Getting Into the Military for Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) (page 5)
You may find joining the military an appealing career choice. Once you have made the decision that the military is where you are headed, you will need to be armed with information about the enlistment process. That is what this article has to offer.
Your introduction to the military enlistment process usually starts with a visit to your local recruiting office. A search on the Internet for military recruiter, along with your geographical location, should provide you with the information you are looking for. Remember, all of the military service branches have a robust online presence through their various web pages, and you can find a great deal of information there:
- Navy: www.navy.com
- Army: www.goarmy.com
- Air Force: www.airforce.com
- Marine Corp: www.marines.com
- United States Coast Guard: www.gocoastguard.com
Don't narrow your options too soon, though. If you are thinking of a career in the military, visiting a recruiter from each of the five branches—Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. There are lots of similarities, but the subtle differences in what each branch of service has to offer you could make a lot of difference in your career.
There are certain requirements you will have to meet in order to enlist in any branch of the military. Some of these requirements vary with each branch, so make sure you ask your recruiter any questions you may have. You must:
- be between 17 and 42 years of age, and have a parent or guardian's permission if you are under 18
- be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a green card
- have a high school diploma or GED
- be drug-free
- have a clean arrest record
It is important to be truthful with your recruiter about any trouble you have had in the past with drugs or with the law. Criminal history checks are conducted on applicants. However, some kinds of problems can be overcome, if they are really in the past, not current difficulties. Check with your recruiter.
Working with Your Recruiter
The recruiter is there to help you. In speaking with him or her, you will have the opportunity to ask as many questions as you want and to get a detailed picture of what each branch has to offer if you shop around. All recruiters will have brochures, videotapes, pamphlets, and years of personal experience to offer as resources. Don't be afraid to bring along a parent, guardian, or a trusted friend to help you ask questions. In fact, it is highly encouraged—they might ask helpful questions that you had not thought of.
You can ask about the service and its benefits— salaries and fringe benefits, postings, and educational opportunities, including financial aid for college once you get out. (See the table on pages 12–13 for the basic salary for various grades of enlisted personnel in all the services.) The recruiter will also ask about you: your education, your physical and mental health, and all sorts of in-depth questions about your goals, interests, hobbies, and life experience.
Before you take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), you will be given a brief test designed to give the recruiter an idea of how well you will perform on the real test. This pretest covers math and vocabulary. Although the ASVAB has eight different subtests, it's the math and verbal portions that determine whether or not you pass the test. The other sections are designed to discover what your aptitudes are for different jobs. There is no limit to how many times you can take this brief test in the recruiter's office.
The recruiter will talk to you about the benefits of enlisting: the pay, the travel, the experience, the training. You and the recruiter can also start to discuss the kinds of jobs available to you in the military. But before that discussion can go very far, you will have to be tested to see, first, if you can enlist, and second, what specialties you qualify for. That's where your trip to the Military Entrance Processing Station comes in.
Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS)
The recruiter will schedule you for a trip to a MEPS facility in your area (there are 65 facilities located throughout the United States) for required testing and evaluation. Depending on the service and location, your MEPS visit will take either one or two days. You will travel as a guest by plane, train, bus, or car, depending on how far you live from the nearest facility. MEPS schedules vary from area to area, but they all operate five days a week and are open a few Saturdays during the year.
The MEPS is where all applicants for every branch of the military begin the enlistment process. So, even if the Marine Corps is your future employer, you can expect to see staff wearing Navy blue, Army green, or Air Force blue. When you walk through the door, you will check in at the control desk and be sent to the liaison office for your branch of the service.
Throughout the enlistment process, you will have to present certain documents. Have the following available to ensure you are prepared:
- birth certificate, proof of permanent residency, or other proof of citizenship and date of birth
- valid Social Security card or two other pieces of Social Security identification
- high school diploma or GED certificate
- letter or transcript documenting your midterm graduation from high school, if applicable
- college transcript, if applicable, showing credits earned
- parental or guardian consent form if you are under 18 years old
- doctor's letter if you have, or have a history of, special medical condition(s)
- marriage certificate, if applicable
- divorce papers, if applicable
Your MEPS Day at a Glance
During your day at MEPS you will go through three phases:
- mental (aptitude) testing
- medical exam
- administrative procedures
Your schedule may vary from the one outlined here, depending on how much of the process you have completed in advance. Some applicants, for example, may have already taken the ASVAB at a Mobile Examining Team (MET) site near their hometown recruiting station.
Mental (Aptitude) Testing
Your day at MEPS will most likely begin with the ASVAB, if you haven't already taken it. (See Chapter 1, "About the ASVAB") Don't underestimate the impact the ASVAB will have on your entry into the military. Results of the ASVAB test and the physical and mental exam you receive during the entrance process are used to determine whether or not you can join the branch of the military you prefer and which training programs you are qualified to enter.
Some MEPS are now conducting ASVAB testing on computer. The computer version of the test takes one hour and forty minutes to complete, as opposed to over two hours for the paper-and-pencil version. The computer ASVAB still consists of eight subtests, but it works a little differently than the paper version. The computer will give you the first question, and, if you get this question right, it gives you another question on the same subject—but this question is a bit harder than the first one. The questions get harder as you progress, and, after you answer a certain number correctly, the computer skips to the next subtest. So, you could get eight questions right, for example, and then the computer might go to the next subtest instead of requiring you to answer all 25 questions in that one subtest.
Most MEPS do not have enough computers to test everyone. If you notice that some applicants are taken to a room with the computer testing and the others are required to take the ASVAB with pencil and paper, don't worry. Either way, the information and skills you need remain the same.
Next is the medical exam. All of the doctors you will see at this point are civilians. You will see them at least three times during the day. During the first visit, you and the medical staff will thoroughly pore over your medical prescreening form, your medical history form, and all of the medical records you have been told by your recruiter to bring along. This meeting will be one-on-one.
After this meeting, you will move on to the examining room. You'll strip down to your underwear and perform a series of about 20 exercises that will let the medical staff see how your limbs and joints work. You may be with a group of other applicants of the same sex during this examination or you may be alone with the doctor.
Your third meeting with the doctor will be where you receive a routine physical. Among the procedures you can expect are:
- blood pressure evaluation
- pulse rate evaluation
- heart and lung check
- evaluation of blood and urine samples
- eye exam
- hearing exam
- height-proportional-to-weight check
- chest X-ray
- HIV test
Female applicants will be given a pelvic/rectal examination. Another woman will be present during this procedure, but otherwise this exam will be conducted in private.
After these checks, you will find out whether your physical condition is adequate. If the medical staff uncovers a problem that will keep you from joining the service, they will discuss the matter with you. In some cases the doctor may tell you that you are being disqualified at the moment, but that you can come back at a later date to try again. For example, if you are overweight, you could lose a few pounds and then come back to the MEPS for another try.
If the doctor wants to have a medical specialist examine you for some reason, you may have to stay overnight, or the doctor may schedule an appointment for a later date—at the military's expense, of course. Unless you do need to see a specialist, the medical exam should take no more than three hours.
The rest of your day will be taken up with administrative concerns. First you will meet with the guidance counselor for your branch of the service. He or she will take the results of your physical test, your ASVAB scores, and all the other information you have provided and enter this information into a computer system. The computer will show which military jobs are best suited to you. Then you can begin asking questions about your career options. Before you leave the room you will know:
- for which jobs you are qualified
- which jobs suit your personality, abilities, and interests
- which jobs are available
- when that training is available
You will also be able to decide whether you prefer to enter the military on this very day or to go in under the Delayed Entry Program. Some applicants raise their right hand during swearing-in ceremonies at the end of the processing day, while others prefer to go home and decide what they want to do.
Either way, it's critical that you ask as many questions as possible during this visit with the counselor. Take your time, and be sure you know what you want before you go any further in the process. Be aware, though, that the seats in the popular training programs go fast. The earlier you make your decision, the more likely you will have a chance to get what you really want.
Delayed Entry Programs
Delayed Entry Programs allow you to enlist with your chosen branch of the military and report for duty up to 365 days later. This is a popular program for students who are still in high school or for those who have other obligations that prevent them from leaving for Basic Training right away.
If your desire is to become an officer in the military, all service branches have enlisted-to-officer ascension programs where you can achieve your goal. The manner in which you perform your assignments during your enlisted commitment is one of the major criteria in being accepted to an enlisted-to-officer program, so scoring well on the ASVAB and getting assigned in a field where you have the chance to excel is extremely important.
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