Career Fields & Profiles
Career Fields & Profiles
Choosing a career in the Military takes careful consideration. Below, start exploring our Career Fields & Profiles section to find jobs that fit your skill set and interests. Each page includes that field's typical careers, required training, daily responsibilities and associated civilian careers. Additionally, be sure to check out our career profiles for a personal look from a service member at day-to-day life in that field.
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Career Field: Combat Operations
Service Branch: Air Force
Jacob Poulliot grew up near San Antonio as part of an Air Force family. He went to Lackland Air Force Base regularly and watched combat controllers in training. When Jacob saw them, he was intrigued and thought that might be the right job for him. Before he went to Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Jacob began researching and training for a combat control career.
"Knowing that I was going into the combat control career field, I wanted to be in the best shape I could ever be in. I talked to people who knew how to exercise, and who knew how to stay in shape. I also talked to some guys who are actually in the career field, and they helped me out."
After Basic Training, Jacob entered the combat control pipeline. The pipeline involves several different types of schools: Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape (SERE); underwater egress; air traffic control; airborne and combat control. During this time, Jacob began learning how to jump out of planes.
It's always changing, and there's always something else to do. So I plan on staying with the Air Force for a while.
"Up in the aircraft for the first time ... you realize, 'I'm really going to jump out.' It's kind of nerve-wracking at that point. The adrenaline's pumping, and you almost don't want to do it, but you know it's going to be cool. It's just a rush of emotions."
Combat controllers go through so much training because they help to clear and secure air fields in hazardous conditions or behind enemy lines. Once they establish an air field, they also act as air traffic controllers, and they guide the planes to a safe landing. Combat controllers are often attached to Army Special Forces teams, Navy SEAL teams or Marine Special Operations Command teams, and they provide additional air power for these teams during battle.
After his training, Jacob was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, for two years. He has participated in exercises in Australia, Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines, and he has been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. Throughout this time, he has maintained his training regimen so he can be ready for anything.
"We go through a very rigorous training process, which basically prepares us for any type of situation that we could encounter ... It makes us better operators working in every type of environment."
Although Jacob has reached his goal of being a combat controller, he isn't stopping there. He wants to advance in his career, and he is earning his airway science degree so he can be even better at his job.
"It's always changing, and there's always something else to do. So I plan on staying with the Air Force for a while."
Career Field: Legal Professions and Support Services
Service Branch: Army
I attended the University of Texas, in Austin, pursuing a degree in aeronautical engineering. I had to work part time, which was very difficult because a lot of employers want you to dedicate the majority of your time to your job. They don’t understand that you’re in college and that’s what you’re really focusing on. So I decided to take a break and take some time off to gather my thoughts.
Since I have family that has been prior military, it was suggested to me that I think about joining the Military. That was the first time I considered going into the Military. I felt like I wanted something different than just the regular routine.
I enlisted in the Army in March of 2005 as a combat engineer, with plans to go into Special Forces. I got my initial request for assignment, Hawaii, which was great! While I was there, they offered me a variety of opportunities to go to school and advance my career before going to Special Forces. Unfortunately, during the physical training portion, I injured my knee. Luckily, I was given an opportunity to continue to serve my country and was told I’d have to switch jobs.
You get limitless opportunities to learn and experience so much more.
I chose paralegal specialist, and the Military sent me back to school in Fort Jackson, S.C. They trained us in writing legal memos for attorneys, doing legal research and transcribing. They touch on everything that you would possibly come into contact with in the paralegal field, whether you’re a court reporter, in criminal defense or in criminal prosecution. That’s because every time you change duty locations, the possibility of changing job specialties is there also.
I am always training to improve myself as well. Just because I’m a paralegal doesn’t mean that’s the one and only thing I’m going to do for the rest of my life in the Military. If I have to get deployed, just knowing my job and duties as a paralegal isn’t always going to be enough, so knowing how to react to emergency situations is a must.
As a paralegal, an average day usually consists of preparing legal documents for the attorneys I work for, investigating or interrogating some of the witnesses that we have for court, scheduling appointments and researching law.
In court, my job is to make sure that the facts come out and that everybody receives a fair trial. A military court-martial is very similar to a civilian court hearing. We go through the same process. If I were to do my job as a civilian paralegal, I would feel confident enough to be able to do it just as well or better because it is so closely related.
The most important value that I’ve learned in the Military is integrity. Integrity is a value that a lot of people lack because many times they aren’t able to be responsible for what they do and who they are. Just by joining and being in the Military, you get limitless opportunities to learn and experience so much more.
Career Field: Law Enforcement, Security and Protective Services
Service Branch: Coast Guard
“I really enjoy the military lifestyle. I like moving around. I like meeting new people. I like going to new cities. I get bored very easily when I am in one place for too long, so the military lifestyle really works for me.”
Growing up as the sixth of seven children in Covington, Ky., it’s safe to say Takila McCown has always been a people person. Growing up in such an environment undoubtedly fostered a unique ability to communicate and relate well to others; it also presented challenges, such as her parents’ ability to pay college tuition.
“Without asking, I knew my parents could not even fathom being able to afford college … The Army had come to my school, and I took the ASVAB test and talked with a recruiter who told me about the GI Bill, which I could use for college.”
Excited by the idea of being first in her family to earn a college degree, Takila enlisted in the Army and headed off to Basic Training just 10 days after graduating from high school. This is not to say, however, that her parents weren’t concerned.
“Because I was only 17 at the time … [my mother] didn’t want her baby to leave.”
Takila found Basic Training to be physically challenging but nothing she couldn’t handle. Upon graduating, she began working in the Army as a food service specialist.
“I was a cook in the Army … It was a difficult job … people don’t really remember to tell you, ‘Hey, thanks, that was a really good meal.’ … So, you really have to be customer-oriented … but I really enjoyed it and really excelled at the job I did. I was actually named Cook of the Year for the 3rd Infantry Division.”
In addition to five years of preparing great meals in the Army, Takila also cooked up a family. She had a son and, though thrilled, the combined responsibility of motherhood and training deployments put her college education plans on hold.
In fact, when her contract with the Army was up, Takila took a year-and-a-half off from the Military all together. True to her desire for new experiences and environments, she took a position in the medical industry as a civilian ophthalmic technician. With a husband in the Coast Guard, however, her connection to the Military was never far off.
And then 9/11 happened.
“I felt a strong desire to join the Military again because I felt that’s where I could do the most for my country … I just wanted to be part of something bigger than myself …”
It’s so rewarding to be able to say you serve your country.
Takila chose to join the Coast Guard, hoping that she could be stationed near her ex-husband, which would make travel easier for their child. (Services will make an effort to collocate families, depending on the circumstances.) She also enjoyed the civil service aspect of the Coast Guard.
“[The Coast Guard] is really a Service that is more humanitarian, all of their missions are about helping people in the maritime community, and then they also deal with national defense as well. To me, service is representing your country through positive actions, and in the Coast Guard, I would be able to do that.”
Initially an enlisted member in the Coast Guard, Takila served as a yeoman for a short period, and then at a military housing office, checking people in and out of accommodations. Though she enjoyed such work, Takila yearned for increased interaction with young recruits.
“I applied for a position as a Coast Guard recruiter … because I am so proud to serve for this organization that I wanted to be out there and be the first person that people have contact with that are interested in coming into the Coast Guard.”
Takila’s application was accepted, something she attributes to the Coast Guard’s attention to detail and productivity.
“The Coast Guard is very good at matching people with their desires because when you can do what you actually want to do, you are a better performer. Because you have something invested in that. Because you really want to do it … We can’t always be matched 100 percent … however, there are opportunities to be able to lateral over to the career path that you want.”
Prior to reporting for duty as a recruiter, Takila worked toward the college degree she had always wanted with tuition assistance from the Coast Guard.
“I think my proudest moment was actually completing my degree with the Coast Guard’s help. They paid for the schooling. And I am the first person in my family to receive a college degree, and because of that, I was able to apply for Officer Candidate School and become an officer.”
Upon graduating Officer Candidate School, Takila began working as a marine inspector, the job she holds today. Marine inspectors board vessels and ensure they are compliant with maritime regulations. All ships entering U.S. waters must adhere to these standards to maintain a safe environment for everyone aboard, and it’s a responsibility Takila does not take lightly.
With a college degree under her belt and a career helping others, Takila holds a special place in her heart for the Coast Guard. It has given her both a sense of purpose and a concrete example of what she can do when she puts her mind to the task.
“It’s so rewarding to be able to say you serve your country … and know that no matter where you come from, you can accomplish anything. The Coast Guard has been able to help me realize that.”
Career Field: Communications Equipment Technicians
Service Branch: Army
“My parents were going to have to pay for my college as well as my sister’s. Around the same time, my father was taking care of his mother with Alzheimer’s. So I [joined the Military] to ease the financial burden and pay for my own education.”
In a selfless act, Dexter Nunnally, from Atlanta, Ga., began his career in the Military to help his family. He was a sophomore in college at Morehouse University when he decided to put school on hold and enlist in the Army to take advantage of the GI Bill benefits, which would eventually pay off his student loans and remaining future tuition.
“I was enlisted for about four years before I found out about the Army’s Green to Gold Program … it’s another way for enlisted Soldiers to receive officer commissions other than Officer Candidate School.”
The Green to Gold Program allows enlisted service members to temporarily leave Active Duty to study full-time and receive a college degree. In exchange, each Soldier returns as a second lieutenant and serves an additional term (term length varies based on each individual agreement). The program enabled Dexter to return to Morehouse University to complete his degree at no expense to himself. This was a tremendous help to his family.
While enlisted, Dexter served as a signal Soldier. Upon completing his degree and becoming an officer, he chose to stay in the Signal Corps. The Signal Corps is responsible for military communications and allowed Dexter to acquire hands-on leadership training as an armor officer in Korea. Eventually, he became a platoon leader in a signal company to gain more experience in equipment training, cable placement and other communication technology. While learning these skills, Dexter was also practicing leading others.
“In the 11th Signal Brigade, I had about 290 Soldiers that I was responsible for.”
After successfully demonstrating his leadership ability to his superiors, Dexter was selected as one of 20 officers to attend the Captain’s Career Course at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia. A year later, he interned at the Pentagon.
I had about 290 Soldiers that I was responsible for.
“I got an idea of how the Army and Department of Defense actually function and a better idea of the big picture …”
During his time at the Pentagon, Dexter worked with the communications staff while simultaneously obtaining a master’s degree — paid for by the Army — from Georgetown University.
Upon graduating, Dexter was deployed to Afghanistan.
“There, I was responsible for the communications network for the commanding general and making sure that he had communications with his headquarters at all times. So that was a very unique challenge.”
After redeployment from Afghanistan, Dexter was subsequently deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division. He served with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, where he was responsible for the entire brigade communications network.
Looking back, Dexter was particularly proud of his service and leadership in the combat zone.
“One thing we can be proud of was that we didn’t lose any Soldiers during the deployment because communications were down. That was a crowning moment of my career so far.”
Today, Dexter is a student at the Army’s Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., as part of a 10-month training program. His next assignment is to United States Northern Command as a joint staff officer.
Dexter’s 20-year anniversary with the Army is right around the corner, and with it, the option to retire with full benefits. However, he is not sure he is ready to stop serving quite yet — if he does decide to return to civilian life, plenty of opportunities will be open to him.
“As a signal officer with my background, I could go into any private industry and work as a systems administrator. Having commanded a company as a platoon leader, they will look at my management skills obtained from those positions.”
With two degrees paid for by the Military and direct leadership and communications experience as a signal officer, Maj. Nunnally is a strong example of what the Military offers service members: a chance to not only learn and succeed, but to lead future generations toward the same goals.
Career Field: Mechanic and Repair Technicians
Service Branch: Navy
I am originally from the Philippines. I decided to join the Navy when I was 20 years old. My first chain-of-command, which was Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4, helped me obtain my citizenship, which is something that I have always wanted to do.
I am a U.S. Navy Seabee — not too many people know who we are and what we do. We are known as the Navy’s construction force. Some call us “dirt Sailors” because we don’t usually go on ships. My actual rating, or job, in the Navy is utilitiesman second-class. I deal with heating, ventilation and air conditioning and plumbing. I enjoy my job because I like to work with my hands. I also like the challenges it brings, whether it is troubleshooting or new construction where I am able to see the finished product of what I am working on.
I love the sense of adventure.
My particular “A” School was in Wichita Falls, Texas, at Sheppard Air Force Base. There for the first module, we learned how to troubleshoot heating, ventilation and air conditioning, learning the fundamentals of how heating, ventilation and air conditioning work. After that, we learned about plumbing. For me it was a really great learning experience, before I became a utilitiesman — I didn't even know that there were different types of plungers. I actually graduated at the top of my class.
During my second command, Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 303, I was able to participate in what Seabees are also known for — noncombatant construction projects that help countries around the world. Spreading humanitarian aid, I was able to visit countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Peru, where we renovated schools and churches for the host countries.
I am currently stationed at Explosive Ordnance Disposal Expeditionary Support Unit 2 in Little Creek, Va., where we support about 1,180 divers and explosive ordnance disposal technicians. The department I’m assigned to is Facilities, where a handful of Seabees maintain the unit’s facilities.
I will probably have an opportunity to be attached with some of the Navy divers and the explosive ordnance disposal technicians when they deploy. Places they deploy include Afghanistan, Iraq or wherever they want to send us. Sometimes, we don't know what we will be doing until we are actually tasked, but we constantly train for it. We actually learn a little bit of everything. Being a Seabee is an amazing field because if you decide you don't want to stay in the Military, you can always use the trade that you learn outside in the real world and get paid for it.
I work full-time, and then I go to school full-time after-hours — my command has been really supportive of me going to school. They've worked with me to ensure that I have everything that I need to continue my education, not to mention the Navy pays for my tuition for college. My actual goal is to become a nurse, and, hopefully, in a couple of years or so, I will be commissioned as a naval nurse corps officer. I will be doing patient care, either at a Navy hospital or again wherever the Navy decides they need me to be — that could be here in the U.S. or overseas, which I don't mind at all.
I love the sense of adventure. I love knowing that I don't have the typical 9-to-5 job. Some days I can be working doing construction; other days I can be out in the field or at the range working on my marksmanship, and one day I can be deployed. I get paid to do something I enjoy.
Career Field: Intelligence
Service Branch: Air Force
These days, Air Force Maj. Thomas Mahoney is attending the Army’s Command and General Staff College. He’s one of a handful of Airmen each year who attend a sister Service’s school to learn more about the culture and operations of a different military branch.
Tom has come a long way from the young man he describes as “not what you would call a stellar student.” It’s a transformation he’s been working on his entire career.
As high school graduation neared, Tom realized his academic record would keep him from applying to colleges. He knew he wanted to continue his education, however, and started to look for an opportunity to prove himself. He found inspiration in his family’s military history and then, after speaking with a few recruiters, he joined the Air Force, which he felt was the best match for his goals. During the enlistment process, Tom took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test and was matched with a career field.
“I actually scored well enough to go into any of [the career fields I was interested in], but when I was at Basic Training, they gave me an additional test that told them that I was maybe a good fit for going into the intelligence career field.”
Tom served for five years in that capacity, gathering and organizing information to help his commanding officers make important decisions. When his term ended, he felt he was ready to return to academic life and was accepted to Penn State University. He wasn’t finished with the Military, however.
“When I was enlisted, I really enjoyed the intelligence career field, and I watched the officers that I served under, and … I really respected them and what they did, and I thought that that would be actually an interesting way to maybe carry on my career.”
Tom approached the Penn State ROTC detachment with a letter of recommendation from his former squadron commander. After passing the qualifying exam, Tom was accepted into the school’s ROTC program as a general military cadet. He found the experience similar to Basic Training in some ways, but with more of a focus on leadership, history and military customs and courtesies.
Tom also attended technical school, where he studied various intelligence disciplines and prepared to lead enlisted Airmen in his field. Combined with his own experience in the enlisted ranks, this training prepared him for life as an officer — and beyond.
I’m proud of our country and proud of everybody that I serve alongside of.
“What we learn in the Military and what we practice in the Military is really transferable to a lot of civilian careers. You’re learning communication, leadership, management, in addition to all the technical skills that you pick up along the way.”
When Tom re-entered the Air Force as a second lieutenant, he was placed in charge of 30 service members, and the success of their missions became his responsibility. As an intelligence officer, that meant piecing together the information gathered by his team into a coherent picture that could guide future operations. He enjoyed analyzing data and interpreting it, knowing his opinions and insight were valued. Tom also found pleasure in leading a very smart group of Airmen.
“Leading them can be both a challenge, but also very rewarding ... I don’t think there’s any better feeling that you can get out of a job.”
As a major, Tom’s day starts early. By 7:00 a.m., he is often at work compiling information for his commander. After that, he focuses on more long-term initiatives and in-depth analyses of specific issues or events that the commander has identified as concerns or interests to the Military. He also spends part of each day dealing with personnel issues, doing performance reports or making sure his team’s needs are attended to. And that’s just in the office. Tom has deployed recently to Iraq.
“You can usually see the impact that you have when you’re deployed a lot sooner. You know there might be some follow-on actions where it’s very apparent that the information you provided let the commander take some action. So, in a lot of ways, that’s very gratifying.”
From his enlisted term to the present, Tom has never stopped working to better himself and the people he leads — a trait that has led him to his current experience at the Army’s Command and General Staff College. No doubt he will return with the knowledge he has gained there and tackle the next challenge with enthusiasm. After all, that is what has taken him from a young man uncertain about his future to a confident leader. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m proud of our country and proud of everybody that I serve alongside of, and every decision I’ve made along the way, whether it was joining the Air Force in the first place … or coming back in as an officer, I don’t regret any of it, and I’d do it all over again.”
Career Field: Environmental Health and Safety
Service Branch: Coast Guard
From a young age, Nakeisha Hills of Passaic, N.J., had lofty goals. In grade school, while most kids her age were concerned with going to the mall or simply getting by, Nakeisha was busy mapping out her future. She wanted to be able to help her mother, a single mom, pay for her and her two sisters’ educations. Through talking to teachers and high school students, Nakeisha discovered the Military could help her achieve that goal. So, as a first step, Nakeisha joined the Navy Junior ROTC program when she entered high school.
“I stayed in [the Junior ROTC program] for the entire four years I was in high school … By my senior year I was actually the person in charge of the entire unit.”
While Nakeisha excelled in the Navy Junior ROTC program, one of her instructors, a retired Coast Guard helicopter pilot, discussed her post-high school options with her.
“My instructor mentioned to me that the Coast Guard was a lot smaller and that women had no gender exclusions as opposed to the other Services.”
Her instructor also mentioned that the Coast Guard was seeking recruits from diverse backgrounds. As an African-American woman, Nakeisha found this information interesting. She began researching opportunities with the Coast Guard, as well as colleges.
In collaboration with a recruiter and college advisor, in the fall of 1990, Nakeisha enrolled in East Stroudsburg University and, in the summer of 1991, attended Basic Training as a Coast Guard reservist.
“[Boot Camp] was scary … I wasn’t a good runner. I was a swimmer, but I wasn’t a lifeguard-level swimmer. So I was kind of fearful … but I knew that it was something that I wanted more than I feared.”
Overcoming those fears, in addition to fulfilling her personal commitment, made graduation an emotional experience.
“I finally was able to tell my mom that I wasn’t going to be this financial burden to her … I would have my own salary … I would be able to help her.”
I was determined to complete [boot camp].
Nakeisha served as a Coast Guard reservist while finishing her college degree. She drilled one weekend each month at Governors Island in New York, working as a yeoman at Support Center New York.
Upon finishing her degree, Nakeisha attended Officer Candidate School. Becoming an active-duty officer was something Nakeisha always knew she wanted because it would mean increased leadership, salary, experience and training. That’s not to say, however, that going into Officer Candidate School didn’t make Nakeisha nervous.
“It was nerve-wracking, again, because I was no Mark Spitz [Olympic swimmer] … But I was determined to complete it.”
Nakeisha’s determination and commitment carried her through Officer Candidate School and, ultimately, a military career currently in its 18th year. Today, Nakeisha serves as the chief of contingency planning and force readiness at the Coast Guard’s Sector Delaware Bay, facilitating emergency response preparedness. She and her staff maintain plans that incorporate Coast Guard assets and all of the resources other local support agencies bring to the table.
“Primarily we are the unit’s arm of outreach to other agencies … like the New Jersey State Police or Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection … so that we can collaboratively respond to an incident on the Delaware River and Bay.”
It is a career Nakeisha finds both rewarding and practical. Through the Coast Guard, she is able to serve her country, and at the same time, take advantage of unique military benefits such as job security, excellent health care and tuition assistance. In fact, with the help of the Military’s Post-9/11 GI Bill, Nakeisha is currently obtaining her master’s degree in strategic communication. It’s an education she plans on applying during her extended military career. Not only did the Coast Guard allow Nakeisha to go above and beyond her commitment to financially help her mother, it also satisfies her desire to play a role in something larger than herself. That’s a role Nakeisha hopes to play for a long time.
Career Field: Business Administration and Operations
Service Branch: Marine Corps
I was living in Smithville Flats, N.Y., when I enlisted in the Marines. I joined because my then-fiancé was joining the Marine Corps, and I wanted to prove I could do anything he could do.
I chose food service at the time because my husband was already a brig [military prison] guard. I wanted a job that would be available no matter where he was stationed. That left me with food service, administration and supply. Food service was my top choice, and it’s what I got.
In 2005, I did what we call a lateral move, and I changed my job from food service to administration, which is normally not something that’s done as a staff noncommissioned officer. In 2010, I was promoted to the rank of master sergeant with fewer than 16 years of service.
I put a lot into work. I always give 120 percent, and I get it done.
Currently, I serve as the senior enlisted Marine on the third floor of the IPAC. IPAC stands for Installation Personnel Administration Center. It handles the administration for all the Marines on the island of Oahu. We specifically handle people that are going on deployments. We also help process any legal issues and promotions, again for the entire island of Oahu. So I’m supervising approximately 30 Marines, making sure that each section is doing what they need to and making sure they are getting their required training.
Right now, we have a very large unit of several hundred people who are getting ready to leave on deployment. It’s my job to make sure that these Marines are taken care of — that the paperwork is ready, that they’re getting all the money they deserve, that if their wife or their children have any problems they can come to us and we can help them.
The 32 Marines who are on my floor — I’m also responsible for them and making sure they’re getting everything out of the Marine Corps that they can, from physical fitness to opportunities to volunteering to required training. They’re learning how to become good leaders so they can help the new Marines who are coming in behind them.
As a matter of fact, this morning one of my Marines is in a competition to try and earn meritorious corporal, which is E-4. So we were working with her last night on all the stuff that she’s going to have to go through today to win that competition.
Because of my upbringing, because of my attitudes and my work ethic and personality, I put a lot into work. I always give 120 percent, and I get it done.