What to Expect
Many parents with a child considering military service will have questions and/or conflicted emotions about this option. It’s only natural to want success and security for your child in whatever future they may pursue.
As you begin to have discussions with your child about their choices, consider this page a checklist of the important milestones they will experience as they prepare, join and train for a military career. Then, using the tips and advice on this page, you can ensure your support will help them toward their goals.
We asked military parents, “What would you tell another parent whose child was considering service?” These responses provide valuable advice for families and a firsthand perspective on making the decision to serve.Length 2:43 View Transcript
Mary McHugh: The advice I would give another parent who might have apprehensions? Well, I could say this for certain: I’ve been there, done that. I don’t think there was anyone more apprehensive about a child joining the Military than me, but I have to say that you still have to let them make it their choice, and if it’s going to be the choice that they make, you need to be a hundred percent behind it.
Barbara Heinz: I would tell them that I do think it’s a wonderful thing to serve your country — the dedication, the discipline, the loyalty to your country, I think all that’s important — but the service isn’t for everybody, and there are some people that just can’t. They can’t do it.
Dale Conjurski: It’s a great opportunity. It’s a great experience. I would caution any parent whose child is going to join anything is that they’re going to be away from home. Can they handle that time away?
Beth Radiseck: I would say for them to find people actually serving because I think they’re the biggest wealth of knowledge.
Marc Danziger: People who are retired or current Military are stunningly generous with their time to talk to people who are thinking about this as a career, and they’re stunningly honest.
Patti Kolk: They really need to go and speak to a recruiter. Go to different recruiters. Go to different recruiting offices. You know, just don’t accept your experience with one person.
Hugo De Leon: Make sure they’re there in the recruiter’s office, and to ask the questions the kids aren’t going to ask, you know. As parents, even though the kids don’t like to admit it, we’re a little wiser. You know, there’s questions we’re going to have on our minds that the kids aren’t going to think about, and being there and really being able to look at the recruiter in the eye and know that you’re getting the straight answers, it means a lot. Beyond that, it would really be, study up, math especially, because when they take their test, you know, whatever score they get on that — it’s based a lot on math — that’s going to open the doors to whatever trades they can take.
David Smith: I would tell them right away, it’s a great idea, particularly for anyone who is not ready for college or has no idea what they want to do with their lives. They can go into the Military, and they can pick from a menu of things to train in, and they’re going to learn what it is they like and what they don’t like. And I would absolutely recommend in a heartbeat that they encourage their child to go into the Military.
Advice to Parents
Choosing a Branch of Service
First, your child will choose one of the U.S. Military's six Service branches and decide between full-time Active Duty or part-time service in the Reserve or Guard. Each option offers a unique service experience and length of commitment.
Enlisted or Officer Paths
In the Military, your child can choose to either enlist or be commissioned as an officer.
If your child decides to enlist in the Military, they will visit a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), which are in locations all across the country.
At MEPS, your child will take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, undergo a physical examination (which varies by Service and job) and undergo a background screening. As a parent, you are free to accompany your child to MEPS, but you will be asked to wait in a separate area during the test.
Commissioning as an Officer
Being an officer involves a higher degree of responsibility, training and a college degree. Officers usually serve in managerial and leadership roles, or in a position that requires specialized advanced training. There are several paths to earning an officer commission. Officer careers include but are not limited to everything from public affairs, security forces and engineering to doctors, lawyers and chaplains.
To join the Military, your child must be a U.S. citizen who is 18 years old (or 17 with your signed permission). If your child wants to become an officer, he or she will need a four-year college degree.
Enlistment requires a high school diploma or GED, so encourage your child to stay in school and maintain good grades.
Meeting With a Recruiter
As a parent, you can ask the recruiter whatever’s on your mind — there’s a good chance you will think of important questions or comments that your child won’t.
Contact the Services to begin a conversation.
Finding a Military Career
At MEPS, your child will meet with an advisor to see which career is best suited to his or her strengths and skills. While it’s possible to switch careers later, it can be a long process, so it’s best to make a good, informed decision now.
Taking the Oath
To become members of the U.S. Military, recruits take the Oath of Enlistment and cadets take the Oath of Office. These emotional moments mark the official beginning of a young adult’s military career.
Recognizing Their Accomplishments
Many parents commemorate these momentous occasions by spending time with their child to celebrate, recognize their accomplishments, or simply prepare for the steps ahead. Others may see this as an opportunity to share their milestones with friends and family.
Training & Education
If your child chooses to enlist, they will either report to Basic Training shortly after MEPS or enter into the Delayed Entry Program (DEP), which allows them to attend training at a later date for reasons like completing a high school education. Contact is limited during boot camp, but you can always mail letters and some services even allow phone calls.
If your child has chosen the officer path, they will begin their education to obtain a four-year college degree before receiving their Service commission. In certain cases, enlisted service members can advance and transition to officers during the course of their military career as well.
Packing and Prepping
You can help him or her get ready for these big steps by lending them a hand with packing, encouraging them to stick to an exercise program, and by offering to handle day-to-day responsibilities such as paying bills, minding mail, and dealing with bank accounts while they’re away.
Approximately 90 percent of all enlisted recruits complete Basic Training and graduate. Officer cadets who graduate from their respective programs and institutions will go on to become commissioned officers. These events are important moments, as they represent the significant achievements your child has made in overcoming challenges to preparing themselves for Service.
After your child graduates, they will move on to receive advanced training for their specific role and ultimately put their new skills to the test on duty. Although they may not be able to reveal all of their accomplishments to you for security reasons, your child’s career will likely lead to recognition such as medals, ribbons and promotions.
Being Proud of Their Path
As you become more familiar with your child’s service and their successes, feelings of apprehension may evolve into those of understanding, appreciation, and pride. Some parents like to demonstrate this through various acts and symbols from military culture, including displaying the flag of their child’s Service branch alongside the American flag, and even learning common military acronyms.