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Things to Know Before Enlisting in the Army

Updated on March 5, 2011
The author in Afghanistan
The author in Afghanistan

So You Want to Join the Army?

"In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility - I welcome it."  -John F. Kennedy

The War on Terror has been waged for over a decade now. Many have answered their country's call and some of them made the ultimate sacrifice. Considering joining the army is a big step and it takes an unselfish and courageous person to do so.

I finished 9 years in the army recently with a tour to Iraq and a tour to Afghanistan. I've served in a variety of positions and posts. One thing I've learned is that your army experience in the army is driven by your choices and what you sign. 

This article will give you a great head start to an army career or help you decide if your son/daughter is making the right decisions. This is not a decision to make lightly and the better informed you are the better your experience.

You can try to be a sniper or a squad designated marksman
You can try to be a sniper or a squad designated marksman
Myself and my dog in Afghanistan
Myself and my dog in Afghanistan

Job Decision

This is a very important choice, as you can imagine. even if you think you'll only do this for a few years and leave the military you cannot take this decision lightly. What if you like it and decide to stay in the army? You'd be stuck in the job that you didn't make an educated decision about.

The army has a large variety of jobs, or Military Occupation Specialties (MOS's). Your decision will affect your experience and what kind of things you'll see and places you'll go. What do you want to do with your life? What kind of experiences do you want? What skills do you want to learn?

If you have an idea of what you want to do then you can look on the army's website and look up an MOS that suits you. There are many parallel civilian jobs to army MOS. Be careful in this decision because some things may not directly translate to the civilian world as you may expect. For instance, I was a combat engineer (MOS 12B) while enlisted. I learned explosives, infantry tactics, heavy equipment and weapons use. I thought I could move into demolitions afterward because I did it while I was enlisted but civilians use different explosives than the army. I can still transition to a construction or heavy equipment operator.

So what's right for you? You have to know in your own mind what you want to do for a vocation. Your next job is to do some research on it to see how that may translate to the civilian world or what type of activities you will do during your enlistment. Some MOS's deploy more often than others. Your best bet is to find someone who has military experience or who can put you in touch with someone who does. Don't trust the recruiter to tell you the realities of the MOS you're looking at. 

If you know you'll be staying in the military indefinitely then your career choice won't be swayed by how a MOS will translate into the civilian world. You do want to make sure that you'll be happy doing your job well into your career. The good thing about the army is that your job and responsibilities change as you gain rank. You can also specialize into other specialty jobs related to your MOS. 

As a general guideline if you want to be on the ground, in the action you're looking at an Infantry job. Infantry can also specialize to Ranger or Sniper and more. Combat engineers (12B) are also a high action MOS. think of engineers as infantry with explosives. Engineers can even specialize to be Mine Detection Dog Handlers as yours truly was. 

The army also has jobs in military intelligence which focuses a lot on computers and technology. There are jobs as drivers/operators, military police, supply, healthcare and much more. You can get a lot out of any of these jobs if you're ambitious enough.

Feel free to contact me for any questions

Contract Options

Ah yes, the paperwork. This is where a lot of people have a hard time following what's going on and even more get a raw deal. You have to be careful what the recruiter is telling you and what's actually on the paper you'll be signing. The recruiter can promise you everything in the world but if it's not in the paperwork then you're out of luck. 

I'm not undermining any recruiters out there. The army wants numbers and they get the stress for it. Sometimes you just forget to add something in the paperwork or you enter something incorrectly. The recruiters aren't out there to screw you over but at the same time they don't mind what kind of experience you have after the paper side of things are done.

Point is, do your research on your own. Don't use the recruiter as your only source of information. You're going to have to do your own research to make sure you're getting what you want. There are a lot of extras and options that come into play so check what everything means before you sign that contract.

I can't go into specifics because there are many different options. Just be sure what you're getting into and ask questions. There isn't a stupid question when you're signing a military contract.

Deciding What Post to Choose

Did you get a clause in your contract to go to a post of your choice? If you didn't then you may be at the mercy of the army. You can ask for that option when you enlist and they will ask your top 3 posts and you have a high chance of getting them. You're still not guaranteed those posts, though. 

The army has a lot of different posts around the world. What kind of places do you want to see? There are posts in Japan, Italy, Germany, Korea, Puerto Rico, and all over the United States. Not all of these posts will be open to you or be open to your MOS. 

Check with people who have served in those locations to see what kind of experiences they've had. Each post has it's own unique experience to offer and experiences to share. Also remember that because someone had a great time in Germany that you're not guaranteed to have a great time. 

Hard training makes good soldiers
Hard training makes good soldiers

What to Expect at Basic Training

Everyone worries about basic training. Will they hit me? Will they pour cold water over us outside? Will they make me do push-ups until I puke? The best I can tell you is that you won't be abused in any way. There are many different regulations in place to ensure the safety and welfare of all trainees. You will not be intentionally harmed by anyone while undergoing training.

At the same time you are joining a military in a time of conflict so you need to ask yourself if you really want your basic training to be simple. JFK said, "Do not pray for easy lives, pray to be stronger men". Tough training helps you in the long run.

Expect to do physical training which entails running, push-ups, sit-ups and more. What you do, exactly, will depend on where you undergo training. The army has physical standards that must be met before you graduate. You're going to learn to march, shoot, lift and fight hand-to-hand. Don't look at basic training as an obstacle but as a life-changing experience, because it is. After your basic training experience you'll be changed  and it will be an experience you'll never forget. Graduation from basic training and your Advanced Individual Training (AIT) will earn you a place among past and present soldier's of the greatest army in the world.

Preparation for basic involves joining a gym or club of some sort to do a lot of running and exercise. You don't need to be an elite athlete to join the army but the more fit you are the easier it will be physically.

As always, feel free to write and ask me questions

Good Books to Check Out

Soldier's Study Guide: 6th Edition (Soldier's Study Guide: A Guide to Promotion Boards & Advancement)
Soldier's Study Guide: 6th Edition (Soldier's Study Guide: A Guide to Promotion Boards & Advancement)

This will give you a head start for studying what you'll need to know in your military career. You won't need it for basic but it won't hurt. Check it out after you're enlisted to help for career advancement



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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I am just looking for some info. I know the army looks for skills and i am full of them, I am trained in hand to hand combat ,certified civilian marksman, am able to build anything,work with computers,electrical wires,speak arabic and tagalog besides my first language english,and am strong -I'm a powerlifter with a 525 bench and 2k leg press. so If I cant keep up with the running ( i cant run for long periods at all but work out daily ) will i totally be failed or will i get any points or pass since I have other high points to my as an individual?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I just wanted to say thank you !

    • Hivoltg profile image

      Chris Harris 

      5 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      Excellent article. Good work out there. Thank you!

    • profile image

      bethany hargis 

      5 years ago

      i want to join the army so bad

    • profile image


      6 years ago


      Every initial contract is 8 years minimum. That being said, there are variations between what is active duty time and what is inactive ready reserves (IRR) time. Typical configurations are 4-4, 3-5, and (rarely) 2-6.

      Hope that helps. It will change your life, that part is indisputable. For me, it changed for the better.

    • profile image

      Erika Erkkila 

      7 years ago

      Very informative article. Anyone reading this should be able to make an intelligent decision.

    • Alt_Writer21 profile image


      7 years ago

      I posted a comment on a question you left but I figured I would leave something here too. I'm strongly considering the Army as a career/temporary career. I want the experience and the ability to serve my country. What's the shortest and longest time possible to serve? What branch were you in? Do you think it's a good idea to put afghanistan as my number one spot on my wish list? What should I expect if I do get to iraq or afghanistan?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Good article and thank you for your service


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