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Enlisting in the Military

Enlistment is the most common way to join the Military. Familiarizing yourself with the enlistment process can be helpful, as there are a few things that you'll likely go through no matter which career path you choose.

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Before You Join

Doing the Research

If you know a friend or family member who has spent time in the Military, sit down with them and hear what he or she has to say. The internet is also a good place to conduct research, but take what you read with a grain of salt. It is sometimes hard to tell which sources are official. These sites below are good starting points.

General information:

Today's Military

Medicine + the Military

Full-time service branches:


Marine Corps


Air Force

Coast Guard

Space Force

Part-time service branches:

Army Reserve

Army National Guard

Marine Corps Reserve

Navy Reserve

Air Force Reserve

Air National Guard

Coast Guard Reserve

Visiting a Recruiter

Once you've done your research and have a sense of which Service branches and opportunities are right for you, it's time to talk to a recruiter who can give you detailed information about the branch he or she represents and can answer questions about your specific situation (for example, if you need a waiver, have dependent children or a physical condition that may or may not affect your eligibility).

Recruiters serve one specific branch, but there are joint recruiting centers that represent multiple branches and their corresponding recruiters. While no single recruiter can answer every question off the top of his or her head, recruiters will know where to find the answers.

It's fine to bring a friend or parent with you for support. It's also a good idea to make a list of questions beforehand so you don't forget anything. You'll probably talk to your recruiter multiple times before making a decision, so don't worry if you do forget something.

The Enlistment Process

Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS)

Once you make the decision to enlist, the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) is the place where recruits go to finish the enlistment process. There are MEPS locations all over the country. Recruits officially complete the process of joining the Military once they meet all of the MEPS requirements. This process may take a few days.

Potential recruits must do the following at the MEPS:

Pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)

The ASVAB is a multiple-choice exam that helps determine which kinds of careers an individual is best suited for. There are questions about math, language, science, mechanical and electronic knowledge and more. The test lasts about three hours and is one of the factors used to determine which military specialties you'd be good at. You can take the ASVAB while at MEPS, but you can also take it at your school if it's offered there, or at a Military Entrance Test (MET) site.

Pass the Physical Examination

Your recruiter will discuss physical requirements with you beforehand. While the physical examination varies from branch to branch, it typically includes completing a medical history questionnaire, taking basic blood, urine and flexibility tests, as well as hearing and vision exams.

Meet With a MEPS Career Counselor and Determine a Career

Along with your ASVAB results, a MEPS career counselor will take into account service needs, any prior experience and your wishes when helping you find a career.

Take the Oath of Enlistment (swearing in)

When you raise your right hand and repeat the Oath of Enlistment you become a full-fledged member of the U.S. Military. The Oath is led by a commissioned officer and always performed in front of an American flag. During the Oath, every service member vows to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

MEPS (official site)

What Happens After the MEPS

After finishing at the MEPS, recruits follow one of two options:

  • "Direct Ship:" Departure for Basic Training occurs in a matter of days versus months.
  • Delayed Entry Program (DEP): Commit to Basic Training at a time in the future, generally within one year. Recruits entering the DEP are given further instruction, to be followed at a later time.

It's important to note that the time between being "sworn in" and Basic Training could be as short as two days or as long as a year. It also varies based on job assignment and branch of Service.

Training and Advancement

Basic Training (Boot Camp)

Advanced preparation is the foundation for a successful Basic Training experience. Recruits should do everything they can to make the transition from civilian life to military life as seamless as possible. Starting or increasing the intensity of your exercise regimen will get your body in shape. It also helps to read about your chosen Service so you know what to expect in the weeks ahead.

The first few days at Basic Training are known as orientation (also referred to as "Processing Week," "Reception" or "00 Week"). This is where new recruits adjust to their new surroundings and learn the dos and don'ts of their respective branches. Also during orientation, new recruits might:

  • Turn in enlistment packages (paperwork from the MEPS)
  • Receive dental and medical exams
  • Get immunizations
  • Receive uniforms and training gear (shorts/sweats, T-shirts, etc.)
  • Receive required haircuts (women can keep their hair long, provided it can be worn within regulation and put up in a timely manner; it must be neatly tied back and be kept above the collar)
  • Create direct-deposit accounts for paychecks

Starting at orientation, the actual training begins. This varies from Service to Service and lasts between eight and 12 weeks. When recruits successfully complete Basic Training, they are prepared for all elements of service: physical, mental and emotional. As military personnel, they will go on to receive additional training, such as Advanced Individual Training or Technical Training, to develop the skills needed to do their specific jobs. Once finished, they transfer to their next duty stations. This is where members of the Services put all their training to use by carrying out their assignments, performing their jobs and serving our country.

Preparing for Basic Training

Advancement Opportunities for Enlisted Personnel

Enlisted service members have ample opportunity to advance up the ranks. During their first four-year enlistment, service members are promoted a couple of times. There are also opportunities to become a noncommissioned or commissioned officer:

Becoming a Noncommissioned Officer

Noncommissioned officers (NCOs) are higher-ranking enlisted personnel who play a crucial role in day-to-day military operations and are often referred to as the "backbone" of the Armed Forces. Serving as the liaison between commissioned officers and lower-ranking enlisted personnel, they are responsible for providing advice and guidance to officers as well as leadership and training to lower-ranking enlisted personnel.

To become a noncommissioned officer (also referred to as petty officer in the Coast Guard), a service member must rise up through the enlisted ranks. A service member can only be appointed to noncommissioned officer if he or she is promoted by a higher-ranking officer.

Transitioning from Enlisted to Officer

Some enlisted service members make the transition into officer roles. Enlisted service members with the right qualifications may be recommended by their commanding officers for Officer Candidate/ Training School (OCS/OTS) or Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC) (if they plan to go back to school). Most Services also have transitional programs that help service members make the leap.

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