5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Joined The Military

Hi. I’m Mac. And I am currently employed by the United States Navy. My rate (job) in the world’s finest Navy is Master-at-Arms, which is the Navy’s version of military police. Recently, I hit my seven year mark which has me stuck in somewhat of a crossroads. I need to decide whether or not to re- enlist. While contemplating this potentially life-changing decision I found myself dwelling on the same question: If I knew before I joined what I know now, would I still enlist? What’s the point of wondering about such possibilities? Well shit, there is no point I guess, because hindsight is always 20/20 and unless Doc Brown pulls up in his DeLorean then it doesn’t matter.

One common belief among guys in the military is if it wasn’t for their military career, they could have been so much more. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t love my job — I love my country and I love serving — and there is no better feeling than when a stranger walks up to me and thanks me for my service, but the question still remains (just like I’m sure it remains with so many other people): what could have been? Some guys have pretty lofty ideas of what they would be doing if they were not in the military. I am more of a realist, but I thought I would share a few things that I wish I knew before I joined. So here they are…

1. Education
I’m not sure how it works in the other branches, but in the Navy if you have some college under your belt before you join then you will be enlisted as a higher pay grade. Higher pay grade = more $$$. After high school, I had no plans whatsoever to attend any sort of college. I also had no plans of joining the military. But one thing lead to another and once I joined I wished I had taken some sort of bullshit community college course just to get that extra money instead of just fucking around for a whole year after high school. Plus, from what I hear college makes you smart, and being smarter than your peers always gives you a leg up.

2. Frequent Flyer Miles
In the military, you get flown all over the fucking map. One thing I didn’t think of until recently is taking advantage of that by racking up frequent flyer miles. The military pays for your ticket to wherever you are going, but one thing they don’t tell you is that you can sign up for that airline’s mileage program. So after you get out of basic training, and you find out where you’re going, go to the airline’s website and sign up for that shit. Because the more miles you fly, the more free shit you will get. And who doesn’t love free shit?

3. Saving
When you first join the military you are going to be making jack shit as far as pay. And if you are like any other red blooded american that is lucky enough to get stationed overseas where the drinking age is 18, you are going to spend most of your money at the bar pretending that you are on spring break. Unless you are a fan of ramen and powdered gatorade, I suggest having some money saved up before you join so you’re not living your first couple of years like you’re on welfare. You should also save a little bit of your paycheck every two weeks.

4. Leave Days
In the Navy, after boot camp you go to your “A” school, which is where you are trained for the job you selected at the recruiter’s office. Then after “A” school you will go to your first command. In any branch you earn 2.5 leave days every month, and after “A” school you will be given the option to take leave. Since you have been in the military for about five minutes, you are not going to have shit for leaves days, but they will let you take leave because you still have plenty of time left on your contract.

Now, I know you are going to want to jump at the chance to go home on leave because you miss your family, but my advice: DON’T. I took leave days that I didn’t have and it put my leave-day balance in the negative, which is why I didn’t get to go home for two years after I got to my first command. So just save your leave days and go home when you have the days on the books.

5. Marriage
Don’t do it. Don’t do it, bro. I understand that you may love her, and I’m sure that she loves you. But trust me, if you’re 18-22 years old you have no business getting married. Especially if you are in the military. Let me break down the three most common scenarios. The first one is the one I have seen the the military.

– You have been in the military for about two seconds and that’s when it happens: you have found THE ONE. Your significant other is also in the military and you probably work with them. You love them and since the military will pay you more and move you guys out of those horrible barracks, you figure you might as well tie-the-knot. Nobody ever got rich joining the military, and that “extra” money you are going to get from getting married is not like hitting the fucking lotto. Eventually, you two are going to be stressed out and broke and one, or both, of you are going to become unfaithful and cause more havoc than you want to deal with.

– The second scenario is slightly less common and can be beneficial if done correctly. In this scenario, your significant other is someone you grew up with and have loved for a long time. Now that you are in the military you feel as though you have the means to provide, and shit, you kinda do. If you insist on marrying this person, my advice is to marry them and have them live back home. Why, you ask? Why have your soulmate live far away after you have made the ultimate commitment? Money. That’s why. If you are stationed overseas, your spouse has the option to join you at your duty station (in most cases) or to stay in the states. And if they choose to stay in the states the military will pay for their rent, its called BAH. BAH is based off of the location of your spouse’s address — California, New York, and Florida are among the highest paid, in case you were wondering. And chances are that your spouse is still living at home with their parents for free. So where does that money go? Right into your pocket. I maybe be opposed to marriage, but I am not opposed to money.

– Final and worst scenario: You leave your wife in the states and since you’re never home either you or your wife becomes extremely unfaithful, because people have needs.

So there you go. There are five things that will help you before and during the beginning of your first enlistment.