Ask Stew: Should I Join the Military?

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Navy recruiter League of Latin American Citizens Conference
Lt. Jason Bailey, assigned to Navy Recruiting District Ohio, discusses opportunities available in the Navy during the League of Latin American Citizens Conference. (Petty Officer 1st Class Keith Bryska/U.S. Navy)

While military service is a calling for many, it can also be a last resort for people looking to find a job after high school, get out of their current situation at home or earn money for college. Regardless of the reason why you want to serve in the military, you will get out of it what you put into it.

You can leave military service with marketable skills and leadership experience at a young age, plus some useful discipline and resilience for what life will throw at you. Since military life is not a perfect fit for everyone, some might have negative experiences if they aren't prepared for the reality of service.

Here is an email from a young man on the fence and concerned about what might happen if he chooses military service.

Mr. Smith, I am thinking about joining the Navy or Air Force and learning some useful technical and mechanical skills. I still have a year of high school and have talked to recruiters at my school. I am hearing about great opportunities, but I also have seen people in my neighborhood join and come back out of shape and with no job skills. I am not that impressed with the recruiters as they seem to be telling me one thing and I see another. I am in good shape, so this is not a fitness request but more of advice on a decision to make. Thanks Robbie

Robbie, thanks for even considering serving your country. You will see some good and bad along your journey to serve and during service. The military is a cross-section of society, so expect to see both. If you push yourself when learning new skills and do well in your job, you will rise above your peers and get access to increased opportunities. You picked good options with the Navy and Air Force, especially if you are seeking mechanical and technical skills since both are highly dependent on tech-savvy and mechanically oriented sailors and airmen.

Technical and Mechanical Jobs in the Military

The Navy and Air Force are looking for people who are interested in serving and learning more about the mechanics of the machines that drive these branches and the technology that drives the world. From network specialist to aviation mechanics, these job skills will transfer over to the civilian world immediately and help advance your college course load since many of the military programs also equate to college credits.

College Options

If you are enjoying military service but want to complete a college degree, you can do both at the same time. Sure, there is the GI Bill that allows you to attend college once you have left the military, but there are also the Naval Academy and Air Force Academy where you can start to attend up until the age of 22. There are also ROTC programs at colleges across the country.

You Should Still Physically Prepare Yourself

Find as many ways as you can to stand out in the military, from the mechanical and technical training and jobs to the fitness test. The physical standards are not overwhelming for either branch of service (Air Force Fitness Test | Navy Fitness Test).

However, if you decide to join their special ops or diving programs, be prepared to add significant amounts of additional fitness training and water skills to your list of preparation needs. Normal athletics will provide a nice foundation for you through your basic and advanced training process, but you should specifically focus on the fitness test of either or both branches to make sure you are capable of not just passing but doing well on the fitness test.

Many former athletes make the mistake and "think" they are fit enough to pass fitness tests. Do yourself a favor and practice the test a few times before you leave for basic training or boot camp. You will be glad you did, and you may even find a weakness that needs to be developed.

Like any profession or job, the more you put into your service, the more you will receive from your military experience. If the decision whether to serve in the Air Force or the Navy is weighing on you, look at where the Navy and Air Force bases are located across the country and throughout the world. There are some beautiful bases located in vacation hot spots in beach towns, mountains and near ancient cultures. There are some not-so-good places to live as well. Choose wisely.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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