have, a Chaplain can help. If he can’t help he will direct the soldier to someone who can.
The Army cures prejudice. Race and gender issues are sensitive subjects, and many people have preconceived ideas about people with whom they have not been associated. In the Army you see every race and ethnic origin of both sexes, at their best, working together to accomplish the mission. You will find people smarter than you, stronger than you, and faster than you, all willing to help you as you will be willing to help them. It is amazing. There is a saying; “We’re all green and we all bleed red.” It’s not all “kumbaya”, prejudice and sexual harassment happens, but the Pentagon is completely serious about stopping it. Sexual Assault Prevention and Response is periodic mandatory training in the Army. It is also an office in the Pentagon with its own website.
The Army has the best exercise program. Basic Combat Training has a lot of sweat and sore muscles, and Advanced Individual Training can vary from the same thing to sitting behind a desk. Everybody in the Army works five days a week, and everybody in the Army exercises five days a week. Whatever your job, where ever you are assigned and work, and whatever kind of shift work, you will do some form of exercise five days a week. It is good for you.
And finally – the Army is funny. Really funny. Put a group of people together doing something sensitive and stressful, whether combat, out-loading supplies, or its midnight and you’re trying to finish an Operations Plan that will be presented in the morning, or that same group waiting for something bored out of their minds, and you will see creative minds at work. Humor relieves stress, and soldiers can’t just “quit”, they are the Army, so it is much easier to laugh it off. If you don’t have a sense of humor going into the Army you will develop one and it will last forever.
When I worked in the Command Section of the 82nd Airborne Division, there were two majors in the G3 (Operations and Training) Section. They had two of the most stressful staff jobs in the headquarters, they worked long hours and weekends, just to keep up. They did hard physical training in the mornings and usually played handball at lunch till they were exhausted, just to relieve some of the stress. But they also needed to have fun, so they hatched a plan just between themselves. Their plan was the “rumor a day” operation. They would drop a word at the water cooler like, “Did you hear that we are going to be alerted Thursday night?” Then they would sit back and see how far it went and how it grew. They were revealed when the Chief of Staff (Colonel) finally got to the source of the rumors. The Chief and the Commanding General both had a good laugh, thought it helped relieve stress.