What to Expect
Many parents who have 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 that occur during preparation, joining and training for a career in the Military.
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.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 five Service branches and then decide between full-time Active Duty or part-time service through the Reserve or Guard. Each offers a unique service experience and length of commitment.
Enlisted or Officer Path
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). Help your child prepare for the visit by collecting necessary documents, including his or her medical records, birth certificate, Social Security card and driver’s license.
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.
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).
To join the Military, your child must be a U.S. citizen who is 18 years old, 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 be an officer, he or she will need a four-year college degree.
Meeting With a Recruiter
Meeting a recruiter in person with your child is the best way to learn more about a particular Service branch. 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.
Did you know? There is absolutely no obligation to sign a contract or join the Military after meeting with a recruiter.
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. 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.
Taking the Oath
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. For many families. this is an emotional moment that marks the official beginning of a child’s military career.
After MEPS, your child will report 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 can always write.
Approximately 90 percent of all recruits complete their first six months of training and reach graduation day. This event will be a proud moment for your son or daughter; it’s a chance to experience military tradition firsthand and meet the service members who have worked with and supported your child.