The Army is the largest U.S. military branch, with more than 470,000 active duty soldiers serving currently. To serve in the Army requires a commitment of at least four years of active duty and rigorous training. If you’re interested in a career with structure, strong community, and physicality, becoming a soldier in the Army might be for you.
Deciding to join the Army is a big decision, considering the time commitment and the possible danger you could face. We’ll break down how to enlist, the training process, and what to expect in your day-to-day life as a soldier to help you decide whether or not to join the Army.
How To Enlist
To enlist in the Army, you must go through a five-step process. This process is made easier by the help of a recruiter, who walks you through the five steps and ensures you’re on the right path. Before you can enlist in the Army, though, there are a few eligibility requirements that you need to meet.
Eligibility and Requirements
To join the Army, you must meet specific requirements. You must maintain physical, mental, and emotional health throughout your service and exact height and weight restrictions that vary by age and gender. You aren’t required to meet any physical fitness before joining the Army, but everyone must pass the Army’s fitness test after joining.
You must be at least seventeen years old to join the Army. To be an enlisted soldier, you need a high school degree or equivalent to join. Officers need a college degree once commissioned. Before you join the Army, you must take the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) and meet a minimum score to enlist.
As someone interested in enlisting in the Army, you are expected to follow and uphold the Army’s code of conduct. These include the Army’s seven values:
- Selfless Service
- Personal Courage
All candidates interested in enlisting must be a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident with a valid Green Card.
The Army does have a waiver process if you can’t meet all the requirements. This process is an opportunity to prove that you have overcome the disqualifying issue preventing you from joining the Army.
Now that we’ve gone over the requirements you must meet to join the Army let’s break down the five steps of the enlistment process.
The Five Steps of Enlistment
The five steps of enlistment are:
- Speak with a recruiter
- Take a placement exam
- Complete a physical exam
- Find an Army job
- Sign a contract
Speak with a Recruiter
Speaking with a recruiter is an opportunity to discuss whether or not joining the Army is the right choice for you. The recruiter has gone through this process and will give you a clear idea of what to expect. They are there to help you define your goals and guide you in the right direction.
Take a Placement Exam
Once you’ve met with the recruiter and decided to join the Army, you must take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). The recruiter you’re working with will schedule the test when you’re ready. The ASVAB has two scores, the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), which determines whether or not you’re eligible to join the Army, and the ASVAB category score, which determines job opportunities based on your strengths. You must receive at least a 31 on your AFQT score to enlist.
Complete a Physical Exam
The recruiter will help you get an appointment at the nearest Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) for your physical exam. Your physical ability to serve, as well as your mental aptitude and moral qualifications to join the Army, will be evaluated. The physical exam is a one to two-day process that includes the medical and physical evaluation and the ASVAB if you haven’t already taken it.
Find an Army Job
The score on the ASVAB is a deciding factor in which Army job is best for you. There are over 200 job opportunities in the Army, such as combat engineer, culinary specialist, or parachute rigger, to name a few. You will be assigned a career counselor to help you choose a job.
Sign a Contract
The final step in enlisting is to get sworn into the Army by taking the Oath of Enlistment. The Oath of Enlistment is a pledge to defend the constitution throughout your military career.
There are other ways to enlist in the Army, such as attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Students receive four years of fully funded college education if accepted into West Point. Once graduated, students are guaranteed employment as active-duty commissioned officers and are by law required to serve in the Army for five years.
If you decide to enlist through the five-step process, you are required to attend Basic Combat Training to complete the process of becoming a soldier.
Before becoming a soldier, you must complete Basic Combat Training, called “boot camp.” The goal of “boot camp” is to introduce you to the expectations of the Army and create a strong foundation for the rest of your experience as a soldier.
The training is ten weeks long and broken down into four phases.
Yellow Phase (Weeks 1-2)
The first phase of basic training is the Yellow Phase. This phase focuses on discipline, teamwork, and traditions. It’s also an opportunity to start adapting to the Army’s lifestyle and learn more about the programs that the Army offers.
You will begin physical and tactical military training in the Yellow Phase. You will also learn life-saving skills for combat.
Red Phase (Weeks 3-4)
In this phase, you will begin training with your assigned weapon and learn hand-to-hand combat skills. You will also start training on the obstacle course, designed to build confidence and teamwork.
White Phase (Weeks 5-7)
In the White Phase, you will begin training with your rifle and mastering how to work effectively with your team. You will learn the rifle basics and show your skills and understanding of basic rifle marksmanship, maintenance, and target engagement. You’ll continue your combat development and learn hand-to-hand training and how to prioritize multiple targets. In the White Phase, you will complete a two-day and two-night field training exercise known as The Anvil.
Blue Phase (Weeks 8-10)
During the last phase of your basic training, you will refine and apply everything you’ve learned and complete your final rite of passage from civilian to soldier. You will learn advanced weaponry and start to handle weapons like machine guns and grenades. You’ll continue to advance your marksmanship and maneuvering. And finally, you’ll carry out a multiple-day land navigation course to test your survival, fitness, and soldier skills.
The ten-week basic training aims to push you to become the best version of yourself and help you develop mentally and physically. The training process may sound overwhelming, but your drill sergeants are there to build you up and help you find your inner strength. They will teach you how to succeed in the Army and your day-to-day life.
Here is the schedule of a soldier in Basic Combat Training:
- 4:30 am: Wake up
- 5:00 am: Be washed up and in formation
- 5:30 am: Physical training
- 7:00 am: Breakfast
- 8:00 am: Train with your Drill Sergeant
- 12:00 pm: Lunch
- 12:30 pm: Additional Training
- 5:00 pm: Dinner
- 5:30 pm: Clean the barracks, then enjoy personal time
- 9:00 pm: Lights Out
If being an active duty soldier, meaning a full-time soldier that must live near or on the base, sounds like too much commitment, you can join the Army Reserve or the Army National Guard. The Army Reserve trains part-time while pursuing a civilian job or education and supports the active duty Army when needed. The Army National Guard serves part-time and protects the community during emergencies.
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Day in the Life of a Soldier
The exciting thing about being a soldier is that everybody’s day looks different. Some soldiers have more structured days and work more traditional nine to five hours, while others’ schedules fluctuate from day to day.
Depending on your rank, job, and whether or not you’re currently attending university, your day can look vastly different to your fellow soldier. The Army has many opportunities to pursue your interests and help you develop as a soldier and for civilian life.
Demand for Soldiers
With a job like being an active-duty soldier, a lot of the job outlook depends on current conflicts and global events, which could cause changes in the size of different military branches. The U.S. expects to maintain Army Reserve, Army National Guard, and Air National Guard personnel.
How Much Do Soldiers Make?
As an active-duty, full-time soldier, you will receive a regular salary like any other job. You could also get up to a $50,000 signing bonus when joining the Army.
Your salary will vary depending on your role in the Army. As a full-time Private with less than two years of experience, you will make a little over $23,000 yearly. You’ll make just over $4,000 annually if you enlist as a part-time soldier. The salaries increase as you climb the ranks and how many years you have served.
What you don’t receive in your salary is often more than made up for in the benefits you receive as an enlisted soldier.
What Benefits Do Soldiers Receive?
Many people consider joining the Army due to the great benefits you receive as a soldier.
Some of which are:
- High-quality, low or no-cost healthcare
- Better rates on home loans
- Retirement and pension plan options
- 30 days paid time off yearly
- Paid Parental Leave (12 weeks)
- Travel discounts
- Up to full college tuition covered by the GI Bill
- 1,500 advanced training certifications and credentials
Your benefits depend on whether you’re a full-time or part-time soldier. Let’s look at what some of these benefits will offer an enlisted soldier.
Full-time soldiers pay $0 out of pocket for healthcare, while part-time soldiers pay low monthly costs. Families of soldiers also have access to the same healthcare plans as soldiers, with the exact low or no-cost pricing.
The Veterans Affairs (VA) Home Loan federal programs help soldiers and veterans get better terms and benefits when purchasing a home. You could receive a down payment on a house for as low as $0. The VA also guarantees to pay for a portion of the loan. Not only that, but you’ll receive lower interest rates and monthly payments.
When you join the Army, you automatically enroll in the blended retirement system (BRS), which offers a 401 (k)-type retirement savings account. The plan puts a percentage of every paycheck into your retirement account, with up to 5% of your contributions matched by the government.
The GI Bill assists soldiers in paying for college, graduate school, training, certifications, and more to support their career goals in and after the Army. To qualify for the GI Bill, you must serve for at least three years to get its full benefits. You will receive various benefits depending on whether you’re on active duty or part-time and how long you have served.
As an active-duty soldier, you’ll have access to training for jobs in science, intelligence, combat, aviation, engineering, and law. The Army offers 1,500 advanced training certifications and credentials. Army COOL (Credentialing Opportunities On-Line) helps soldiers find and pay for certificates like Adobe Certified Expert or Certified Fitness Trainer to become a highly sought-after candidate in the Army or as a civilian later.
As a soldier, you can save money on groceries, shopping, car and auto repair, banking, entertainment, and legal services offered on the base. You also receive off-base savings, such as discounts on cell phone plans, hotels and resorts, car rentals, concerts, movies, and entertainment.
Pros and Cons
Enlisting as a soldier is a hands-on occupation and can be very fulfilling. It is important to reflect on the time commitment and the demands that being a soldier requires. Let’s break down the pros and cons of joining the Army:
- Sense of duty
- Education and training assistance
- Opportunity to travel
- Extensive benefits
- Physically and mentally demanding
- Can be dangerous
- Away from loved ones
- Big Commitment
These are the factors that you should consider when making your decision. If what intrigues you about joining the Army is having a sense of duty and selfless service, but you don’t want to be away from loved ones, you may want to consider looking into becoming a police officer.
Final Thoughts: How To Join The Army
Joining the Army provides good benefits, career and education opportunities, and the chance to serve your country. You’ll have the chance to be physically active and mentally challenged while growing a strong sense of community and pursuing goals outside of being a soldier.
If your core values align with the Army’s and you’re ready to commit to selfless service, joining the Army is your right career path.
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