If you had told me two years ago that I would be dating someone in the military, I would have been like Homegirl, please. I never would have even imagined considering a life in the military but thankfully God in his perfect sovereignty gave me Matthew so here I am, learning the ins and outs of everything military!
First thing I realized when I got myself into all this is that I know absolutely nothing about the military and neither does the vast majority of the public [even those with some connection to the military]. In this post, I will break down the various parts of the military, different terms and definitions, as well as a very general process/timeline to make things a little easier to understand! Many friends ask with good intentions about Matthew’s plans without really understanding what they’re asking but genuinely wanting to know what he’s up to so with each section, I will also explain how it pertains to Matthew.
So here is a year and a half’s worth of hard conversations, clarified confusions, and learned knowledge about the many military paths one can take. Hope it helps and clears the clouds a little on what it means to be in the military!
[Note] My explanation detailing aspects of the military is VERY general and officer oriented. Things can always be different and there are always exceptions but this is just to help you get an overall idea of what it’s like.
What Does It Mean To Be In The Military?
There are five main divisions of military, each with very distinct roles and attributes.
- Army – This is usually what people think of when it comes to being a soldier.
- Air Force – They play a large role in controlling the skies and provide air support to troops in need during war. Even though most people think of pilots when they think of Air Force, only 1% of soldiers actually fly the planes, while the remainder support the men in the air.
- Marine Corps – They are similar to Army but branched out of the Navy. Mostly, they’re responsible to provide rapid combined-arms forces whenever there is a national situation.
- Navy – The Navy deals with anything related to the waters. They provide support for troops from the sea and encounter the potential threats in the deep blue sea.
- Coast Guard – They guard the coasts! Crazy huh? Haha but seriously, they are very important because they make sure that no foreigners trespass our coasts and keep our waters safe.
Being in the military doesn’t actually mean that you’ll see combat or even war. There are actually plenty of roles within the military that are not in the line of fire but are equally as important. I’ll talk more about these a little later.
[Matthew is part of the Army. From this point on, I will be speak more directly from this division.]
How Do You Get Into The Army?
There are two ways to get into the Army, as well as two defined roles in the Army.
- Officer – Going the officer route usually is a fairly long process that involves more training and evaluation prior to attaining officer status. Many people choose to do this through the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program, a military academy like Westpoint, or OCS (Officer Candidate School) which is a condensed, 10 week version of ROTC. Aspiring officers need to perform well in order to be competitive enough to attain their component, branch, and station.
- Enlisted – Going the enlisted route can be done by visiting your local recruiting office and signing up. After taking ASVAB (military mulitiple choice test), you’re placed into your field/line of work and then go through Basic training. Once you’re done, you go into specific areas depending on your MOS (Military Occupational Specialty).
[Matthew decided to go the officer route through the UC Irvine ROTC program.]
What Is The Service Obligation To the Army?
There are several ways to answer this question. First is the daily commitment – Active Duty, Reserve, or National Guard.
- Active Duty pretty much means that being in the Army is your full-time job, but not that you are deployed. You work from about 6am-5pm with physical training in the morning during regular work week days (for the most part) and the rest of the time is yours to spend as you wish! It’s kinda like…if you primarily spent time working on projects in your corporate office and then flew out on a business trip for a few weeks to meet with clients.
- Reserves is when you are in the Army part-time and come in to train one or two weekends out of the month. Many soldiers who are in reserve hold a full-time civilian job. There are no combat arms in Reserve, they only provide support. It’s also easier to move around since you’re not held down to a specific State.
- National Guard is similar to Reserve in the sense that you meet one weekend a month to train. The difference is that there are combat arms in the National Guard and you respond to emergencies within the state you are stationed.
That’s more of your daily commitment I guess you could say. The overall commitment is the numbers of years you are committed to serving the Army, called MSO (Military Service Obligation), which is listed in your military contract. Generally, if you go the ROTC route, you’re obligated to 3-4 years and can stay as long as retirement, which is about 20 years. Some soldiers will be on Active Duty for part of their MSO and then switch over to the Reserves/National Guard. However, you can be deployed at any time during your service. This is relevant for both officers and enlisted soldiers.
* * * This is a good time to clarify what it means to be DEPLOYED. A scary word indeed. Deployment happens if and only if the US needs troops to go somewhere to complete a task or mission. Being in the military does NOT automatically mean that you are deployed or that the only time you are involved in military affairs is when you are deployed. In fact some soldiers never see deployment although the chances are unlikely. * * *
[Matthew is going Active Duty and is contracted to serve for 7 years. He won’t know when he is going to be deployed until the Army needs him once he begins his service.]
What Do You Do In The Army?
There are actually a lot of different roles in the Army and not all of them are combat oriented. Your Branch is what role or specialization you have in the Army, such as:
- Military Police
- Medical Service
- Adjutant General
(There are a total of seventeen in the Army.)
I like to think of this almost like….your major in college! Just like how you can choose between a variety of majors in college to specialize in, you can also choose a branch to specialize in. Officers tend to have more general training regarding their branch (since they are overseeing a group of men) whereas enlisted soldiers tend to have much more specialized training in certain aspects of their branch (in order to carry out those job specific tasks).
Obviously there are a lot of daily tasks and specific training per each branch, which I am not as familiar with so this is a much more general answer.
[Matthew has branched Infantry, which is a HUGE answered prayer as it was his first choice branch ever since he could remember and is one of the more competitive branches! We even threw him a big ole’ party cuz we were so proud!]
Where Do You Live When You’re In The Army?
Your Station/Post/Base is where you live if you are on Active Duty in the Army. If you love traveling, then you’re in luck! There are US military stations all across the county and even the world! Hawaii, Germany, Georgia, California, and Korea are all up for grabs. Many times, you will stay up to 2-4 years or as little as one year before the Army moves you to a different station (based on demand and need). There is housing (usually barracks) on the actual Army base that you have the option to live in OR you can take advantage of off-post housing and live in the neighboring city.
Stations can be very competitive to get depending on your branch. Just like how your branch is your major in college, this is much like which college you decide to go to. In the same way that certain colleges are better for certain majors, certain stations specialize in and are better suited for certain branches.
[We don’t know just yet where Matthew will be stationed, but hopefully we’ll have an update in the next week or so!]
From Civilian to Officer
Matthew went through an extremely long process to finally becoming an officer and he’s still workin’ hard! By God’s grace, he has brought Matthew through all of this and is continuing to be his strength as he enters into this last stretch. So what exactly did this guy have to go through?! This process is what most hopeful officers have to go through when in the ROTC program (with some variation of course).
- UC Irvine ROTC – This consists of meeting every morning (at 5AM mind you…) to learn, train, and prepare for some of the larger evaluations that come up throughout the year. Meetings consist of PT (physical training), labs (hands-on training), classes, and performance evaluations.
- FTX (Field Training Exercise) – There are a couple that take place each year and cadets are evaluated on their performance based on the knowledge learned at the respective campus programs. The two largest parts of FTX are Day Land Nav and Night Land Nav where cadets have to be able to find a certain number of points spread out on a 5 mile radius with nothing more than a map, compass, and protractor. Other key areas of evaluation are STX (Squad Tactical Excercise) and Patrolling, which are simulated missions where you must brief and lead either a squad (STX) or a platoon (patrolling). Your score during FTX will factor into your overall campus score that will determine how competitive you are during assessions.
- Contracting – Usually in the middle of their second year, cadets must decide if they are going to take a military career seriously by “contracting” or if they just want to remain in the program for kicks. When they sign their contract, they commit to serving in the army for a certain number of years.
- LDAC – This is the mother of all ROTC evaluations and is not to be taken lightly. It’s a one month evaluation in the summer prior to your senior year where cadets are tested on everything in the book. Day land nav, night land nav, physical fitness test, completing missions, briefings, you name it. Performing well means boosting your competitive score and also making an impression in the amongst your peers and evaluators. Cadets that maintain the highest possible range of scores for each event receive Recondo and can receive awards at the end of the camp for their achievements. [BTW, Matthew received Recondo after completing LDAC and finished in the top 10% of his platoon. HOLLA!]
- Accessions – After LDAC, at the beginning of your senior year, cadets have all of their evaluations and various components over the past years collected to assess into their component, branch, and post.
- Commissioning – This is when you finally graduate and become attain officer status! There’s a great big ceremony filled with lots important military personnel 🙂
- BOLC (Basic Officer Leadership Course) – Every officer goes through this training, which lasts for about 4 months where officers learn the ins and outs of being an exceptional leader! While there is some classroom time, a lot of the learning is done out on the field. Makes sense since the Army’s motto is “Train like you fight and fight like you train.” It is quite like holding a regular job – you’re off around 5 and weekends are yours to spend as you wish (with some exceptions for certain weeks).
- Ranger School – This is as close to death as you’ll get. 2 months of non stop physical training, multiple phases to evaluate your skill sets, and only 3-4 hours of sleep per night. Sound hard? Well, if you don’t pass a phase, you have to do it all over again until you do. And the only way you can get out is if you pass, you quit, or you get kicked out. If you DO pass, you get the treasured Ranger Tab and bragging rights for life. [Matthew will need extra prayer when he goes through this….]
- Additional Training – There is the opportunities to take additional training after Ranger School if you’d like to in order to receive more specialized training in a particular area. To my understanding, most people can get around two or three schools and each one can last from a couple weeks to a couple months.
- And It Begins…. – Once you finish all your training and you are officially stationed, you begin your contract and start living your life as an Army Officer!
Well, there it is! Whew. I am definitely not an expert yet and thankful, Matthew is patient enough to explain everything to me 🙂 Even all this is very general information but I really hope that it helps and gives you a little glimpse of what it’s like on the road to the military!
[Did I miss something? Please be gracious, I am still learning, too! Please let me know if you have nuggets of knowledge to add or any adjustments by commenting below!]