Us, Americans, we owe our safety to the most advanced army in the world – the United States Army. Established on June 14, 1775 – almost one year before the birthday of the United States of America as a country – as of September 2017, it has 1.3 million active duty members. The states with the highest number of military personnel are California (184,540), Texas (164,234), Virginia (115,280), and North Carolina (112,951) – all the rest employing less than 100,000 people. The benefits of a military career are well known for many young boys and girls.
The minimum age for enlistment is 18 without parental consent or 17 with parental consent. The maximum age of those who want to reap off the benefits of a military career depends on the service they choose: Marines – 28 years old, Coast Guard – 31 years old, US Army – 34 years old, Air Force – 39 years old, the same as for those who join the Navy.
Why do people join the military? First of all, for financial reasons. A secure job is hard to find nowadays, and very few economic sectors provide benefits close to what the government provides for the military personnel. Yes, soldiers may feel humiliated and treated poorly, forced to pass crazy-hard tasks and tests – but the rewards are quite significant for those who endure. Secondly, no other job offers this sense of patriotism and duty. Serving your country gives a purpose to your life. You’re protecting freedom and all the values the American flag stands for.
Last, but not least, for many young adults it is a way to escape bad influences. The military teaches humility and obedience. You have to wait patiently to reach a new military rank, but a huge advantage is that you can join the military without a college diploma.
New recruits have to pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery in order to find what branch they can serve in. They need a minimum of 31 points (especially if they don’t have a GED). When it comes to education, the Army invests a lot of time and money in the preparation of every member. There is a place for anyone, here – from high achievers to the average person. However, those who come with a bachelor’s degree start off with better pay and more responsibilities. The military ranking is quite complex and confusing, so we will not cover it in this post, but no matter what age you enroll, you start at level E1 (or E3 with a college degree). The E1 salary for the first four months is $1,554.00, increasing 8% after that period at $1,680.90 per month, as we find from the 2019 pay chart. The longer you serve in the military, the higher your income will be. For now, let’s look at the top 5 benefits of a military career in more detail.
Early retirement from the military
Civilians are allowed to retire at 66 years and four months and receive full benefits, though early retirement is possible at 62 with reduced benefits. After serving in the military, though, you can retire after only 20 years of service. That means that if you enroll at 18, you can retire when you are only 38 years old. One major drawback would be the small pension that you will receive, which will be only 50% of your average pay during the last three years. For every year, you get an extra 2.5%, but keep in mind that your salary will also increase. Though you may live on your pension after retiring from the army, you may not want to stop working. Your experience in uniform is greatly valued in the civilian sector, too. Moreover, after retirement, you may want to go to college under the Forever GI bill, which covers tuition fees up to $23,671.94 (rising to $24,476.79 after Aug. 1, 2019).
Those who serve in the military, though, may not have been able to save money while in active duty. They have counted a lot on the financial benefits of a military career, such as the basic allowance for housing (BAH) or the basic allowance for subsistence (BAS). The lack of savings and the fear of losing the benefits of a military career forces many of them to postpone retirement. Once you become accustomed to the military lifestyle, the civilian world doesn’t have much to offer. Jobs are insecure and most of the time you have to work more for the same money you currently make in uniform. Besides, very few people dare to dream of an early retirement beyond the fences of military bases.
On-time payment and bonuses
You have to wait a certain amount of time to advance to a higher level and a better paying job. Even if you would be ready to advance, you have to stay in the line and let the time pass. That’s how it works. This situation can be extremely frustrating especially in the beginning. However, more than two dozen bonuses are available. Some are for everyone, while a few are specific for a certain service. For example, the Aviation Incentive Pay is based on the number of years of aviation service and can get up to $1,000 after 10 years of flying, slightly decreasing after that. As of January 1, 2016, Remotely Piloted Aircraft pilots may get up to $1,000. Of course, the pay is attractive, but most of the time is directly related to the risks involved.
The training is extremely harsh, too. Drill pay is around $100 per military instruction, depending on the rank. But those who want to be part of the SEALs undergo a lot of training, pushing their limits further and further every day. For example, they have to be very good swimmers and they should not panic in the deep in-ground swimming pool specially designed for student’s instruction. For example, during the training, they are tied and forced to free themselves. Or their oxygen tubes are squeezed to prevent them from breathing underwater and they have to fix the problem fast with the air left in their lungs. After such a stressful training session, all they want is to relax and de-stress, and sometimes they don’t care about the bill.
As a single male or women, life in the military may be a lot less stressful than for couples. Since many women find great positions in the military, they also end up finding a life partner there. Unfortunately, living on-base is almost as much as their basic allowance for housing. Couples, whether married or simply moving in together, may benefit more if they contact a real estate agent and either rent a house or apply for a mortgage. In fact, there is a special home loan guaranteed by the US Department of Veteran Affairs, but we will talk about it later.
Education and training in the military
We have to admit that the training you get in the military is unique and unparalleled outside this system. Joining the military is a great achievement for your personal development. You acquire skills that are highly sought after in the civilian sector. You become a leader and a role model. You’re respected and honored. What else could you wish for? As we said before, you can join the military with only a GED in hand, or you can finish college and start at a higher rank. However, you can’t hide the benefits of a military career. The uniform will make you proud and you will see a spark in your parent’s eyes as well. In fact, carrying on the family tradition is another reason for joining the military.
Do you want to go to college but you can’t afford it? One option is to go through ROTC – training for college students who would like to serve in the military after graduation. Those who enroll must serve in the military for a certain amount of time. Generally, there is a four year mandatory period of active duty. Graduates become officers in the US Army.
Travel and paid vacation
Did you know that many Americans fear to take their leave because they might lose their jobs? In the US, civilians employed full-time for less than three years get a half day of leave for every pay period. After 15 years of service, employees get one day off for every pay period. There are also 10 federal holidays which employers are not required to pay for by law. But those serving in the military get 30 days of paid leave every year. They may carry up to 60 days of leave from one fiscal year to the other, but any free days earned over 60 are lost, if not used before entering a new fiscal year, which starts on the first day of October.
Moreover, there is the option of taking a terminal leave, which means that you can leave the military at least three months sooner and still get a paycheck during that time. When you take terminal leave, you end up with a larger chunk of money, however, you can also sell back your leave and find a job in the civilian sector. You will still get some money for your saved days – 1/30 of your basic pay, actually. In the real world, employers don’t buy back the days you were supposed to take off but did not for whatever reason.
Among the benefits of a military career is the opportunity to travel and see the world. You can be deployed in other countries, not necessarily in conflict zones. According to the Pew Research Center, about 15% of those in active duty are sent in a foreign country. Japan, Germany, and South Korea are the top three countries where the US Army has a significant presence, while less than 1,000 military members are deployed in Belgium, Cuba, Romania, and El Salvador. Uniformed personnel also has the chance to travel across the USA, especially if they have to change the military base. These moves usually happen after you receive a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) order. Obviously, moves can be stressful and costly, but, over time, you become accustomed to this lifestyle and you will know that all you need are a few essential household items and gadgets, which are easy to pack in a box or backpack. Being in the military will teach you to value your time and to focus on practical items that help you save time while also making your life easier.
Zero down home loans
Now, you may think that there is no point in buying a house if you’ll have to move a lot. But that’s not true. Of course, you can opt to rent until a few months before retirement. If you retire in your 40s, that’s not too late to buy a house, as many of the real estate agents listed on RealEstateAgent.com would tell you. They deal with home buyers from all generations. While renting outside the military sphere is not such a great idea, those in the military are granted access to probably the biggest benefit of the military career – the VA loan.
Even if you didn’t save money for a down payment, you can still become a homeowner. Why? Because a VA loan offers 100% financing, thus covering the entire cost of the house. Even the closing costs can be incorporated into the loan, by placing a slightly higher offer on the house you intend to buy. In most regions, your primary residence shouldn’t cost more than $484,350, though in the most expensive cities to live in, the limit may be as high as $726,525. The average interest rate is only 4.31%, according to ValuePenguin, as good as a conventional mortgage. Keep in mind that you can purchase properties with up to four one-family units, as far as one will serve as your primary residence. So, it is possible to become a real estate investor with such a great loan.
Should you join the military only for this particular benefit? Yes! Why not? However, to be approved for a larger loan, you have to stay in more years. But if you only want a starter home, serving in the military for a few years and then joining the Reserves should be a good short-term strategy.
If you’re not sure what to do in the future, think about a military career. Once in, the army benefits expand to your spouse and children, too. And when you factor in the possibility to retire after only 20 years of service, the benefits of a military career far outshine the disadvantages of joining the military.