For several years, I was a soldier-medic in the U.S. Army. I saw countless military and family members. Now I am a veteran looking back.
Should I join the Army?
"Should I join the Army?"
This question has been answered hundreds of times on the internet by hundreds of veterans and service members, but this is the main question that people continuously ask. This makes sense because joining the army is a big decision. If it goes wrong then it can ruin your life but if things go right then it can save your life.
By default, the answer is easy: NO! Do not join the army! The Army sucks! It is a waste of time. You will hate every minute of it. You will be miserable. Do something, do anything else with your life. Just don’t join the Army!
Still reading? Then you know that life isn’t so simple. The answer is different for everyone. To find your answer, be honest with yourself and answer these simple questions...
(This article focuses on the US Army because that's the only branch I served in. However this information should apply to all branches of the military. Also, I'll refer to the service member as "he" to keep things simple but don't forget that women also serve our country.)
1. What do I want from the Army?
There are countless benefits the military offers its service members and their families. Then there are even more benefits the government offers once they are finished with their service. I can't even count them.
Also, what most civilians forget is that there are plenty of non-profit organizations out there offering their own benefits to service members and veterans. They do this for free.
Everyone is throwing money and admiration at you--all this for a few years of your life. These benefits (probably) aren’t going anywhere.
This is where the debate ends. This is the logic: Because the Army has lots of goodies, you should join so you can use them. This will make it easier to be successful and happier in life. Go Army!
Well, sure... but these benefits are worthless if you don’t use them. Even if you do use them you won’t know if they actually help you in life unless you ask yourself the next question...
2. What do I want in life?
I admit this is a big question but we all must address it at some point.
Regardless of age, many civilians who join the Army have no idea what they want in life. That’s perfectly fine. Once they become soldiers, an idea eventually comes together during their time in service. For others, opportunity knocks and they answer.
For the recruits who already finished college, a popular benefit is student loan repayment. For those who finished high school, the most popular one is most likely the Montgomery GI Bill. Then, it gets vague. What comes next? A job? Where? A small business? Doing what?
Take a couple minutes and daydream about what happens next. What do you want in life? How does the Army fit in? Does the Army fit in at all? While you answer this question, remember this: no matter how perfect your plan is, no matter how much you want it, life seldom turns out the way we expect.
If you can't think of anything that's fine. Just keep it in the back of your mind. In the meantime, the next question is...
3. Do I belong in the Army?
First, don't worry: although life in the military is very different from civilian life, nearly everyone fits it. The Army is full of great people, there's lots to do and... it's really hard to get out before your time is up. However, some people just don’t belong. For these folks, it's best to stay a civilian.
The assumption is that the recruiters will weed out those who don’t qualify to serve. Then, Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training will turn the trainee into the soldier he needs to be. This is all absolutely true.
However, any trainee can do fine in BCT and AIT because he is being micromanaged the entire time. Then after that he could easily be a complete mess as a soldier. This is rare but, as a medic, I’ve seen it plenty of times.
Will he be a square peg in a round hole? This is not about patriotism, nationalism or even character. None of that matters if he insists on drinking only bottled water or demands a paleo-vegan diet or whatever other reason. (I've never seen this but nothing surprises me these days)
To find out if a civilian belongs in the Army, there is only one question to ask:
4. Can I follow orders?
If a civilian cannot follow orders, he will always put himself and those around him at risk for disaster. He never belonged and never should have joined.
How about you? Can you follow orders? I'm not talking about bravery or heroism. I’m talking about the daily grind. Can you listen to someone explain something simply and repeatedly? Can you understand and remember it? Can you execute when you are told to?
Put it this way: can you stick with something that sucks every waking moment of every day? Can you wash/clean anything? Anything? Can you deal with heat, cold, wet, pain, repetition, stupidity and (worst of all) boredom?
Can the Army count on you? Can your supervisor and your team count on you? Can you follow orders?! If so, then the answer is "yes." Yes, you should join the Army. Serve your country then take what's yours!
Yes, the Army has free gyms on all its bases. But you won’t be able to use them if you spend every weekend picking up litter because you keep getting in trouble.
Your potential as a soldier is more important than the Army’s benefits. If you belong in the Army and do as you're told, then you'll be valuable to your country. You will be surprised by what you accomplish everyday. You will be proud of yourself for as long as you live.
All this will motivate you to achieve your personal goals during your time in service and afterwards. This is where the Army's benefits shine: once you will know what you want and are motivated to get it. Day by day, soldier or veteran, you will be the person you want to be.
Talk to your recruiter for information. Good luck!
Should you join the Army
Is it that simple? What do you think?
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on August 27, 2018:
My best friend from high school was two years younger than me. We are still very close friends. He wanted to join the army. He said he'd always wanted to join the army.
I told the dude a thousand times he shouldn't join the army. He joined the army.
Well, He's a Lieutenant Colonel now, and he makes a hell of a lot of money, and the army has paid for at least 3 masters degrees he has.
My advice, apparently, is best tossed in the waste bin.