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What To Expect From The Military Life
FRONT LEANING REST POSITION, MOVE!
This means to do push-ups and it is the very first thing you should expect from the Army from the first day of reception until your final day in the military, you will hear these words called out often. Eventually (hopefully) they won't be screamed at you, rather you'll be screaming them at your subordinates.
If you decide to join the military, you must first visit your local recruiting center. There they will probably tell you a bunch of slant-truths to convince you to join. My favorite ones were, "Living on post is just like living on a college campus" or "It's like a regular 8 to 5 job." If my college campus they mean you have to get up at 6:30 a.m. to workout (in the military it's referred to as P.T. - physical training), then I think the comparison is a bit skewed. I also never had a civilian job that sent me to the deserts of Egypt, Kuwait and Iraq!
Once you decide that Army life is the life for you (it's not just catchy, it's cadence), you must take the ASVAB. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is immensely important! Based on your test results, you will be offered a pool of jobs from which you must choose one. If you do well, you get to pick a job that you actually might be able to use in the civilian world after your discharge from the military. Good jobs, such as those in the information technology or satellite communications fields, also come with the added bonus of a security clearance paid for by the government. If you have a criminal record, you probably won't qualify for any job that requires a security clearance. It's important to qualify for a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) that offers a security clearance for a couple of big reasons: 1) It allows you to avoid crap work for the most part. Do you want to sit in a comfortable office all day pushing paper or monitoring computer networks or would you rather be sweating your butt off standing outside in 140 degree weather? 2) If you plan to use the military to transition to a similar civilian occupation, a security clearance is like gold. A Secret clearance, for example, costs around $25,000 (so I've heard) and takes months to process (as I remember). If you go to a civilian employer with your security clearance paperwork already in hand, you just may beat out the next candidate for the position because maybe he or she didn't possess a clearance. Study for the ASVAB!
When you finally sign all the paperwork, swearing to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic, you're then shipped off to reception. Reception is like purgatory. You may only be stuck there a few days but it seems like forever. Reception is the place where you get all your paperwork filled out, receive all your shots and various medical and dental evaluations, and are issued your uniforms. It's also the place where you won't get much sleep because it's you and 60+ other folks of the same sex crammed in a small room filled with bunk beds. Guard your underwear as these seem to be hot commodities which might have something to do with the fact that the laundry rooms, as I remember, had kinda sorta working washer and dryer for hundreds of people. Pack lots of underwear and socks and guard them with your life.
Finally, and by this point thankfully because of the purgatory-like hellaciousness that is reception, your drill sergeants come to claim you. They will scream at you and degrade you because, well, that's their job. I understand Army policies have gone into effect that denounce degradation of basic trainees, but don't count on that; drill sergeants are tricky and will find ways to get to you. Just remember, it's all a game. If you can remind yourself of that, you will be fine. Basic training lasts approximately 10 weeks. During this time you will eat more and sleep better than you ever have because you will be so busy. You will wake up early to work out (P.T.), you run everywhere, and your body will be pushed to its physical limits. If you put your all into it, though, you will be a lean, mean fightin' machine in no time. I remember going from being a drinking machine before the Army to a muscular specimen of a young woman in just a few weeks. If you can begin working out before you are shipped off to basic training, you will be much better off. Do push ups, sit ups and run. This is what the Army physical fitness will test you on, and you must pass these three events to the Army's standards in order to graduate basic training. I think the most important advice I can give to anyone in basic training is to just give it everything you have. Make it a fun experience. The comraderie you will gain with your fellow recruits will be an experience you will never forget. Furthermore, if you give it everything you have, the drill sergeants will not allow you to fail. They will help you to reach your goals. I know Hollywood portrays drill sergeants as these cold, unfeeling people, but, remember, they're people too. I remember I hurt my back pretty severely in basic training and had a tough time of it for awhile. Luckily I had good drill sergeants who encouraged me, and I also had a platoon full of fellow soldiers rooting for me. After you complete all basic training requirements, you will participate in a graduation ceremony. You then move on to the next phase.
If you're in a combat arms position, you will stay in your basic training unit longer to complete the next phase of Army training which is called Advanced Individual Training (AIT). For most other MOS's (jobs) you will head to another Army post to complete this training. The length of the training varies from a few weeks to many months. Most of the jobs requires a few months training. AIT is fun and easier so long as you keep your nose clean. When you arrive at your duty station, you will have as little rights and privileges as you did in basic training for the most part. In the following weeks and months, however, you will gain more rights as you continue to excel. The major requirements are that you pass the physical fitness tests, a room and uniform inspection and maintain good grades in class. AIT really is like college. Your weekends are usually free to do with how you please, and, after earning your privileges, you can then head off-post to go party at the local club. You will probably meet who you will think is the love of your life in AIT, but my biggest piece of advice to anyone at this phase is: DON'T GET MARRIED. I know it sounds crazy to marry someone you've only known a few weeks, but they do it ALL THE TIME. After successfully completing school and graduating AIT, you will then be shipped off to your permanent duty station.
At your permanent duty station you will mostly likely be assigned quarters in the barracks (think college dorm) to live in, if you're an unmarried soldier with no dependents. If you're married, you may be offered housing on post or given a monthly housing allowance to live off post. You will be assigned a meal card most likely if you're a soldier living in the barracks which you will use to eat in the dining facility (DFAC). If you're a married soldier and/or have dependents, you will receive separate rations which just means the Army pays you extra money every month. Don't get too excited; it equates to around $60 a week.
Life on your permanent duty station is mostly like an 8 to 5 job that you wake up earlier to workout for. You report to formations which is like a formal roll call. The first formation is usually at 6:30. Then you conduct physical training for an hour and have from 7:30-9:00 to conduct personal hygiene, eat, and do whatever else you need to. At 9:00 you may have another formation, but this is usually work call. Usually you work until 12:00 and then break for lunch until 1:00. After returning from lunch, you works until around 4:00 or 4:30 and then have another formation or are just let go for the day. It sounds nice, but the catch is...
You will deploy a lot. You will spend a lot of time in crappy, sandy places that you never wanted to see. It will be hot, and, if you're lucky, you will come back unscathed. Unfortunately this is not the case for many of our members of the military.
I deployed 3 times which equated to a grand total of 2 years and 2 months in my 6 years in the Army. This is expressly why I ended my military career. I was tired of spending my prime overseas and away from my family. I was lucky to be one of the few who "had it good" (as they say), but I now suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from all the loud noises from car bombs, suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices on the sides of the roads. I can honestly say that I had it good over there, and I cannot imagine how the guys and gals who have it bad can make it while they're there and then function normally when they come back. Personally I'm dealing with panic disorder and PTSD nightmares, for which I'm thankfully receiving the treatment I need.
My one piece of overall advice that I urge anyone considering a career in the military to heed is do your research before you sign the dotted line. Do your research and do it well. Make sure you're as educated about the process as you can be before you head into the recruiter's office because, if you've never been in it, the military world is unlike pretty much anything else you will experience in your lifetime. Don't be caught offguard!