Life is full of surprises, but some things never change: the sun shines, birds fly and military recruiters aren’t 100% honest with you.
Well, calling recruiters “dishonest” might be a bit of a stretch. For every tale behind a disgruntled servicemember’s “my recruiter lied to me” story, there’s often a degree of fault on the person telling the story, since they either didn’t as the right questions or “read the fine print,” as it were.
With that said, recruiters are tasked with recruiting, and it that means telling you half the story in order to get you to sign on the dotted line, so be it.
Here are a few things your recruiter may gloss over in an attempt to get you into the military before the end of the month:
1: Free housing and healthcare isn’t really
Much like the promises of politicians, the promise of free healthcare, housing and a safety net comes at the cost of your freedom, and rarely deliver in terms of expectations.
If you’re single, you’ll be living in the barracks until you can get some rank. If you’re married, you’ll live in on-post housing or possibly get an allowance to live off-post.
Barracks life and on-post housing can be a gamble, with quality of life ranging from “not bad” to “coughing all the time.” Housing horror stories that have often been disregarded by many as “military urban legends” are not surfacing more than ever before, showing military homes and barracks covered in mold and other disgusting afflictions. Some barracks are brand new, while others were condemned a long time ago- yet still have soldiers living in them. The Air Force is an exception to the rule, it seems, and has some of the cushiest housing and barracks dorms around. That said, you’re in the Air Force, so…You can’t have it all.
Healthcare as a general rule comes at a trade-off: You can have availability, affordability and quality, but you can’t have all three. Tricare (or Humana Military, if you want to get technical) is pretty good for a family, depending on where you go. Your encounters as a servicemember will vary greatly, as you’re largely at the mercy of military medical personnel who either want to go back to playing Playstation, hate their lives, or, in some case, hate you for taking up precious time in their lives, which includes Playstation.
Broken arm? Motrin. Not feeling well? Get back to work or be a practice dummy for the new medics, who, just under a year ago, were mouth-breathing, shaggy-haired idiots in high school. Never mind the fact that you’re gonna have to ask your chain of command for permission to go to the doctor when you’re sick.
Whatever you do, document every injury, illness and don’t “be a hero” by skipping the doctor when something happens. Why? Well, because here is the bad news:
2: When you get out, the VA sucks. It sucks so bad, it might kill you.
While this should arguably fall under the healthcare argument, it is so terrible that it is an issue all it’s own.
Remember how the medics and doctors in the military didn’t care about you? Well, they’re gonna look like Mother Teresa compared to the staff at the VA. You see, military personnel are generally held to higher accountability standards than civilian government personnel. If you didn’t hate the government, you probably will after a few brushes with the VA. Seriously, they get paid no matter how badly they treat you- and it shows.
Remember how we told you to document everything? There’s a reason for that. When you go in to see what issues are service-connected, that documentation is the only thing standing between you and a lifetime of soul-sucking appointments and appeal processes. Appointments take place during normal business hours, so we hope you weren’t planning on using those vacation days for actual recreation.
Your healthcare might be “free,” and it might not, depending on where you stand on a bunch of sliding scales, ranging from disability percentages to how much you make in the civilian world.
Prepare for inefficiency, incompetence, long waits and lots of frustration. Honestly, start being on the lookout for a job that has a good civilian healthcare plan and use the VA as a backup.
3: You’re not going to do all the things you saw in the commercials, and if you do, you’re gonna pay for it.
Remember the Marine commercial where the guy slays the dragon? You totally get to do that. Of course, you’ll be doing that inside of your own mind, as medics rush you into the ER for head trauma induced by a Battalion run gone horribly wrong.
Most of your military career will not be a play-by-play reenactment of Battlefield, unless the game’s developers release an expansion pack where you show up way too early to paint rocks, argue with finance over the disappearance of half your pay, and sit through sexual harassment briefings.
You might deploy, but if you enlisted to be a clerk, prepare to see a loaded rifle about as often as you see a solar eclipse. If you’re a tanker, you probably won’t be in your tank as often as you’ll be in a Green Beans Cafe. If you’re in the Air Force, cut up your credit cards before you leave, because you will spend a ton of money on the aforementioned Battlefield expansion packs just to kill boredom.
Sure, some of you will see combat- and it will be as terrifying as it is awesome. But for those that do…
3: Spoiler Alert: POGs win in the end.
Yep. If you join a combat arms branch of the military, you might see some cool stuff, but you’ll have next-to-nothing to show for it when you get out.
All those Personnel Other than Grunts you’ll chide at MEPS or after you graduate from Infantry School? Yeah, they might not be as manly as you, but they usually get the better end of the stick after you all get out. While you’re heading off to college to figure out what you want to do with your life due to your MOS having next to zero transferrable civilian skills, they’ll have a leg-up.
Infantrymen and other combat troops are like dogs- they age a good 5 to 7 years for every normal human year, get pretty harsh punishments when they mess up, protect the house as a whole and cost a lot to take care of when they get old. POGs are like cats- they tend to live a lot longer, can seemingly get away with just about anything and catch mice when they feel like it.
Despite this, you’re pretty much equal when you get out- at least in the sense that you’re both ex-military. The GI Bill doesn’t discriminate. However, “I blew stuff up and kicked in some doors” doesn’t translate as well to resume as say, the job description of an Information Technology Specialist.
In the end, combat troops are the reason the rest of the military exists, and much like being a firefighter or police officer, most grunts don’t enlist to be grunts for the benefits, they do it because that’s where they want to be. For that, we salute you, but at least be proactive in your extracurriculars to avoid becoming a mall security guard after 5 tours in the sh*t.
4: Your time is not your own, even when it is
Feeling tired? Worn down? Command breathing down your neck? Tough cookies, pal. You don’t get a day off until they say so, and they can recall you from said respite at their leisure.
Taking vacation time will be a pain in the butt, and usually it will be at random times in the year that your friends back home will be too busy working to spend any time with you. Much like being the private school kid whose summer break is not aligned with that of your public school friends, you’re going to find leave to be awkward at first. However, as you gain more experience, you’ll learn to expertly navigate the calendar and leave charts in order to get the optimal vacation time- at least until a lost pair of night vision devices forces a base lockdown and you miss your flight.
When you start a family, they might learn to understand just how valuable your time is, but they probably won’t. We suggest getting a watch with multiple time zones, as you’ll be on A) command time, B) your time, and C) your slow-ass family’s time. Set them all 15-30 minutes apart for best effect.
5: You’re probably going to die of lung, liver, or mouth cancer if you give in to peer pressure easily.
Even the most straight-laced of Latter Day Saints practitioners faces the distinct possibility of becoming the unit drunk, just as easily as the sons and daughters of dentists can be seen with a massive wad of dip in their lip. Verily, a trip to sick call often includes passing a massive cloud of cigarette smoke and smelling the scent of last night’s alcoholic bender, both essences emanating from a crowd of medical personnel next to the front door.
Military life is both stressful and communal. When communities experience stress, they often communally relieve that stress through vices- and boy, oh boy, do you have easy access to vices in the military.
From all-night barracks parties (the Black Label kind, not the Simple Green kind) to smoking more cigarettes than a film noir detective in a black-and-white movie, you’re going to be on the front line of America’s addiction to nicotine and alcohol- and encouraged, to an extent, by your comrades to participate.
In the modern era where “vaping” is no longer a behavior exclusive to hipsters, you might think that servicemembers have adopted “safer” ways to get their nicotine fix. You’d be really stupid to think that, since needing a nicotine fix to relieve stress is part of the problem in the first place. Your company commander may have college, but he walks around with a Gatorade bottle full of tobacco and saliva, just like your squad leader, and soon… Just like you.
Enjoy it while it lasts, because being a nic-fitting alcoholic outside of the military seems to be exponentially more expensive for some reason.
6: You’ll make some serious relationship mistakes (one way or another)
Something about military life attracts personnel to bad life choices the same way trailer parks seem to attract tornadoes- and with about the same results.
From marrying your highschool sweetheart immediately after basic training to knocking up a woman who just so happens to be your platoon leader (it’s 2018, after all), something about military service causes a massive neural disconnect to the normal joint operations between your brain and your genitals.
Married or single, straight or gay, male or female, there’s a high chance you’re going to do something that you regret- something you might otherwise have not done had you been working your old job.
7: Say goodbye to your personal life
No matter what rank you are, there is someone in your personal business. That’s just part of military service, be you a Sailor on a submarine or a fighter pilot in the Air Force. No one is exempt from the rule, and doesn’t improve so much as it laterally changes with rank advancement.
From the roadworthiness of your personal vehicle to the status of your marriage, your chain of command can request to inspect any of the above, often being more thorough than they should be.
If you think living in the barracks is a lesson in how to get your privacy invaded, you’d be correct- your life can be interrupted at any time by an irate officer or non-commissioned officer who has had a bad day at home, and wants to “pay it forward” to you.
Truth be told, this is the part of the military that will make you hate the military to the extent that you leave, which ironically leads to the fact that…
8: You’re gonna miss it when you’re out
Despite all the horrible experiences and “DD-214 blanket” jokes, some part of you -whether you admit it or not- will miss being in the military once your service has come to an end.
It might not be right away, it may even be decades down the road- but, just like those random and fleeting moments of nostalgia people feel for terrible exes, you’re gonna miss some of the times you had in one way or another.
Yeah, you may be better off, but what if you’d stayed in? What if you spent your 20-year career in a different MOS? What if you’d tried out for SF selection or Officer Candidate School? What if?
These are the kinds of questions you’ll occasionally ask yourself, even if you turned out to be the next Bill Gates. Fortunately for you, they’re perfectly natural and aren’t really worth focusing on, since you can’t change the past and have no idea how things would really have turned out.
Now go on and get back to that crippling nicotine and alcohol addiction of yours, before you go to that VA appointment you’ve waited six months and took vacation time for. You’ve got six illegitimate kids to feed at the mall tomorrow.
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