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Considering Joining the Military After High School? Q&A with a Recruiter

Did you know that a high school graduate can train for one of 150 different jobs in the U.S. Army – or that the Army offers current and former enlistees help in paying for college and even graduate school? Your Teen talked with U.S. Army Recruiter Staff-Sergeant, Tonya L. Black, to learn more.

An Army Recruiter Talks about Joining the Armed Forces

Q: What’s the first conversation when a young person walks through your door?

Black: I ask, “How can we help you?” And, I listen to what they say. Everyone has different reasons for wanting to join the Army. Then, I explain what the Army has to offer: the different jobs that we have and the difference between active duty and the reserve. And, we go from there.

Q: What kinds of career opportunities are there?

Black: There are many career opportunities in the Army. Each base is a city of its own, run by the soldiers. So, any job that interests you, ranging from maintenance to medical, you can pursue in the Army. As far as fitting a person to a particular job, that’s based on availability and the applicant’s results on the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). An applicant will be presented with the available jobs that he or she qualifies for.

Q: Is it the same for both active duty and the reserve? What’s the difference?

Black: It works the same for both. Active duty is someone who is in the Army 24/7. It’s his or her job, being in the Army. Both active duty and reserve soldiers go to basic training. Basic training is nine weeks, but I tell people ten weeks because you first go to a reception station at the training post for 3-5 days.

Q: What then?

Black: From basic training, you go onto advanced individual training, which is where you learn your job skill. Say, for example, your job skill is combat medic. You will go to wherever it is that the combat medics are trained. You will learn how to do the job, and go to the post you are assigned to and work your job.

Q: How long is that training period?

Black: It depends on the job you select: maybe four weeks, six weeks or even 52 weeks.

Q: What job would take a year?

Black: A job like linguist may take a year.

Q: Do you get paid more for a highly trained job?

Black: No. You get paid based on your rank and how many years you’ve been in the Army.

Q: How does the Army Reserve work?

Black: You’re still a soldier in the Army, you still go to the basic training and you still go to advanced individual training. But once you’re done, you come back home and then you’re obligated to go to a Battle Assembly one weekend a month and to annual training for two weeks a year, which is normally in the summer time.

Q: Are the jobs different in the reserve?

Black: It depends on where you live and what the needs are. Not all jobs are offered in the Reserve.

Q: Can the Army pay for college?

Black: Yes: in a couple of ways. You can use tuition assistance. Tuition assistance pays for college at a rate of $250 a semester hour with a maximum of $4,500 per year. There is also the Post 9/11 GI Bill. This pays your tuition and fees directly to the college or university, but it cannot exceed the maximum in-state graduate or undergraduate tuition at your state’s public university. Tuition assistance is for when you are serving. The Post 9/11 is normally for after you get out of the Army. You also receive a monthly housing stipend and an annual book stipend. These come in very handy and help reduce financial stresses, so you can more easily concentrate on your schoolwork.

Q: By on-duty, you mean that an active-duty soldier can use the tuition assistance to go to college?

Black: Yes. Most soldiers who do that take classes when they’re off work, like at night or during lunch.

Q: And reserve soldiers get the same tuition assistance benefit?

Black: Yes. And of course, they can go to school more than we can on active duty.

Q: So what is ROTC?

Black: It’s the Reserved Officer Training Corps. It’s a college-based program for training commissioned officers in the United States Armed Forces. The program does offer scholarships, but typically not until you’re in your junior year in college. There are two- and four-year scholarships. In return for those scholarships, you have to serve some time in the military, on either active duty or in the Reserve.

Q: How is ROTC different than joining the military right after high school?

Black: With ROTC, you come in as a commissioned officer. If you come in out of high school, you are an enlisted soldier. Commissioned officers pick a field, for example medical or field artillery, and then train in that field. They cover the whole range of that particular field.

Q: How many years do you serve in the Army when you enlist?

Black: The Military Service Obligation is always eight years. But that doesn’t mean you will serve eight years on active duty. One can also go directly into the reserve. If you go active first, you will serve for a period of time ranging form three to six years. If you choose to get out after your initial active period, you can go into either the Inactive Ready Reserve or the Reserve. It’s what’s best for you.

Q: What do you say to parents who are worried about their children being sent to a war zone?

Black: We’re honest. We tell them there is a possibility, but we can’t guarantee that their son or daughter will go to a war zone or that they won’t.

Q: Where should a young adult who’s interested in learning more start?

Black: If you’re still considering joining the military, go to a local U.S. Army recruiting station. Visit to find one in your area.

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