A first step in exploring a military career is to determine which branch suits you best: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or U.S. Coast Guard. Talk to family members and friends to see if they have served or know someone who has served in the military. Create a list of questions and schedule a time to speak with them about their experience. Find out as much as you can about what they appreciated and learned from most and what they found to be most challenging. It's important to know all of the pros and cons because you will be signing a contract to serve for a number of years; you must be sure this is a commitment you can fulfill.
Other ways to explore include visiting the Web sites of the various military branches to learn more about the services they provide, the requirements to join, and the types of specialties that may interest you. Attend public events such as air shows, where you may have opportunities to speak with military officers and personnel about their work and what got them interested in joining the military. You may also want to speak with recruiters from different military branches to learn more about what they can offer you and what is required.
The general structure of the military is pyramidal, with the president of the United States acting as the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces. The president's responsibilities include appointing top military officers and maintaining the nation's military strength.
The Secretary of Defense is an appointed position usually awarded to a civilian. He or she is a member of the president's cabinet, presiding over the Department of Defense and directing the operations of all military branches. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, which consists of the senior commanders of the different services, work with the Secretary of Defense to advise the president on military matters.
Together under the auspices of the Department of Defense, the individual services—the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard—comprise the armed forces.
The Army is the senior service. It is traditionally known as the branch that fights on land. The Navy, more than any of the other services, has a special way of life. Its officers and enlisted people work and live together at sea for long periods, which is a lifestyle that demands close attention to duties and teamwork.
The Air Force, the newest of all the services, is highly technical and appeals to those interested in aviation and mechanical trades. The Marines operate on land and sea, and they usually form the advance troops in military operations. The Corps is closely associated with the Navy, and like the Navy, prides itself on meeting the highest possible standards in training, military bearing, and discipline.
Apart from more military duties, Marines provide security on Navy property and guard U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. The Coast Guard is the smallest of the military services, and, as such, offers unique opportunities. It is responsible largely for the enforcement of maritime law, but is perhaps most well known for its involvement in search and rescue efforts, aiding those in distress at sea. In 2003, the Coast Guard became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Since then, members of the Coast Guard have been tasked with protecting the United States from terrorist attacks and the delivery of terrorist weapons via our nation’s waterways. Although opportunities exist for overseas assignments, most duties in the Coast Guard are related to the waters and shores of the United States.
Military workers fall under two broad occupational categories: enlisted personnel and officers. Enlisted personnel execute the daily operations of the military and are considered non-commissioned officers. Officers function as managers of the military, overseeing the work of the enlisted personnel.
Military officers jobs vary depending on the occupation in which they work. Their responsibilities may include planning, organizing, and leading activities and troops in military occupations. They manage military personnel, and they may operate and command ships, aircraft, and armored vehicles. In other occupations they provide medical, legal, engineering, and other services to military personnel.
There are many different types of officers. Combat specialty officers plan, direct, and oversee military operations. Engineering, science, and technical officers may be atmospheric scientists, social scientists, attorneys, or other types of specialists who contribute their expertise to military activities and personnel. There are health care officers, including doctors and nurses, and human resource development officers, who manage the recruitment, placement, and training programs. Media and public affairs officers manage and develop relationships with media outlets and plan and promote events for the public. Protective services officers protect individuals and property on military bases and vessels. Emergency management officers are responsible for planning and preparing for all types of disasters. Support services officers work in the areas of logistics, transportation, and supply. Transportation officers operate or command an aircraft or ship, and are responsible for safely transporting military personnel and equipment.
Officers' titles vary depending on the military branch. There are commissioned officers in all branches and warrant officers in all except the Air Force. Commissioned officers are the highest rank of officers with the highest levels of authority; they are the managers in the military services. In most military branches, they include: 2nd Lieutenant or Ensign, 1st Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Lieutenant Colonel or Commander, Colonel or Captain, Brigadier General, Major General or Rear Admiral, Lieutenant General or Vice Admiral, and General or Admiral.
Enlisted soldiers or civilians who demonstrate technical and tactical ability in any one of several dozen occupational specialties may qualify as a warrant officer. Warrant officers have highly specialized training and gain additional expertise by operating, maintaining, and managing the services' equipment, support activities, or technical systems throughout their careers. Specialties include, but are not limited to, missile systems, military intelligence, telecommunications, legal administration, and personnel.
Most members of the armed forces live and work at military bases located around the world. The armed forces require strict discipline from all personnel. Special military laws must be followed, and military officers and workers must wear uniforms while on duty. Those who choose to work in the armed forces can expect to move many times and also live apart from their families during their careers. Life in the military is demanding, but it does have many rewards.