Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
There's a lot to learn when it comes to joining the Military, from the first meeting with a recruiter to finding a career and taking advantage of benefits. On our FAQ page, we’ve collected the most common questions young adults and parents have about service.
If you don’t see your specific question answered here, feel free to reach out to a recruiter directly, as they are the best source for the most up-to-date program information.
Enlisting and Serving
What are the requirements for joining the Military?
Requirements vary by Service, but generally speaking, candidates must meet certain criteria for:
- Physical ability
For details, see Eligibility Requirements.
Can foreign-born American citizens join the Military?
Yes. U.S. Citizens or Legal Permanent Residents (people who have an INS I-151/I-551 "Green Card") may join the U.S. Military.
Can people join the U.S. Military if they are not American citizens?
Properly documented noncitizens may enlist. However, opportunities may be limited. Contact a recruiter for more advice on a specific situation.
For enlistment purposes, the United States includes Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.
How long are people who enter the Military obligated to serve?
The length of commitment depends greatly on the chosen Service, required training and a number of other variables. Military personnel may retire after 20 years of service and must retire after 30 years of service in most cases.
How long is an average term of service?
While total length of service commitment varies based on Service branch need and occupational specialty, a first term is generally four years of Active Duty followed by four years in a Reserve unit or Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). IRR members do not drill, but muster once per year. IRR members are also not paid but may be recalled to Active Duty in times of need until their eight-year total commitment has expired.
Are there shorter enlistment commitments available?
Though technically not a "shorter" commitment, the two-year enlistment program is available for some Services. A recruiter can tell you more about this option.
Can certain health problems prevent a candidate from serving?
Yes. As part of the entrance process for any Service branch, but prior to boot camp, new recruits will receive a physical exam, which includes a complete medical history. During that exam, they will be asked about their overall health. A recruit's input and the result of the exam will determine his or her ability to meet the health and physical fitness standards for military service.
Some of the most common reasons for disqualification include permanent medical conditions such as sight or hearing deficiencies, or temporary conditions that can be remediated, such as excess body weight. Applicants who are disqualified because of a temporary condition may be granted a medical waiver, with the approval rate depending on the condition being considered and the different needs of each Service. For a full list of conditions and waiver considerations, we recommend that you speak with a recruiter.
Does having a criminal record disqualify a potential recruit from military service?
Each Service takes a different approach to evaluating the severity and number of offenses on a candidate's record. The results of this evaluation may — or may not — disqualify candidates.
Are there special considerations for women enlisting in the Military?
All jobs, including combat, are open to women. The percentage of women serving on active duty in the Military has more than doubled since 1978. Clearly, women play an important role in today's Military. Each Service and many occupations have specific physical requirements that must be met regardless of gender.
If a candidate has children (dependents), can he or she enlist?
DoD generally prohibits the enlistment of any applicant who has more than two dependents under the age of 18. While the Services are allowed to waive this policy, they often will not. In fact, most of the Services are even stricter in their policies:
- Army: Allows married applicants to have two dependents (or more with a waiver)
- Marine Corps: Waiver for any dependents is required; eligibility for waiver is based on applicant's relationship to the dependent (married, unmarried, separated, divorced, etc.)
- Navy: May require a waiver for applicants with dependents, and each case is reviewed independently to determine eligibility
- Air Force: Allows married applicants to have two dependents (or three with a waiver); single applicants require a waiver for up to three dependents; no waivers granted for anyone with four or more dependents
- Coast Guard: Allows no more than three dependents
Once serving, all service members are free to marry and have children as they wish. Family members are eligible for military health care, and female service members can take maternity leave. Speak to your recruiter to learn more about this process.
Why do candidates need to speak to recruiters, and what should they ask?
Recruiters are the very best source of information about what the Military is like, what young people can get from the Service and all the steps in the process of recruiting. It matters that people get accurate and current information, and recruiters are the best resource for answers to even the most difficult questions regarding the Service.
To get started, visit Questions to Ask a Recruiter.
Careers and Education
How do candidates find the career that they are interested in?
First, candidates need to confirm the career field or military occupational specialty (MOS) they want are available by working with the service enlistment counselor at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). Thousands of different jobs are available, but not in each Service. Jobs are assigned based on several factors:
- Current and anticipated military needs
- Individual career aspirations
- Individual skills and qualifications
- Results from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test (ASVAB)
Potential recruits and parents should review the job categories in the careers section of this site and then discuss possible career paths with a recruiter.
How can a young person learn what job might be good for him or her?
The ASVAB test helps young people identify the things they're good at, areas of interest and potential job matches.
What is pay like for military jobs?
Base Pay at each rank is the same across all Services, but many factors, including Special Pays, affect what a service member will actually earn. To get a better idea of potential salary and benefits, visit Salary and Compensation.
How often do service members get raises?
Service members usually receive a modest pay raise annually, to keep pace with the cost of living. In addition, raises are received when service members are promoted to the next pay grade. (This is generally associated with a new rank or the amount of time an individual has served.) Time between promotions varies based on service member performance.
Is it possible to switch jobs once in the Military?
The short answer is “yes.” However, many military jobs come with time commitments, so a service member might be obligated to remain in a specific career for the length of his or her contract. It is best to ask a recruiter for specifics, or, if already serving, to speak with the command career counselor.
What kind of training do service members receive?
All recruits begin by undergoing their Service branch’s version of Basic Training, commonly known as boot camp. While boot camp varies in duration from Service to Service, the focus is the same: preparing recruits physically, mentally and emotionally for their future in the Military.
Following Basic Training, service members receive advanced training in their specialty. A variety of training methods are used, including classroom instruction, field exercises and simulations. Ongoing training is also available in most specialties to keep service members’ skills sharp.
What does "part-time duty" mean?
Part-time duty is service in the Reserve and/or National Guard. These service members participate in military training while also pursuing their own careers or education. For more information, visit Full and Part-Time Opportunities.
What's the difference between the National Guard and the Reserve?
Both Reserve and National Guard units can be activated specifically for military missions, including missions abroad, and they may serve side-by-side with active-duty service members.
Members of the National Guard, however, can be called for duty by either their state governors or by the president. National Guard members can receive educational benefits that may vary from state to state, in addition to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. It's important to understand that the National Guard is considered an extension of the Reserve component.
What happens to my job if I am in the Reserve or Guard and I get deployed?
Your job will be protected under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). When your deployment is finished, you will be able to return. Some employers are also known for having military-friendly policies.
Can service members attend college and earn a degree?
Yes. All Service branches offer the opportunity for higher education, both during and after service. Many military training programs count toward course credit, while some branches offer classes on base or online (the Air Force, for instance, has its own community college). All service members are eligible for tuition support through the Post-9/11 GI Bill and other tuition repayment programs.
High school students interested in officer careers may wish to enroll in a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at the college of their choice. In exchange for a service commitment, ROTC provides college scholarships and leadership training.
Service academies offer another opportunity for young adults. These academies provide a strong college education with the discipline of officer training.
Will the Military pay for college?
The Military offers many educational benefits that service members can take advantage of during or after service. For more information, visit Paying for College.
Life and Family
Where are new service members stationed?
With installations all over the globe, it is impossible to predict in advance where a service member could be stationed. Following basic training, service members are given assignments based on Service needs, and their skills and training. As such, there are no guarantees a member will serve close to home.
However, service members generally know well in advance where they’ll be going, and deployment does not automatically mean going to war. They may also be deployed for support in noncombat areas or deployed domestically to help with disaster relief.
Are new recruits shipped off right away?
Following boot camp, most Service branches allow new service members a short break to spend time at home. After that, service members generally spend another six months to a year in advanced training for their occupational specialty before deploying overseas or stateside.
How often do service members see their families?
All active-duty Service branches offer 30 days of paid vacation per year during which service members may spend time with their families or plan other Rest and Relaxation (R&R). Options like Space-Available Travel allow troops to fly at no cost on regularly scheduled military flights, provided there is a seat available. This is a great, inexpensive way to get to a destination. Family members are also welcome to visit their service member on base. In addition, service members of the Reserve and National Guard are often allowed to serve close to home.
How do service members stay in touch?
Even while deployed, service members will usually have access to postal mail, email and phone service (even while at sea). While communication may be restricted during certain missions, modern technology makes it relatively easy for families to keep in touch.
If there is a family emergency and you need to reach a relative in service, you should contact the American Red Cross Hero Care Center, which can relay messages to U.S. military personnel worldwide.
Where do service members live?
Military housing varies by rank, location and family situation. New recruits typically start their military careers living on base. Service members who qualify to live off base are given a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) as part of their compensation. Learn more about military housing.
What is it like to live and work in the Military?
As in the civilian world, military life varies depending on a service member’s job, attitude and desire. Once work or training is done for the day, however, a service member can do as he or she pleases. For more information on free time, family support and military perks, visit Military Life.