How Do You Feel About Your Time In The Military?

Title basically says it.

I’m 21, halfway through my bachelor’s degree. I’ve got a lot of ideas for things I want to do when I graduate, and joining the military is one of them. I don’t really know anyone serving/who has served so I’m coming here to see what people say. I think I’ve @'ed a couple guys in my log a while back (maybe Flap, and USMC (rip)). I think there’s a fair amount of people though so all thoughts are welcome.

Did you enjoy it? At least glad you did it? Do you regret it? What’d you do? How long did you serve?

EDIT: Btw, I’m in the U.S.

Commissioned in the Marine Corps after college, became an infantry officer, two deployments (Iraq '08, Afghanistan '10) and stayed for a total of six years.

Not a day passes that I do not lean heavily on those experiences or think of the people that were involved in them. My thoughts about the US, the military, war, those specific wars, veterans, and every other ancillary topic continue to evolve (and not always in a positive light). It was rarely enjoyable from a material perspective but brought me most of the highest highs and lowest lows of my life to date. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.


If you give some more details like branch, mos, enlisted or officer, it would help.

No clue which branch I’d choose to do. They all seem to have their pros/cons, at least in my opinion.

Being a cryptologic linguist (not sure the MOS…starts with a 2 I think. Depends on the language(s) you study.) sounds awesome. I’ve seen the job listed for AF, Army, and Marines. Not sure about the Navy - do all branches offer the same or similar jobs? I really just don’t know much about it.

Since I’m getting my degree prior to (potentially) joining, I’d probably join as an Officer. A small part of me doesn’t like the idea of not working my way up like most, but maybe that’s dumb. I know of a guy who turned down the Naval Academy (super smart guy, but really just hated school) because he just wanted to be able to start at the bottom like everyone else (and like I said, just had no interest in attending school, no matter the benefits). He’s been a Marine for 7 years now, doesn’t regret a thing I guess.

I don’t know much about the military, the differences between branches, etc. The idea of it is just somewhat appealing.

You don’t just become an officer because you have a degree; you would need to go to OCS. And second lieutenant is starting at the bottom. If you went enlisted in the Army you would start at E4, specialist, because you have a degree.

You also have to understand that officers and enlisted even when in the same job, do different things.

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I didn’t mention it but yes, I’m aware of this. I was just looking at it earlier today - I’d been sent something by a Marine recruiter a while back.

Okay. Like I said, I really know nothing about how it all works. Never heard anything first hand from someone.

Did national service (conscription) back in the day in South Africa. The saying was “the best time of your life that you never want to go through again”!

It was a different world and a very long time ago, but it definitely did me a lot of good and was a major step in the transition from being a boy to being a man, in a good way.

Interestingly, even now 30 years later, when anyone in the UK or US sees “army officer” on my CV they are always impressed and always comment on it. So definitely worth doing whatever extra it may take to be an officer, in my opinion. (And I was only a humble 2nd lieutenant).

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@jshaving - we’ve answered your questions pretty literally here. Is that what you were seeking? Or were you more trying to figure out where in the military you might want to end up?

Yes, it’s good. I’m really not even sure what I was looking for, haha.

From what it sounds like, and this seems to be the case most of the time, people are glad they did it. It’s

This would be helpful if I knew more about the branches and what each is like. I’ve been looking online but figured much of that would be made to sound like it was really great. Real life people might be more honest. I could talk to a recruiter but since this is a “maybe” that’s 2 years off, haven’t gone down that path yet.

With the Corps you often go through OCS during your last one or two summers in college. You can still attend after college though. Check out PLC/OCC or get in touch with your Officer Selection Officer (OSO) if that’s not who you spoke to originally.

It’s difficult to describe an entire branch of the military without writing a novel, though I’d say the Corps is largely as it appears from the outside and whatever you’ve read online has probably averaged to a fair characterization.

Finding your place might be more easily addressed by answering questions about what’s important to you. Here’s a few for starters:

  • How important is a leadership role? Do you want to be responsible for entire units from day 1? This goes to both E/O and MOS questions
  • What types of experiences are important to you? Are you dead set on the linguist role? How important is it to for your role to have transference in the civilian world?
  • Have you given any thought to whether you’d want to make a career out of it?
  • How important is combat experience? Nothing guarantees combat experience but there’s definitely places to target (or avoid) depending on how much emphasis you place on it?

What about the military attracts you compared to living a civilian life? What do you think you will gain (or lose) that you couldn’t being a civilian?

Thought about becoming an LEO, or being a reservist?

I’ve always been a fairly natural leader. This only applies to school and the various jobs I’ve had since I was 12 though. I would assume that there might be more personalities like mine in the military than at the local grocery store, haha. I don’t “like” it but I don’t mind it. If it seems like no is going to take charge of a situation, I will step into that role. If someone else takes charge, then I usually don’t mind stepping back and letting them do their thing. So as far as the military goes, if I can get myself into a leadership role, then I think I’d try to do so. If nothing else, I’d probably learn some skills and make a little more money. It’s not that I want to be in charge of people from day 1, but more that I’m willing to be. Maybe that’s the wrong attitude to have?

Actually kinda curious now how many people go in wanting to be in charge of people?

I don’t have much in mind for experiences - I hear people say, “You get to travel,” and stuff like that, then hear of dudes who served saying it wasn’t nearly what their recruiter promised them it’d be. I guess I’d say I don’t have anything specific in mind, or high hopes of certain experiences.

I’m not dead set on the linguist role but it’s been the most interesting job that I’ve come across. I’ve always liked languages, know a little bit of a few languages, and would like to be better. I think the knowledge and skills I’d get from the job could look very appealing to future potential law enforcement employers (see my reply to California down below).

If I did do the military and then law enforcement, than yes, I’d like the skills to transfer. Other considerations I have are teaching, social work, counseling, construction, and being a paramedic, so I’m fine if the military doesn’t prepare me for those. Maybe it could prepare me for being a paramedic but I don’t expect it to teach me skills that prepare me for teaching or social work.

I don’t think I’d want to. Maybe if I fell in love with it, but one of my main hopes is to raise my family in my hometown (or near it). I could handle leaving for a few years but I’d prefer to not completely set down roots somewhere else (or not being able to because I’m moving so much). It’s not even really because of the town specifically, but most of my family and my girlfriend’s family are here. We both want to be close to them.

If I’m being honest, combat is not that important to me. If I need to do it, I’m willing to, but I know of a guy who joined the Marines because he thought that he wanted to go shoot bad guys. (As far as I know he has spent most of his time in San Diego and some in Japan. No combat that I’m aware of.) That’s not me. That’s not my main goal.

I don’t know any of them personally, but I have friends who are friends with SEALs and a Force Recon Marine sniper (not sure if I have that guy properly titled). Those dudes sound like some badasses. And I think it’d be so cool to be able to say that you did that job. Not to impress people or prove that you’re a badass, but just to be able to say to yourself that you did that. Because then you hear jokes about the “Chair Force” and stuff, haha. But no, combat is not my main goal, and dudes like I mentioned probably are the way they are because of combat and training for combat.

I’m pretty sure I would (overall) enjoy a civilian life more than the military life. If I joined, I doubt I’d try to make a career out of it. So it’s a relatively short amount of time to spend, and then I’d still be young and have the ability to do whatever else I wanted to afterwards.

In a way, I feel like I “should.” (I don’t even know if that’s the best way to word it.) I don’t think of myself as a very patriotic person, but I am very thankful to live in America and am very thankful for what so many people have sacrificed so that I can live the life that I do. I feel like as a young, healthy male, I should be willing to spend 4 years of my life serving my country. I know someone from Europe, and his home country has mandatory service. I think he served for 2 years, felt like he got something out of it, and then was able to go on and do his thing. That’s kind of how I view this. I don’t want to wake up when I’m old, and wish that I’d done something that I’ll no longer be able to do. Does that make sense?

Don’t really know anything about being a reservist, but I have given some thought to federal law enforcement - DEA, FBI, etc. Those are more appealing to me than the military, but both in person and online, have never met anyone who’s done a job like that. (Some cops and SWAT guys on here though.)

My parents went to high school with a guy who’s a tribal officer who has worked/is working with an FBI drug task force to combat the meth (really all drugs) problem on his (and my) reservation. That sounds awesome. I know it’s not like TV portrays and that he’s not just constantly arresting bad guys and that the problem will probably always be there, but doing that kind of work sounds very cool. Have you heard of the MMIW…movement? I don’t know what to refer to it as. Anyway, sometime last year it was announced that there would be 7 (I think) field offices opened around the country, where the BIA and other local/federal law enforcement agencies would focus on crimes related to MMIW. Again, that sounds pretty awesome to be a part of.

Like the military though, I know very little about that field. I’ve heard it’s quite competitive, and as someone going for a History degree at a not-prestigious state university, I don’t know how likely it is to be hired. I did contact my region’s recruiters for both the DEA and FBI. They both alerted me to internships and one of them, can’t remember which, told me to not worry about my degree, as all degrees offer different skills. For example (their words): History majors tend to have very strong reading and writing skills. I guess they like that, haha. Didn’t mention if they care about your school or what other skills are a good idea to build (like learning another language or something. I’m sure the language would never be a bad thing when applying for any job though). I’d have to move for an internship so if I do apply and get accepted, it probably won’t be for another year.

Too many.

I don’t know how much of an option that is if you want to be an officer.

You might think that but if you become an NCO, you will be a teacher, mentor, social worker, parent, to your troops.

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Where did you serve?

My opinion is that these are not the right reasons to pursue officership. Combined with @zecarlo point about the MOS mismatch (I assume the OIC would have an intel background), I’d say an officer role may not be the right call at this point in time. There are plenty of opportunities to employ your natural leadership abilities on the enlisted side and you could always commission later if you so desired.

Taking in combination your comments about skill transference to LEO / not seeking a career , I’d suggest approaching the same LEO agencies you referenced to see if they have preferred military backgrounds for new entrants as a way of solving the MOS puzzle. It may be that there are several right answers but it would be good to know if there are MOS’ that they seek out or avoid before committing to anything.

Speaking only for myself, the latter of these two ended up being a much bigger driver than the former. Mid-way through OCS (so very early in my exposure to the Marine Corps) I’d lost hold of all nobler motivations and was left only with pride, a desire to prove something to myself, and the fear of regret.

Lastly, I’m thinking the Marine Corps may not be the experience you’re seeking. The Corps tends to have the fewest resources, the least technical / vocational transference, and everything is about warfighting (even when it’s not really about warfighting). Camp Pendleton aside, the duty stations tend to blow ass as well - though I came to love 29 Palms dearly after a while. Just one opinion so apply salt liberally.

What are good reasons? In your view

Right reasons:

  1. Because you believe you have something to contribute as a servant leader and are prepared to embrace the challenge of leading a unit
  2. Because the job mandates it (pilot, lawyer, etc)

To be clear, I’m not downplaying the benefits and comforts that come with being an officer. I’m just saying that those are bad reasons to be an officer. Officers that prioritize their own welfare make for shitty officers, and shitty officers make for shitty, miserable units - the exception being when shitty officers are self-aware enough to get out of the way and let strong SNCOs / NCOs fill the void. This isn’t an attack on @jshaving motivations either - just saying that personal benefits shouldn’t be the driving factor behind taking on a role that’s going to affect a lot of people.

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I didn’t intend to come off as hostile either. Thanks for your answer

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Man, a proper response to this could easily fill a novel. And truthfully, i think anything resembling an honest response is going to have plenty of mixed emotions.

For background, I am currently an active duty Naval Officer, and a relatively junior one at that. Graduated the Naval Academy a few years ago, and have been serving onboard my ship ever since. Went on a 6 month deployment mainly off the coast of Iran, with a little bit of South China Sea experience in-route, and then too many smaller 4-12 week underways to count.

In terms of Officer vs Enlisted, its honestly a tough call. Truthfully, my plan out of high school was to enlist in the Marines. Every man in my family enlisted in the Corps, kind of a coming of age thing for us. My father, now a college professor, really wanted me to go to college, and I viewed the Academy as a fair compromise between the two, which older me now realizes is pretty stupid logic, but hey, I was 18. I will say this, if you want to have a cool job, whether that be kicking in doors in the Marines or shooting 5" guns in the Navy, Enlist. Officer’s will do that occasionally, but your job as an officer is really the leadership and administrative duties of your division/platoon (or larger, as your progress). That being said, I would not trade being an Officer for anything. I love my guys with a passion, and take no small amount of pride in taking care of them. Im by no means perfect at my job, but I know my guys have faith that I have their backs, and there really isn’t any better feeling than that. If you find you embrace leadership roles, and truly believe that your presence as an officer would mean that the people below you would be better off, then do it. With that in mind, I can only give an account on the officer side of the house.

Take. Care. Of. Your. People.

Look, being a 22 year old thrown in front of your first division can be intimidating, You outrank everyone who works for you, even though almost everyone there has been in the service longer than you, half of them are probably older than you, and at least initially, all of them know wtf is going on more than you. It doesn’t matter. When you show up, they look to you for guidance, and you had better rise to the occasion when they come to you for something. I could spend pages of text giving examples of my guys coming to me for help, with everything from work issues that needed the rank of an officer to get a problem fixed, to marriages failing, depression and suicide issues, broken equipment, the time we may have accidentally set an Island on fire (allegedly). Your men will rely on you more than you know, especially if you have a weaker NCO (or in my case, were gapped the position and had exclusively junior sailors for the first 3 months). The people are the mission. If they don’t trust you, then they can’t do their jobs with confidence, and the mission has failed. Be worthy of their trust.

The Military is tough. In the last two years, I have been homes maybe 6 months, and even then, work is busy. I work about every other weekend, there is always some fire to put out, always a new inspection, training, or evolution to prep for. Family life is a hard game to play, and I am very blessed to have an amazing wife I have been with since I was 15. Not everyone is so lucky, and family issues are prevalent. Personally, I dont know if I could do this job while having children. Now, thats just my take, and I know a plethora of phenomenal sailors who are amazing mothers and fathers. It can be done, but its damn difficult, and thats just something you need to be honest about to yourself when thinking on this decision.

The military is a bureaucracy. Sounds harsh, but it is true. You will bang your head against the wall weekly over seemingly pointless regulations, but you still have to follow them, despite how much of an inconvenience it is for you and your people. You will meet some of the most amazing leaders in your life, people who truly inspire you to become a better man. They are supremely capable individuals in almost every aspect who serve proudly, working their best to take care of their people and accomplish the mission. When you work with those people, it is an amazing experience, even when times are hard. That being said, you will also meet terrible leaders, men who are lazy and selfish who have skated by just enough to advance their career, who largely stay in the service because it is a guaranteed paycheck, and they fear their chances in the civilian world. This happens more in some parts of the service than others, but is certainly present to some small degree in all. These men will be your biggest day to day headache, and a large part of your job will be acting as a shield to prevent poor leadership above you from preventing your men below you.

All this above may sound bitter, but I do not mean it to. it is harsh, but the realities of military life are harsh. it is not an easy job, and is certainly not the best choice for everyone. But by god, there are benefits.

You will get closer with the people you served with than you thought possible. I laugh until I cry at least once a week at my work, even when everything is going to hell. Those bonds will last forever.

The pride you feel when your people do well is amazing, the kind of feeling that sticks with you when you lay your head down at night. I have gotten a handful of accolades myself, and they are nice, but the feeling I get for getting a NAM is not even close to the joy I have seeing a 20 year old sailor advance to the next rank. And when they work as a team? When you are running through an evolution, and see are you men running around like a well oiled machine, confident responses, muscle memory in full effect, executing this like a well rehearsed football play, theres nothing greater.

Travel is nice. Not so nice in the COVID area, but ive still seen my fair share of countries. Honestly, if you want to travel, id just take vacations, its not worth the job just for the travel, but its a nice perk.

Professional pride will be very dependent on you. Cynicism is a disease in the service that everyone falls into on occasion. It can be hard to think big picture when shit really sucks, but I will say, taking a step back and realizing what you are doing, seeing the impact of your work, knowing that you are having the types of experiences others only see in movies or tv (and doing them so many times they stop being cool), its pretty great.

This has become much longer than I intended, so I think I will end with this. I am eternally grateful I chose to join the service. It has changed me, made me grow up, made me appreciate a lot of things in life I probably took for granted before, and given me the opportunity to work with and lead some of the finest men and women I have ever met. I also think this job is difficult, has certainly had some negative impacts upon my health, my family life, goals I had for myself. There are highs, and there are lows. In the end of the day, i am the man I am today because of what I do, and for both good and bad, im glad for the experience.


jshaving, I think JKil116 has the best response to your concern. Allow me to relate
my !@#$^&* experience in the Navy.

Upon graduation from college I went kicking and screaming into the Navy reserve during the Vietnam war to “avoid the draft”. Hated all 18 months active duty (and subsequent 3 years’ reserve time). In the office where I worked I had a sign over my desk that read “persistence and determination”; that and some serious weightlifting in the base gym sustained me through that year and a half at 23 - 24. During my reserve obligation the GI bill paid for all of law school, and I now get the veteran’s discount at Lowes home improvement stores as well as a parking space near the door which I don’t use worrying that someone might key my really expensive car. I presently have a Navy flag in my garage gym; my few military neighbors were officers and they talk about it.

My trip down memory lane, which I don’t otherwise discuss:

As an E3 I occasionally had to drive officers’ wives home from airport from visiting their husbands in Hawaii. Those women complained like crazy about the military. The admiral in our office made me later give full reports on what they said in the car. I wasn’t happy about potentially screwing up some husbands’ careers.

When I had duty I would spend the night in office. That included driving the second in command ( an habitual drunk who was a commander) of the office home from the officers’ club. He was replaced eventually by a really great guy. I read years later in the Navy Times that honestly great guy was blown to bits while exploring a tunnel at the line between South and North Korea. A waste.

The Chief in my specific office and I had a fight in the office one day; he royally screwed my fitness report which I was later told was what derailed my OCS application. Yes, at the lowest point in that mess I wanted to chunk my lawyer dreams for the life of a Navy officer which even today I still admire. The worst feeling is knowing people with your same education are getting higher starting salaries, overhearing some officers joking about enlisted guys, and having to salute women whose gender or color got them officer rank.

The quality of women you’ll meet will differ from the educated ones to whom you have become accustomed. I lost the love of my life from that experience. I write that despite having been married 28 years to a good woman who died, and I’m 8 more years into a second marriage.

There was an E4 in our office who was in the military in lieu of serving a sentence for rape. The sentencing judge gave him the option of joining the military or going to prison for about 5 years.
Over the years I have defended a few guys where I was able to work out such a plea deal. Most joined the Marines.

Probably the best story I can relate is a Navy chief in our office whose wife talked him into getting a vasectomy to please her since they had about 3 kids. She left him about a month later and promptly filed for divorce. That happened the first two months I was on active duty.

I do not mean to belittle what atlas13 wrote. I admire him having been given the chance to do what he’s doing. Part of me, at 73, still longs for it. I’ve had to settle for “living well is the best revenge”. I have had about 4 old friends over the years express to me their feelings of remorse for not having served. I realize what I experienced was during one of the worst times in our history; years later I read the McNamara book (a member of Nixon’s cabinet when I was in Navy) where he admitted Vietnam was a mistake. That hurt what little pride I had about serving. I saw the best, and mostly, worst of American humanity as an E5. I suspect that awaits you if you enlist. I say “officer or nothing” so you don’t waste your degree.