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Seeking People to Serve Their Country

It's hard to deny that these are troubled times. Brave women and men are in high demand to defend their country and preserve peace around the world.

"The way the world is now, with the increased recognition of global security and domestic security, we're expanding," says Captain Holly Brown, a military public affairs officer.

"To take on the missions that we've been given over the past decade, it's difficult to accomplish with the numbers we have, so the government has made it a priority to expand the forces," she says.

People join the military for many reasons.

"Service to country, learning a skill, and gaining money for education are usually the top three reasons," says Douglas Smith. He's a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

"There are other aspects, such as physical challenge and the chance to travel," Smith adds. "In the current climate we're in, service to country is an obvious point."

In a survey of potential recruits, "career opportunities" was identified as the most common draw to the military. "The next one is challenging work and pride in the job -- they want to do something they can be proud of," Brown says.

"And you can't underestimate the patriotism of youth," she adds.

The Drive for Recruits

Military recruiters are trying harder than ever -- and succeeding -- to get talented and qualified young people to join their ranks. The service offers steady work, great pay and a paid education to boot.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Defense recruits about 300,000 service members.

Recruiters don't just go out and sign people up on the street. They have precise goals and budgets allotted for recruiting.

The military has started taking a marketing approach to recruiting because of the strong competition from the private sector.

Master Sgt. Juan C. Demiranda is an account executive for enlisted programs at the Air Force Recruiting Service. "[The Air Force] achieves public awareness by targeting its market through the use of NASCAR...and television advertising," he says. "For recruiting marketing, we utilize television, online, radio, magazine,, college newspapers and trade journals.

"We've also focused recent efforts toward recruiting minorities so that the Air Force more accurately reflects the people it serves. Special emphasis is placed on Hispanic and African-American recruitment within the 18 to 24 target age."

Incentives to Join

The armed forces are offering huge incentives, such as signing bonuses and education packages. This is in addition to the standard benefits available, such as vacation pay, job advancement and health insurance.

"The incentives are better than ever," says Smith.

Brown agrees. "There has never been a better time to join the forces, in terms of pay and job opportunities," she says.

If you have specialized skills in certain high-demand specialties, you can get cash bonuses totaling $40,000 for an enlistment in the U.S. Army of four or more years.

A few examples of high-demand specialties are fire support specialist, satellite communications system operator-maintainer, and petroleum supply specialist.

But even those lacking such specialized training may be eligible for thousands of dollars in incentives and bonuses. For example, high school seniors may be eligible for a $1,000 bonus, and those with civilian skills that the army needs and who enlist for three or more years may be eligible for a $5,000 bonus.

There is also a student loan repayment program with a maximum of $65,000 for those who enlist for at least three years.

What They Want

"With more than 150 job descriptions to choose from, pretty much anything you find in civilian life is reflected in the army -- everything from journalist to medical skills to military police," says Smith.

"Every job that it takes to run a small town is what it takes to run the military," Brown says. "We have something for just about everybody."

Smith says misconceptions keep a lot of people away from a military career. Many pass on the opportunity due to "fear of basic training or fear that being in the army is like basic training all the time," Smith says.

"Another misconception is that all soldiers are in the combat arms. There are lots of other job areas, such as band, medical, administrative -- there are lots of mechanical and electronics sorts of (jobs) as well."

To join the military, you aren't required to have a degree in hand, but it does help.

Here are the basic enlistment qualifications for the U.S. Army:

  • U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident
  • 17 to 42 years of age
  • Healthy and fit
  • In good moral standing
  • High school diploma or equivalent

Smith says that those who have at least a high school diploma and score on the top half of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) have more opportunities in the U.S. military. And college graduates might be eligible for consideration as officers.

"The beauty is you don't have to have skills to join the military. We will train you," says Brown. "If you want to be a doctor, for example, we will subsidize your education.

"We're more focused on jobs than careers, because people change jobs several times over the span of their careers," says Brown. "We're trying to dispel the myth that it's a lifetime commitment. Try it for a few years, and if you like it, you're welcome to stay."

Get the latest news on the U.S. forces

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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.