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.