SUPPORTING YOUR CHILD
Joining the Military doesn't happen overnight. In most cases, it's a process that can last from a few weeks to more than a year.
From choosing a Service branch to finding a career, here are resources to help you understand where to get started.
A PARENT'S GUIDE TO JOINING THE MILITARY
First, your child will choose one of the U.S. Military's 12 Service branches: five active-duty Services and their respective Guard and Reserve units. Each offers a unique service experience and length of commitment. For example, does your child want to go full time (Active Duty) or to attend school or work simultaneously? Explore our Service branch pages to learn more about different types of service so you can discuss options with your child.
The entrance process also varies depending on whether your child enters as an enlisted servicemember or an officer.
Your child must be 18 to join the Military or 17 with your signed permission. He or she will need a high school diploma or GED, so encourage him or her to stay in school and maintain good grades. If your child wants to an officer, he or she will need a 4-year college degree. Look into ROTC and Service Academies, both of which offer scholarships in exchange for a service commitment as an officer, or going straight to Officer Candidate School (OCS) after college.
Usually your child must have been born in the U.S. or be a Permanent Resident Alien to serve. Noncitizens may enlist, but requirements vary by Service branch so it’s best to talk to a recruiter if this describes your situation.
Meeting a recruiter in person with your child is the best way to learn more about a particular Service branch. It's completely private, and there is no obligation for further contact afterwards. As a parent, you can ask the recruiter whatever's on your mind — you might think of things your child wouldn't. Check out our Questions to Ask a Recruiter for some suggestions.
If your child decides to enlist, he or she will visit a MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) There are 65 stations located throughout the U.S., and recruits who do not live within driving distance to a station are flown to a location for free.
At the MEPS, your child will:
- Take the ASVAB test. Encourage your child to study — ASVAB scores can help determine which jobs he or she is qualified to perform.
- Take a physical examination. Physical requirements vary by Service and job.
- Undergo a background screening. Your child should be completely honest. This screening is confidential, and waivers may possibly be obtained for some youthful indiscretions.
You may accompany your child to MEPS, but will be asked to wait in a separate area. You can help your child collect the documents he or she will need for the day, including his or her medical records, a birth certificate, Social Security card and driver's license.
Your child will meet with an advisor to see which career is best suited to his or her strengths and skills. Talk to your child about the kinds of experience, training, responsibilities and compensation he or she wants from a job. While it's possible to switch careers later, it can be a long process so it's best to make a good decision now.
Finally, new recruits take an Oath of Enlistment to become members of the U.S. Military. You and other family and friends are welcome to attend. Be sure to bring a camera to capture this moment — and perhaps some tissues. It can be very emotional to see your child begin his or her military career.
After MEPS, your child will either report directly to Basic Training or participate in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP), which schedules him or her to attend in a few months (for instance, following high school graduation). You can help him or her pack for boot camp, stick to an exercise program and delegate personal affairs. Contact is limited during training, but you will always be able to write, so stock up on stamps.
In the Military, your child can choose to either enlist or become commissioned as an officer. Being an officer involves a higher degree of responsibility and education in military history and theory. Officers usually serve in a managerial role or in a position that requires specialized advanced training (such as military doctors, chaplains or lawyers). Your son or daughter is commissioned by either attending a Service academy, participating in ROTC during college or attending Officer Candidate School (OCS) after college graduation. This is also the case for enlisted servicemembers who transition into officer roles.
Training may seem like it lasts forever, but your child will graduate (90 percent of all recruits do) — whether it's from Basic or OCS. Be sure to attend the graduation ceremony if you can. Not only is it a proud moment for your son or daughter; it's a chance to experience military tradition firsthand and meet the servicemembers who have worked with your child.
QUESTIONS TO ASK RECRUITERS ABOUT YOUR CHILD'S SERVICE
How long will my child's first term last? Do you have programs of different lengths?
How much will my child get paid, and what are the benefits?
Can my child marry and have a family while serving?
How often will I see my child? Where will he or she primarily be working?
Will my child still be able to begin or complete his or her college degree?