Reader Q&A: Military Career? Yay or Nay?

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Military Career? Yay or Nay?

Reader Q&A: Military Career? Yay or Nay? |

There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. Many of you are part of military families. Thank you for that service to our country and to our world. Life as MOM readers are multi-national, so I know not all of you are serving my nation directly. Regardless, thank you.

While there is much horror and error possible when it comes to war, I believe that military force is a valuable and necessary defense against the crazies in this world. At least until Jesus comes back and brings peace. I appreciate and respect the sacrifices that your family has made and is making.

I also have a son who desires to make his career in the military, specifically US Army Special Forces. Be still, my shaking, mother’s heart. As a protection/deterrent/distraction/delay, I’ve insisted that he must have a college degree. Because honestly? It’s easier to let that military force be someone not related to me.

This dream of his? It scares the crap out of me.

But, I’m all about fulfilling your dreams, right? So, how can I not help him pursue this?

So, I put the questions to you, military women, moms, wives, sisters and all you military men reading as well — all one of you 😉

Would you do it again?

What do you love about it?

What do you hate about the military life?

What advice do you have for a 14-year old boy with these aspirations?

reader_qaHave you got a question you’d like Life as MOM readers to answer? They’re a crackerjack bunch of smart people!

Submit your question here. I’ll post it for others to offer input. We can solve all kinds of problems together.

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  1. My husband and I were both active duty military many moons ago. I’m sure a lot of things have changed since then…and I’m sure a lot of things haven’t. It is terrifying to consider our children doing that, isn’t it? My attitude was completely different when I signed up at the ripe old age of 18.

    For my experience, the military is definitely a “what you make of it” experience. There were a lot of opportunities I missed because I was young and not very bright. Free medical school? Yeah…golly, if I had known then what I know now. Still, I’m happy with where my life has gone.

    The best advice I can give you and your son is to DEFINITELY go to college first. That will determine whether or not he starts out as enlisted personnel or as an officer. He should study thoroughly whatever field he is most interested in. Construction? Electronics? Medicine? Engineering? Navigation? Whatever it may be, the Special Forces in particular need men who are experts in those fields. (and for mama’s sake.. if he decides later that he really loves medicine or architecture or whatever, he may just decide to do that instead) He should study all of the outdoorsy survival skills he can. Physical fitness is incredibly important too. Healthy eating, exercise, all of the things that we want our kids to do are important to the armed forces. My own son who is about that age is very active in Boy Scouts. That is something else to consider, if you are willing. It is a good introduction to fitness, leadership roles, accountability, etc outside of the mom and dad expectations.
    On another (slightly negative?) note, the Special Forces are hard to get into. They only take a few of the many applicants, like a rock band or a professional ball team, so its important that he have a backup plan. Career options to go for if it doesn’t work out. These are all things that mom and dad already know, but the boys probably haven’t considered.

    Good luck to you mama! The military was a fantastic experience for me personally. At 18, I wasn’t mature enough to make important decisions on my own. I had no clue what I wanted to be when I “grew up”. No clue what I wanted to study in college. Our family situation was such that I would have had to work and pay my own way through school. The military gave me a few years of closely supervised independence to learn and grow and figure out some of those things.

  2. Here are a few comments and thoughts from a military mom. Our son spent all 4 years of high school in ROTC, so he had a tiny taste of what he was getting into. He enlisted after a semester of college at 19. I think the recruiter was a bit less than honest about career and college opportunities . He had always wanted to be a pilot and is now a helicopter pilot. He has an amazing supportive wife. Deployments have been really, really tough for our granddaughter, which makes it harder for her parents and the rest of us. I know wife and kids aren’t a concern at 14, but something to think about with career choices. He has strong faith and knows the power of prayer—important to any life, I think. We are very proud of him!

  3. My son just finished Air Force boot camp in january and is now in tech school. It was very nerve wracking and scary for me but he loves the field he is in and will get a great education fully paid for. This is a kid that was a total mama’s boy and homebody who has completly florished and is actually able to take care of himself 🙂

  4. I am a military daughter, wife and mother. My father was in the Air force, but before I was born. In the Reserves thereafter. My husband was a Marine when we married. Was only in active duty 2 more years, then again Reserves. My son served with the 82nd Airborne. He had two tours in Iraq in his first four years. I used to dread hearing the radio, but I couldn’t turn it off. He also has spent time in Kosovo and South Korea, after leaving the 82nd. He is in the National Guard now. It is frightening when they are in a war zone, I will admit that. There were days I was extremely anxious. Am I proud of the history of my family in the military? Very. It makes me feel that my family has done something to deserve the freedoms we all enjoy.

    I believe that part of being a parent is showing our children what is in store for them. My son was able to talk to “normal” military men – father, uncles, etc. My biggest recommendation would be that you assist him in finding someone that has been in the military, not a recruiter, and request that he be able to sit down with this individual and really find out what life as a soldier is really like. More than one person would be better, and more than one conversation. This should be a conversation just between the two of them so your son can find out the day-to-day issues with being in the military. You cannot really “job shadow” a soldier – so this is the next best thing, in my opinion.

  5. My husband is active duty Army and I have numerous uncles & cousins that have served or are currently serving in the military. What do I love about being married to the military? The bonds that military members & their families make with other military families are some of the strongest I’ve ever seen. Most military bases have fantastic communities, schools, and resources. What do I dislike? Never knowing ANYTHING until the very last minute. The military is in charge of our lives and there’s nothing we can do about it. Someone once told me to “write everything on the calendar in pencil because it will always change” and that’s the truth! This life requires an inner strength and flexibility that not everyone has.

    Previous posters are exactly right with their advice for your son to talk to others who have served recently–and talk to plenty of people from all branches and backgrounds! As with any path in life, no two people have the same experience, so talking to many people should give him lots of information to base his decisions on.

    As far as the comments about college, he needs to do what’s right for himself. Yes, if he gets a 4-year degree first, he will have the option to go straight to Officer Candidate School. However, four years of college isn’t right for everyone, especially when they are so young. Also, can he afford to pay for a 4-year degree? Service in the military will pay for his college education–if he is in school after he gets out of the military, he will even get a housing allowance while he’s enrolled in classes.

    I agree that Special Forces is very, very difficult to get in to. He will need to be very athletic, very smart, very driven and very disciplined. Even if he meets all of the requirements, there’s usually a long wait list because they can only allow a limited number in at a time.

    Finally, you said he’s only 14 but he needs to think long-term just a bit. Service members are gone quite a bit. Those in Special Forces are gone even more. This makes it hard to hang out with friends & family or even date. Time doesn’t stop when you are deployed or away at training–people go on with their lives and that’s a hard adjustment to come back to. My husband missed nearly all of our daughter’s 3rd and 5th years of life, which meant he left a toddler and came back to a preschooler once and left a preschooler and came back to a child that could read, write, and hold her own in an argument with him 🙂

    Good luck to you & your son!

  6. Military wife of 12 years, we met when he was in ROTC. I love our life together, even though it is so hard at times! This year we moved to a new state and then he deployed a few months later and I’m pregnant with #3! He’ll miss the birth by 10 weeks and this is his 3rd deployment. Love it: travel! We lived out first 4 years together in Germany and traveled to a new country or city every 4 day weekend some years! Amazing opportunity for a couple of newlyweds with not much $!! I also love that we move every few years and have seen so many different parts of the United States up close and personal. It has stretched my introvert, stay at home personality further than I ever thought possible! I love my friends I’ve made, even though we are spread across the U.S. right now. Plus my husband looks great in uniform and I love seeing him in his dress blues:-). Things I hate: moving every few years! It’s an adventure but it also means we’re always new! It’s hard to always be on the search for new friends, churches, hair salons, Drs, restaurants……everything! It can feel very lonely. Just when we get settled our friends move or we move. It’s very difficult. Civilian neighbors have rarely ever been helpful to us, military towns tend to be that way. We’re only here renting for a few years so I think they just assume keep their distance. Deployments are very hard! It’s not 9-12 months and done! It’s months of stress waiting for that day to arrive followed by months of stress upon homecoming as kids and parents adjust to new schedules and personalities.

    My advice? Go officer! Join ROTC in college, you’ll have more $, more control over your life, and I know it’s made our military career easier. Although I love my enlisted friends! It’s just my opinion! And maybe he could join CAP? It’s a great learning opportunity for young people!

  7. My first bit of advice is to remember that just about everything a recruiter says is not true. They have a job to do & that is to get people signed up. My husband worked in a recruiting office for a very brief time and was amazed at the things they told people.
    My second bit of advice would be to find a job in the military that easily transfers to a civilian job. When you’re 18 and enlisting, fixing weapons seems cool. When you’re 36 and looking for a civilian job, it’s not much help.
    Finally, I recommend an ROTC program within a university. When you’re done, you have an officer rank, higher pay, more opportunities, and a college degree, which counts for a lot more than almost any military experience when transitioning into a civilian career. You never know when you’ll need to be part of the civilian workforce due to injury or even God leading you elsewhere.

  8. Hi Jessica
    I’m a military wife of 18 years. I LOVE this life for us. I know it isn’t for everyone but it is God’s will for my family. He literally directed my husbands steps to sign up. He had no real direction and was a horrible student. So after a year of bad grades and bad attitude towards college, he joined the Coast Guard. It was the best decision of his life…he now is one month from completing his MBA. His undergrad and MBA were all done while working full time and family time. He would have had a completely different outcome if he didn’t get such discipline from CG. He was on the helicopter flight crew for 11 years before switching over to a desk job;). I now have a daughter who is thinking of joining to be a pilot. I’m super excited for her if this is what she decides is Gods will. So I can only speak of CG, but I think its great. My dad was navy but before I came along.

  9. My husband and I met in ROTC and we both were active duty Air Force for years (me 6, him 14). He is currently an active duty Guardsman here in TX.

    The advice above is so good so I won’t repeat everything.

    Would I do it again? Yes – absolutely. The only better decision I made was marrying my husband. I learned a lot about myself, life and how much I am capable of. Through in a world tour sponsored by the military and it was definitely worth it. (Oh, and they paid full tuition for my math degree – my parents were thrilled.)

    What did I hate? Being new. Living overseas I missed conveniences and family. I didn’t like my hubby being gone a lot but learned to rely on my military friends. It really is what you make of it.

    I started relatively eary in my high school career searching out military opportunities. I really can’t even tell you why now. I really wanted to be a Marine but my Army dad knew I had no chance of succeeding at that. Air Force was a great option for me. I would stress a great attitude, excellent physical fitness, a lot of confidence and any activities that help hone his skills (CAP, boy scouts, etc.)

    My husband grew up as a military dependent and had a sole focus of being a pilot. He needed glasses in high school so he figured his dream was over (20/20 vision was required). In college, those restrictions changed and he earned a pilot slot and now has flown F-16s for the last 16 years. It’s a dream come true but truth is, getting that slot was chance – once he got it he worked hard but it’s the getting it that was out of his control. Going into special forces is different but it’s still highly competitive. I agree with a previous commenter – you really have very little control. I was in two careers fields I did not choose but it all worked out. Likewise with our assignments – I cried for a week when we got news we were moving to Korea. In retrospect it was one of our favorite assignments. Attitude determines a lot.

  10. Hate to be the negative person here, but my son just got out of the army after 6 years in infantry and he hated it. His biggest beef was that they had to do PT (physical training) early, early every morning, then had very little to do all day, and then a couple of hours before time to go home, there would be some urgent assignment that had to be done so they would all be stressed trying to get it done and likely be late getting home. Probably his #2 complaint was that the quality of people he had to serve with–he claims the army is full of lazy, unmotivated people. He also claims most have terrible morals. There might be some grain of truth to that but I personally would take that with a grain of salt. I think his #3 complaint was the army being in control of so much of his life. Anytime he wanted to leave base and travel more than a few hours away, he had to get clearance for that. Getting him home when my dad died (an 8 hour trip) was a real hassle…lots of hoops to jump through. I think he even had to get permission to go hunting. His #4 complaint was all the physical wear and tear his body was subjected to. He has back and knee issues now.

    I’m thinking someone not in an infantry position would not have all of these problems or maybe not have them as bad.

    What I saw as good about the army was it taught him how to take orders. That was not a strong point when he was a teen/young adult. I felt like he got a lot of vacation time and 4 day weekends. If I remember correctly, he would get two weeks off around the 4th of July and 3 weeks off at Christmas. It seems like every minor holiday (even St Patrick’s Day) got them a 4 day weekend. A man I met recently left the army in the last year or so. He and his buddies counted up the hours they worked in a years time and figured up they worked something like 159 days a year. My son disagreed with that total but I do think they have lots of time off. My son once commented the time off might be a small effort to repay them for the 24/7 time they spent away from their families during deployments.

    I also think the army took good care of him in a way. They have financial counselors and if you need an emergency loan, they will help you–after they help you work on your budget. They have pretty good insurance but I had my doubts about some of the medical doctors they used. He personally often had a hard time getting to doctor appointments because his superiors simply said he couldn’t go–they needed him. There was a lot of pressure to just ignore issues and keep going.

    When his time to leave was coming up, he was required to go to all sorts of training classes about how to write a resume, get a job as a civilian, etc. Actually getting out was huge headache. He was several weeks later than promised actually being released. He was already paying rent on a place here and had someone chomping at the bit because they were holding a job for him. It was stressful for sure.

  11. I believe every individual should see both aspects of a career. The good the bad and the ugly. Take him to VA hospital there are a lot of vets there I’m sure that would talk to him about there career choices.

  12. Our son, in his final year of High School is — at some point — Navy bound. We pushed both kids through Navy Jr ROTC, and they enjoyed most of it. We also have a strong military service branch of our Family Tree (traced from the American Revolution through every Military Encounter since). But now that it’s time? This Mom’s nervous as all get out. I’ve been pushing for a minimum of 2 years at the Community College to grow up a little. Our son would need to put in some serious PT just to get in at this point, and isn’t motivated. His Dad has a terminal Cancer and I think they need to spend whatever time is left making memories, good ones, not worry and regret.

    Every situation is different. and perhaps as motivated your 14 yo is now his focus may change entirely after girls enter the picture. It happens to the best of them!

    Hang in there Mom!

  13. Hi Jessica,

    I was in the Australian Army for 15 years – best time of my life! There are only three things in my life that I am really proud of 1) joining the Army at 23, 2) marrying my (still) husband and 3) deploying on a peacekeeping mission to a war zone!! I still work for the Department of Defence, in a civilian capacity … so I must have liked it. (-:)

    Anyway, I agree with Jennifer – get some sort of Bachelor degree in a field that he is really interested in, then join as an officer. He can always go back for further study (Masters, PhD, etc).

    It is a fairly rigidly structured life, for example, while you are signed up, you are on duty 24/7 and you represent a military service and way of life. You have to be proud of who and what you are. I was always proud to wear my uniform! And if you don’t like, then get out as soon as you can – but do not run away from it. You will always come away with experiences that stand you in good stead later in life.

    Again, as someone else mentioned, make sure your son is fit and healthy before he joins – if (like I was) he is not fit, the effort to catch up to the level of fitness required, is just so much extra time you have to take away from other things.

    Wishing you and your son all the best .. love from

    (in Caberra, Australia)

  14. As a daughter, sister, wife and mother of military men, I have various experience and thoughts of military life. But most of all I would say your son is young. If you think back to your own young teen years, you and he had/have thoughts about life that was unrealistic and they change from month to month. Boys particularly seem to have an internal code/makeup where they need to prove their prowess, and the military is often how that plays out. I believe this especially true for boys who are over protected and their natural need for risk taking limited. I believe a mother must walk a very tight line when it comes to this side of their son. If she speaks negatively about anything he thinks he wants to do, he will feel the pressure to push against it to prove himself OR thinks she doesn’t believe in him, which is what he wants more than anything. Plus, in my opinion boys and young men would rather have a root canal than be called a “mama’s boy”. It takes a special mom to know when to go and when to stop, when to share and when to hold back opinions. You can lay everything out there for your son and depending on his own bent….he may hear some or none of what is said. I agree with everything said above, but when push comes to shove, like all of us….he will make his own decisions and we are left to ride the waves. One must never lose sight of what the military is for: defense of this country. Income, education, status and travel may come but the bottom line is their existence is necessary for our survival as a free country. It involves lots of stuff that tries the human body and spirit. One must be able to train as an individual but operate as a unit. It can be a difficult transition for those of us raised in an entitled home. On a personal note, my son wanted to join the Marines at 17. At that time he needed a parent signature….I refused. I told him that was a big decision and one that he alone must make and that I would support him if he felt the same when he turned 18. He joined the army as soon as he turned 18.

  15. Also Jessica, I am still not able to get to your home page when I click in, even though I did what you suggested. You asked where I live also. I live in the northern Midwest

  16. Is there an ROTC he could join in your area? Or Civil Air Patrol. Our oldest son always wanted to be an Army man like his father. He was able to join CAP in middle school and then ROTC in high school. Thsee were good experiences for him as an introduction to rules and regs, and he was able to take the ASVAB thru ROTC. This prepared him ahead of time and allowed him to choose the best signing options without having to relying solely on a recruiter, who sometimes are less than honest up front. There is also a split option where they can sign as a Jr and do basic during summer after junior year and AIT after graduation. Best of luck to him in his future 🙂

  17. My husband was in ROTC in college and served 4 years active duty in the Army. We met and got married his second year in the service (n 2001). 9/11 happened just a couple of months after our wedding and he was deployed as part of the initial grounds forces to both Afghanistan and later Iraq. Our first 2 years of marriage, we were together only about 9 months, most of which he worked ridiculous hours preparing for deployment.

    Okay – so that background aside – after my husband’s experience, I would not encourage military service to my son, due to two factors.
    First, the medical factor. When service members sustain injuries, their care is sub-par at best. My husband had a wrist injury that was blown off by multiple doctors and he was told to “suck it up, soldier”, take some motrin, and basically shut up. Years later, we discover that the injury was much more serious, and while if it had been treated properly initially, he likely would have recovered fully, now he has full blown arthritis in the wrist, no cartilage left, is in constant pain, and his only option at this point is a full wrist fusion. That will prevent any wrist motion at all for the rest of his life. He’s 39 years old. During his time in service, he saw one soldier on the brink of death after poor diagnosis and care of an infection by a n Army PA, and multiple other soldiers being treated the same way he was – injuries minimized and not addressed in a timely fashion – risk of not getting promoted or being labeled as a crybaby if you persist in demanding treatment, etc.
    Then we have the mandatory vaccinations. Ugh. You can’t even imagine the number of shots my husband had before deployments – and while we have no proof of the causation, his personality definitely changed. He has dealt with extreme emotions, fits of rage, severe depression, thoughts of suicide, etc. He’s doing mostly better now, 12 years later, but it has been a long road. I might also add that while he had some stressful situations in both deployments, he neither killed anyone or had close comrades killed. He was never physically injured. So he doesn’t have those PTSD things to deal with.

    Second factor: you have no control over your life. You have to go where they tell you, do what they say, follow the orders of a Commander in Chief to whom you might be passionately opposed, take those vaccinations, and deal with the politics of brown-nosing if you have any hope of your career advancing.

    All that to say, while I am very proud of my husband for serving our country and I have utmost respect and gratefulness to others who serve also, there are some very serious considerations to be made. It’s not just a paycheck. There are more sacrifices made than you may realize.

  18. There are huge drawbacks and positive outcomes from joining any branch of service. My husband was navy fir 8 years -sea duty the entire time. Was super hard having him gone for up to 8 months at a time but we were young. We wisely waited until the end of that to have kids. I finished my BA while he was gone. Your life is not your own. You do have to get permission for practically every single thing. But the folks you get to meet from everywhere, the places you get to visit, and skills you learn are unforgettable. Plus unlike other things after 3-4 yrs after the enlistment is up your son can always quit. I agree with the other comments if he can finish college first at least 2 yrs he’ll start with higher pay $ and better opportunities. Definitely don’t trust everything the recruiter says. Thier job is to sign you up that’s it.

    So I say yay. Let him see the world and have new experiences and send lots of letters and emails. Skype. He may not be able to visit much. Get him a good camera for his first post or training school. He’ll come back with amazing stories!