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How to Join the U.S. Army : A Step by Step Guide

Updated on September 19, 2018

Do Your Research

You will need to make some basic decisions before you ever even think about calling the recruiter or walking in his or her office. You need to know what you want and don't want so there is no chance of a recruiter "talking you into something." They are famous for this.

Decide which military branch is right for you. Explore all branches of the military including Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. All branches of the military get paid the same base pay. So, pay should not be a factor in choosing which branch to enlist in.

If you have decided on the Army out of all of the military branches, you need to decide between Active Duty, Reserve or National Guard.

Do you have a college degree? If the answer is "yes", you also need to decide whether you want to be an officer of enlisted soldier.

Make sure you meet the basic qualifications for joining the Army before you waste any more of you time.

  • Have a high school diploma or its equivalent
  • No criminal record of a felony
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien
  • Be 17-35 years old
  • Be healthy and in good physical condition

One of the biggest factors in being healthy and good physical condition is your height in relation to you weight. You can not join the Army if you are over weight. You will need to meet the Army's weight standards before you can enlist.


Choose A Job (MOS)

A job in the Army is also called a MOS or Military Occupational specialty. This is another thing you will need to research before you talk to a recruiter. They can convince you that any job sounds great even if it is cleaning toilets.

It would be best if you could narrow your preferance for jobs down to 3-5 choices. But, at the least you need to narrow you choices down to a few different categories. You can find a list of every MOS in the Army at

The main categories of MOSs are as follows:

  • Adjutant General's Corps
  • Infantry
  • Corps of Engineers
  • Field Artillery
  • Air Defense Artillery
  • Aviation
  • Special Forces
  • Armor
  • Signal Corps
  • Ordnance Corps
  • Military Intelligence
  • Military Police Corps
  • Civil Affairs
  • Psychological Operations
  • Finance Corps
  • Functional Area
  • Quartermaster Corps
  • Medical Service Corps
  • Veterinary Corps
  • Chemical Corps
  • Transportation Corps

Meet You Recruiter

They will pre-screen you for the ASVAB, medical and basic qualifications. Do not lie to your recruiter about something that might prevent you from joining the Army. Disclose all medical conditions, disabilities and allergies. If you lie about something that is a dis-qualifier, there can be serious repercussions. Besides that, you will be wasting your and the recruiters time because when they find out you will not be able to join or will be kicked out if you have already joined when they discover it.

You will spend a lot of time with your recruiter filling out paperwork for the pre-screening process. If you do not qualify for enlistment due to a small factor like your age, number of children or a tattoo, your recruiter can try to get you a waiver to enlist. It is possible but takes a bit of time and work on your recruiters part to get it pushed through. So, make sure the recruiter is aware of anything like this before you head to MEPS.

Go to MEPS

Go to MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station). This is where you will jump through all kinds of hoops and get poked and prodded. While at MEPS you will undergo a urinalysis (drug test), medical exam, eye test, hearing test, weight check or body-fat measurement, security clearance interview, meeting with a job counselor, reviewing enlistment options and possible enlistment incentives and taking the enlistment oath. The last step while you are at MEPS is to sign your DEP contract. This is the Delayed Entry Program and it is basically an unofficial official contract. You will sign your official contract the day you actually leave for basic.

After a long day of obstacle courses.
After a long day of obstacle courses. | Source

Take the ASVAB

The Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery will determine if you can join the Army and which jobs you qualify for. This determines if you have the basic knowledge to enlist. Also, there are subcatagories that determine which jobs you are suited for. This test is very important if you don't want to get stuck with laundry duty as your job.

Your ASVAB results will be separated into "line scores." This is what different will determine if you qualify for different jobs. These line scores are made up of different subtests of the ASVAB. For a list of list of line score requirements by MOS, go to

Army Line Scores

CL - Clerical: VE+AR+MK

CO - Combat: AR+CS+AS+MC

EL - Electronics: GS+AR+MK+EI

FA - Field Artillery: AR+CS+MK+MC

GM - General Maintenance: GS+AS+MK+EI

GT - General Technical: VE+AR

MM - Mechanical Maintenance: NO+AS+MC+EI

OF - Operators and Food: VE+NO+AS+MC

SC - Surveillance and Communications: VE+AR+AS+MC

ST - Skilled Technical: GS+VE+MK+MC

ASVAB Sub-tests

General Science (GS)

Arithmetic Reasoning (AR)

Word Knowledge (WK)

Paragraph Comprehension (PC)

Numerical Operations (NO)

Coding Speed (CS)

Auto and Shop Information (AS)

Mathematics Knowledge (MK)

Mechanical Comprehension (MC)

Electronics Information (EI)

Sum of Word Knowledge and Paragraph Comprehension (VE).

Get in Shape and Form Good Habits

There is usually at least a few months between the time you sign your DEP contract and ship out for Basic. Use this time to prepare so that you are as ready as you can be by the time you arrive. Until your ship off date, you will spend time with your recruiters learning about basic Army stuff and getting into shape.

You can make it through Army Basic Training even if you are out of shape. However, it will be one less thing to deal with if you arrive in shape. Your best bet is to build some strength and stamina before you leave. Start running, hiking (with a backpack), and lifting some weights to strengthen your arms. If you are close to being overweight by the Army's standards, you need to take this time to drop some weight.

You need to get your body used to the hours it will be keeping once you are in basic. You really do not want to stay up until 2am and wake up at noon in the months before you leave for basic. You want to make the transition as easy as possible. To do this, I suggest going to bed around 9pm and waking up around 6am. During training your sleep will more likely be between 10pm and 4am. This is if you get lucky enough to not have any overnight duties.

Before you leave to ship out, please read the advice for new soldiers article.

Ship Out

Finally, you will come to your ship date, go back to MEPS, officially swear in, sign your official contract and leave for basic.

Congratulations on your decision to join the United States Army.

Being Successful in the Army

If you plan on becoming successful and getting promoted quickly in the Army, you need to know how the promotion point system works.


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