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Join the Military

Learn how you can enter the United States military as an officer or enlisted member.

Infographic with requirements and steps for enlisting in the U.S. military
  • If you're thinking of enlisting in the military, start with some research. It's a big decision, and you’ll have important choices to make when you sign up.

    As an active duty enlisted member, you'll learn a job specialty and do hands-on work. You’ll sign a contract, usually for four years active and four years inactive service.

    Đang chơi bàiThe military has five branches: the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy. Each has its own focus, job specialties, base locations, and more.

    Requirements to Enlist

    Citizenship

    • U.S. citizen or

    • Lawful permanent resident with a valid Green Card (You may have fewer job choices.)

    Age Limits

    Enlist at 17 with parental consent, or 18 or older without. Each service has a different enlistment age limit:

    • Marines: 28

    • Coast Guard: 31

    • Army: 34

    • Air Force: 39

    • Navy: 39

    Education and Testing

    • High school diploma or

    • Đang chơi bàiGED (Your options may be more limited in some branches.)

    Everyone must take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. It determines which branches and jobs you can pursue.

    Health and Fitness

    Pass a physical exam and meet weight limits. Each service has different fitness standards.

    Steps for Enlisting

    1. Contact a Recruiter

    Đang chơi bàiGet in touch with a recruiter for each branch you’re interested in. They’ll answer your questions.

    2. Report to MEPS

    If you decide to enlist, you'll spend a day at a military entrance processing station (MEPS). You'll take the ASVAB, have your physical exam, and meet with a career counselor. If you're accepted, you'll take the oath of enlistment.

    3. Await Orders for Basic Training

    You'll receive orders for basic training within a few weeks. If you enrolled in the delayed entry program, you’ll get orders within a year.

    To learn more and to find a recruiter, go to usa.gov/join-military.

Join the Military as an Enlisted Member

Enlisted members make up most of the military workforce. They receive training in a job specialty and do most of the hands-on work. Usually, you’ll sign up for four years of active duty and four years inactive. After you’ve completed your active duty time, you can either extend your contract or re-enlist if you want to continue serving.

Officers make up a much smaller part of the workforce. To join as an officer, you typically must have a four-year college degree and complete an officer programĐang chơi bài. You compete for promotion to continue your career. Most officers are managers who plan and direct operations. Others are professionals like doctors and lawyers. Officers get paid more than enlisted members and enjoy certain other benefits.

Đang chơi bàiYou don’t have to join as an officer to become one though. You can join as an enlisted member and attend officer training later on.

Requirements for Joining the Military

The U.S. military has five branches of service: the  Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marine CorpsĐang chơi bài. The requirements to join are similar for all five. The main differences are in age limits, test scores, and fitness levels. Men and women meet different fitness standards. Besides the requirements listed here, a branch may have other requirements.

Age Limits for Enlisting

You must be at least 17 to enlist in any branch of the active military. The oldest you can be to enlist for active duty in each branch is:

  • Đang chơi bàiCoast Guard: 31

  • Đang chơi bàiMarines: 28

  • Navy: 39

  • Army: 34

  • Air Force: 39

Đang chơi bàiSome branches have different age limits for their part-time Reserve and National Guard. Visit each service's recruiting website for its part-time age limits.

Requirements for Enlisting If You Are Not a U.S. Citizen

You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to enlist in the military, but you may have fewer options. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you must:

  • Have a , also known as a Green Card

  • Currently live in the U.S.

  • Speak, read, and write English fluently

Educational and Testing Requirements for Enlisting

You must take the test. The ASVAB has .

  • Your scores on four of those make up your score. This score determines which branch(es) you may join. Each branch has its own lowest score for joining.

  • Đang chơi bàiYour scores on all 10 subtests determine which job specialties you qualify for..

Đang chơi bàiYou can by taking sample questions.

You must have a high school diploma or a GED to enlist. The services accept only a small number of people with GEDs each year. You can increase your chances of qualifying with a GED by:

  • Earning some college credits and/or

  • Scoring well on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT)

Health and Fitness Requirements for Enlisting

You must pass a . This includes a physical exam, hearing test, vision test, and height/weight measurements.

Đang chơi bàiEach service has its own physical requirements and fitness standards. These depend on the demands of its mission. Even within the same branch, some jobs have tougher or extra requirements.

Steps for Joining the Military

Start by doing some research about . Learn about the five active-duty branches and their part-time counterparts. Know the main differences between officers and enlisted members.

Đang chơi bàiOnce you know which branch you’re considering, contact a recruiter. A recruiter will give you an overview and answer your questions about that service. If you’re interested in more than one branch, contact a recruiter for each. If you’re interested in joining as an officer, the recruiter will explain any options you may be eligible for.

Đang chơi bàiIf you decide to enlist, you will report to a military entrance processing station (MEPS). . These include taking the ASVAB, having a physical exam, meeting with a career counselor, and if you’re accepted,taking the oath of enlistment. From there you’ll receive orders for basic training, usually to start within a few weeks. If you enrolled in a delayed entry program, you’ll go home and get orders for basic training within a year.

Contact a Recruiter or Apply Online

Army

Air Force

Navy

Marine Corps

Coast Guard

Become a Military Officer

Commissioned Officers

Đang chơi bàiCommissioned officers are the military’s managers and highest-ranking leaders. They oversee plans, direct operations, give orders, and command units. Some are doctors and lawyers. They typically have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Officers have authority over enlisted members. They have broader responsibilities and accountability. But they rely upon enlisted members’ technical skills and experience to get the job done.

Đang chơi bàiJunior officers may lead platoons and command patrol boats. But a senior enlisted member is often their second in command.

Officers must get promoted at certain points to remain on active duty. This can be true for enlisted members too. But it is guaranteed for officers at a much earlier stage of their careers.  In return for officers’ greater accountability and less job security, they get higher pay and some extra benefits.

Ways to Become a Commissioned Officer

There are :

  • Đang chơi bàiService Academies and Senior Military Colleges

  • Đang chơi bàiReserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)

  • Officer Candidate School (OCS)

  • Đang chơi bàiDirect Commission

  • Enlisted to Officer Opportunities

Service Academies and Senior Military Colleges

There are five service academies. Entrance to these schools is highly competitive. Applicants for every academy but the Coast Guard’s need a nomination from the vice president or a member of Congress.

Students attend the service academies for free. In return, they agree to spend the next several years as military officers.

  • - Trains future Navy and Marine Corps officers. It’s also known as “Annapolis” for its location in Annapolis, MD.

    • There is no Marine Corps academy.

  • - Trains future Army officers. It’s also known as “West Point” for its location in West Point, NY.

  • - Trains students for military and civilian careers. New graduates have two choices. They can join the Navy or the Coast Guard as an officer. Or they can get a job in the civilian maritime industry at sea or ashore.

are civilian schools that combine higher education with military instruction. Students can become commissioned officers after graduating. But they only have to join the service if they’re received a military scholarship.

Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC)

Colleges and universities nationwide offer the program. The program pays for students’ tuition and prepares them to be military officers. In return, students commit to serving in the military afterward. Each service has its own ROTC program.

Officer Candidate School (OCS)

New four-year college graduates go to to join as officers. Each service has its own OCS, which lasts around three to four months. Enlisted members can also apply to attend OCS and graduate as commissioned officers.

Direct Commission

Đang chơi bàiDirect commission officers are professionals with advanced training who join as military officers. They are usually doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers, or chaplains.

Đang chơi bàiContact a recruiter for the service branch you’re interested in to learn more about officer programs:

Enlisted to Officer Opportunities

Enlisted members in all five services can advance through the enlisted ranks and apply for  to earn a commission.

The Army and the Air Force also offer .
 

Warrant Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers

Warrant officers are officers who advance from the upper enlisted ranks. They stay in their career fields. They rank above enlisted members and below commissioned officers. A Marine Corps E5 can compete for warrant officer. In the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard, you must be an E6. The Air Force doesn't have warrant officers.

Đang chơi bàiNon-commissioned officers (NCO) are higher-ranking enlisted members with demonstrated leadership abilities. Most services consider enlisted members at pay grade E4 to be NCOs. In the Air Force, you are an NCO at E5. The Army has two ranks at pay grade E4 - specialist and corporal. But a corporal is an NCO while a specialist is not.

Infographic about the U.S. military's five service branches and the mission of each.
  • The U.S. military has five branches of service. The Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy fall under the Department of Defense. The Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security. Each service has a unique mission, which is reflected in its training, equipment, locations, and military culture.

     

    U.S. Air Force

    • Mission:  "To fly, fight and win in air, space, and cyberspace"

    • This newest service, created in 1920 as the Army Air Force, became its own military branch in 1947. That same year, it broke the sound barrier.

    • The Air Force’s space program detects ballistic missile launches, tracks satellites, assists with rocket launches, and more.

    U.S. Army

    • Đang chơi bàiMission: "To deploy, fight, and win our nation's wars by providing ready, prompt, and sustained land dominance…”

    • Đang chơi bàiThe Army conducts major ground combat operations. It uses the most powerful, high-tech weapons, tanks, and fighting vehicles available.

    • Đang chơi bàiIt’s the largest and the oldest service, founded in 1775.

    U.S. Coast Guard

    • Mission: “To ensure our nation's maritime safety, security, and stewardship”

    • Đang chơi bàiThe Coast Guard has 11 official roles. These include search and rescue, drug interdiction, marine environmental protection, and defense readiness.

    • It's the smallest service, with a budget smaller than the New York subway system.

    U.S. Marine Corps

    • Đang chơi bàiMission: “As America's expeditionary force...the Marines are forward deployed to win our nation’s battles swiftly and aggressively in times of crisis…”

    • Đang chơi bàiMarines fight on land, sea, and air. They provide forces and detachments to naval ships and ground operations.

    • Đang chơi bàiThey live by the core values of honor, courage, and commitment, on and off the battlefield.  Their motto is “Semper Fidelis,” Latin for “Always Faithful.”

    U.S. Navy

    • Đang chơi bàiMission: "To recruit, train, equip, and organize...combat ready Naval forces to win conflicts and wars while maintaining security and deterrence…”

    • The Navy makes the seas safe for travel and trade.

    • Đang chơi bàiIt’s the largest navy in the world. Its aircraft carriers are like cities, with 5,000 crew members. Its submarines are among the most high-tech vessels in the world.

    Đang chơi bàiTo learn more and to find a recruiter, go to usa.gov/join-military.

Đang chơi bài is part of the Department of Defense (DOD). It’s responsible for aerial military operations, defending U.S. airspace and air bases, and building landing strips. The Air Force Space Command is under this branch. Service members are known as airmen. The reserve components are Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.

is part of the DOD and is the largest of the five military branches. It handles major ground combat missions, especially operations that are ongoing. The Army Special Forces unit is known as the Green Berets for its headgear. Service members are known as soldiers. The reserve components are Army Reserve and Army National Guard.

 is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It’s responsible for maritime law enforcement, including drug smuggling. It manages maritime search and rescue and marine environmental protection. It also secures ports, waterways, and the coasts. Service members are known as Coast Guardsmen, nicknamed Coasties. The reserve component is Coast Guard Reserve. 

Đang chơi bài is part of the DOD. It provides land combat, sea-based, and air-ground operations support for the other branches during a mission. This branch also guards U.S. embassies around the world and the classified documents in those buildings. Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) members are known as Raiders. All service members are referred to as Marines. The reserve component is Marine Corps Reserve.

 is part of the DOD. It protects waterways (sea and ocean) outside of the Coast Guard’s jurisdiction. Navy warships provide the runways for aircraft to land and take off when at sea. Navy SEALs (sea, air, and land) are the special operations force for this branch. All service members are known as sailors. The reserve component is Navy Reserve. 

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Last Updated: August 28, 2020

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