By MordeaniisChaos 4 Comments
Just how many ways are there to join?
Kind of a lot, actually. There's ROTC, or Reserve Officers' Training Corps, West Point, Annapolis, Officer Candidate School, and more for those who want to be Officers. You can become Reservists, or Guardspeople. Or you can do what I do, and go the Enlisted Route, specifically through the Delayed Entry Program. This basically gives me a year to delay my enlistment to see to it that I meet any enlistment requirements such as having a high school diploma, being old enough to attend Basic Training (or having consent to attend under the age of 18), and meeting basic fitness requirements.
And even within those options there are more paths to choose. While I can give you a basic idea of what the beginnings of those basic paths are, I can only really speak in detail about the path I chose, the Delayed Entry program for the United States Marine Corps.
The first step is to contact a recruiter. A good place to start is by looking for a recruiting office nearby. Depending on the branch it may be off on it's own, or there may be several branches operating out of the same space. If you can't find that, the next step would be to go online to the service's website, and look for a way to contact a recruiter on the site. That's how my recruiter got in contact with me, I put my information into the Marine Corps site, and within a few days I got a call from a Staff Sergeant at the local recruiting office.
When meeting with a recruiter, they will help you decide if their branch of the military is right for you, what you want to do in the military, stuff like that. At first it'll be the basics, you'll fill out some paperwork, etc. Assuming you decide to continue down that path, you will likely meet a couple more times to figure out the details. For example, for enlisted Marines, there are different ways you can break out your commitment to the Corps. In some cases, you can get a 2 year enlistment, but generally you have a 4-8 year commitment, although if this is your first time, you're in for 8 years. Those 4-8 years can be broken out in different ways. The most common from what I can tell is 4 years of Active Duty (You need at least 3 full years of Active Duty, not including training, to receive the maximum benefit of the post 9/11 GI BILL) and then 4 years of reserves. Active Duty means deployments. You are a full time marine. Reserves has different meanings depending on where you are and who you are, but isn't much of a commitment. You will be required to put in some hours, but you will be able to have a life, job, etc. Assuming World War 3 doesn't happen or anything like that. You will also get benefits from being in the reserves. You may also be in Inactive Reserves, which is basically just the "If we need you we'll call" bit, but this doesn't keep you immune from being placed on Active Reserve.
Around the same time, you'll also have to take the ASVAP test, which is a general aptitude exam that tests your basic math, reading, mechanical, and electrical knowledge. Those last two might sound intimidating if you don't spend a lot of time fixing circuits and working on cars, but it's actually very simple. I was worried about it, but I aced the whole thing. It's all pretty basic stuff, most of the electrical stuff I had learned back in 4th grade, and the mechancial stuff was real easy having grown up around (but not sharing much interest with) motorheads. I expected to do terribly at both but I very nearly got a perfect score. So don't worry about it.
After you've got that stuff all sorted out and decided, you'll need to put some thought into what field you want to join. Keep in mind that you cannot always get the job you want, and sometimes you'll just do what the Corps needs you to do. Your scores at the ASVAP, as well as some of the tests you'll go through at MEPS will decide what jobs are available to you. Generally the ASVAP is the real barrier, but you can't be a sniper without excellent vision, for example. The higher your ASVAP, the more that'll be available to you. I scored very high, so I had pretty much every option in the book. I went with tanks because, hell, if I'm going to join the military, I mind as well go for the biggest baddest ass thing I can. Whatever it is though, make sure it's what you want to do. And remember within every field there is usually a good bit variety. Find a couple that you really like the sound of, talk to your recruiter about them, and figure out which ones you are able to try for. You may not get your first choice but one thing's for sure, they'll find you something to do.
A cautionary tale.
The Delayed Entry program is designed mostly for students looking to graduate either community college or, in my case, high school and leave for training as it becomes available. There are a number of benefits to this path. For one, it gives you a great support system for preparing for basic. You and like-minded individuals will train together, and learn together as you march towards the ultimate goal of graduation and entry into Basic Training.
But there are risks involved. As a troubled student myself, I had a lot of problems in the past with academics. I'm a bright kid, I don't mean to brag, but I'm very intelligent. I tend to be the first person done with tests, and very very rarely fail them. With one exception, I am generally pretty capable of most everything high school teachers could through at me. Well actually two, the second being physics. I always thought I had it down then come test day, F's all through the semester. It wasn't pretty. But the real weakness I have is homework. I have no drive, no discipline when it comes to most homework. I hate it. I think it's useless for me to prove what I've already proved. Other than major projects that actually had me learning new things, which I usually applied myself to with enthusiasm, I just was shit at getting my homework done. As a result, I was pretty lacking in credits. I had a plan all set out for the next year, but then everything that could possibly have gone wrong, went wrong. I suffered from severe insomnia, some anxiety, and panic attacks, for about a semester. I am not prone to these things, they just kind of sneaked up on me. It was difficult enough dealing with that, but it the real issue was that it kind of crippled my ability to earn credits.
But here comes a new semester, and I'm recovering. Getting back to a healthy sleep schedule (which is to say that I was actually sleeping for once), weaning off of my meds, all that good shit. I had realized that going back to high school proper was useless, so I looked into starting Running Start, which is a program that allows high school students to get credits through a community college, taking college classes, and earning credits at the college as well. I got everything set up for me to join in the winter. I had my classes picked out, and was excited at the prospect of not spending 6 hours a day every day being bored out of my mind. And of course, I get sick. There was a nasty something or other passing through the school, and I caught it, right at the beginning of the fuckin' quarter. I tried to keep going to school but eventually had to give in and try to get to at least a point where I could get back to school. I ended up missing so much class so early I had to drop my art class, but fortunately managed to cling on to my other classes. Barely. Once I got better and got back into things, I worked hard to get caught up, as much as I could, but this is college, and the instructors tend not to go for that kind of thing. I got caught up a bit, but it'd still be an uphill battle to pass either of my classes. I passed neither. And mostly that was my own fault. Once again, my lack of discipline got me in the ass.
At this point, things weren't looking great. I was very behind on credits, and time wasn't exactly unlimited. I knew the next quarter HAD to go better, and even with that, I'd have to spend a lot of money and time that summer into retrieving every last credit I could. I actually had a pretty good quarter that spring though, I passed my classes, managed to get the credits, and was definitely feeling a little more driven to get shit done.
Over the summer I started taking classes through Brigham Young University's independent study program, which lets you get high school credits through online courses. All you do is complete the course, mail or email your work, take a final exam, and bam, done. They cost you though, about 140 a piece, which isn't an easy price to swallow when you need about 6 credits to graduate, don't have a job, and come from a family already struggling thanks to a father in jail and a sick grandmother left to pick up the slack. The classes were easy enough, and I was able to get most of them done in days. Pretty quickly, money became an issue, but I managed to get some more and was down 3 less credits.
You'd think the universe would be done toying with me at that point. Turns out, not so much. My father had come home from jail early in summer, after his year of jail and rehab. We never got along. He was a drunken prick who had a tendency to fuck things up for me and my siblings, and sure enough, come June, he decides to take it to the next level. I won't get into details, but he loses his temper, throws some shit, shoved some people (including my grandmother who was still not in the best of health, and fairly weak), and ended up in a fight with my little brother. And of course, me being my silly self, tried to pull my father off of my brother. I end up having to bring my fist down on the top of his head to get him off of my brother. Turns out that's against the law. More so than abusing your children and picking a fight with a sick old lady and your 13 year old , so I spent the rest of my summer dealing with court, trying to get it to go as quickly as I could, as my date for Boot Camp came and went. All because I had to defend my little brother from my asshole father. If you can't tell, I'm a bit bitter. It wasted months of my time that should have been spent on me getting back those credits that I needed, but I was too busy having to drive two hours just to get to court, only to have my name called, sign a paper, and leave.
And even now, I'm struggling with problems. I'm going to be going back to good ol' highschool in january, but there's just one problem. My old school is trying to charge me a little over $500 because the drivers ed folks fucked me over.
Now, I know that just seems like a rant of all the bullshit I had to go through, poor me, blah blah blah. And to an extent, yeah, it kind of is. But I wanted to drive home a couple of points in particular.
First of all, BE PREPARED. Don't get into this thinking "Oh this'll be easy!" Because shit fucks up. Some years just aren't great. And if the universe picks your year to fuck up, you have to be ready to meet it head on, with intensity. You have to be able to get shit done, on your own. You cannot expect your parents or your recruiter to do everything for you. You are responsible for you graduating or doing whatever it is that you need to do to be able to join whatever branch you chose.
EXPECT THINGS TO GO WRONG. Even if you aren't in the Delayed Entry Program, you're not going to be leaving for bootcamp tomorrow. I don't know about other branches, but apparently the wait for Boot Camp if you enlist normally can be almost as long as it is for those in DEP. That's what the recruiters at the local office said. 5-9 months is common. So you have plenty of time to fuck things up, or to have things fuck up. You might break a limb, your back might go out for a couple of weeks, a parent might end up in the hospital, who knows. Things happen, and they get in the way. If you're lucky, it won't hold you back much, but if you're already struggling with something like fitness requirements, a couple of weeks on your ass can be pretty detrimental. So expect shit to go wrong at the worst possible time. It'll be good practice for what the Drill Instructors have waiting for you.
DO NOT GIVE IN. Under no circumstances should you think "ah fuck it, I'm not going to be able to do this." Because truth is, it's not that hard. If you have the time and ability, you can probably get just about all the credits you could ever need to graduate highschool in a years time. It's not hard to go from 15 pushups to sets of 30, or to go from 30 crunches in 2 minutes to 110. It's not hard to get a mile in 5 minutes. As long as you apply constant pressure. When you're at basic, you will constantly be active and doing something. You may not be running, you may not be trippin' and droppin' and hoppin' trying to follow impossibly fast orders from the Drill Instructors, but you will be doing something. Get used to that early, and keep applying yourself. Don't stop because you hit that imaginary wall. Get your ass over it, consume the wonderful elixir of confidence, and get that shit done. If you believe in joining, you can do it. If you know it's what you need to do, then do it. Achieve it at whatever cost. I am still determined to join the Corps. And if I don't do it through DEP, I'll do it another way.
Next up I'll talk about getting ready for Basic. It's more than just push-ups folks!