Should I Join the Military? 11 Reasons the Military is a Good Career Option

There are many reasons to join the military, including pay, benefits, education, training, travel, high-paying jobs, health care, and more. But it's not for everyone. Learn more about joining the military.
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Should You Join the Military?
Table of Contents
  1. 11 Reasons to Consider Joining the Armed Forces
    1. 1. Patriotism, defending our nation, and a sense of duty.
    2. 2. Membership into one of the world’s oldest clubs.
    3. 3. Jobs in any economy.
    4. 4.  Pay and benefits.
    5. 5.  Full medical coverage for you and your family.
    6. 6. Skills and training.
    7. 7. Leadership opportunities.
    8. 8. Travel opportunities and vacation time.
  2. Benefits After Leaving the Service
    1. 9. Education opportunities after you leave the military.
    2. 10.  Buy a home with no money down with a VA Loan.
    3. 11.  Military retirement benefits are worth millions.
  3. What are the Downsides?
    1. But wait… isn’t the military dangerous?
    2. What else do I need to know?

Have you ever thought about joining the U.S. Military? If the answer is yes, then read on. These benefits of joining the military may be enough to persuade you to take the leap. If you haven’t considered joining the military, then treat this article as a primer for some of the benefits which may be available to you if you decide to take that next step. And the benefits can last a lifetime!

11 Reasons to Consider Joining the Armed Forces

Whether you are considering the military out of a sense of Patriotism or duty, for action and adventure, or for a steady job in a depressed economy, there is something for everyone. Here are 10 reasons the military may be a good fit for you.

1. Patriotism, defending our nation, and a sense of duty.

Military service is a time-honored way to serve others first. Walter Reuther is quoted as saying,

“There is no greater calling than to serve your fellow men. There is no greater contribution than to help the weak. There is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well.” (source).

This quote sums up what it means to serve. When you join the military, you learn the true meaning of service.

2. Membership into one of the world’s oldest clubs.

Being a military veteran makes you an automatic member in one of the world’s oldest clubs. It is easy to share stories and recollections with other members of this special group of people and can help you gain acceptance, join clubs, find employment, and gain other benefits. Being a veteran is something no one can ever take away from you.

3. Jobs in any economy.

The US has experienced a difficult economy over the last few years, including high levels of unemployment, rising costs, and the outsourcing of many jobs. If you are looking for employment, consider the military, which continues to offer jobs for those who are qualified medically and academically, and who do not have an extensive criminal record.

4.  Pay and benefits.

A new second lieutenant starts at over $36,000 a year plus full benefits, not including added monthly allowances of up to $3,000, depending on where he or she is stationed.

An enlisted person starts at around $20,000 a year plus full benefits, not including added monthly allowances of up to $1,500 depending on where he or she is stationed.

Enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses can be over $20,000. After serving only 3 years, some nuclear-trained enlisted members in the Navy receive bonuses of $90,000 for re-enlisting. Student loans can be relieved by up to $65,000. The military is also one of the few places where you can get a full pension after serving 20 years or more.

Military retirement pay can reach 50-75% of the average of your final three years base salary (for the legacy High 3 retirement plan). In some instances, you can receive more than 75% of your base pay in retirement.

The new Blended Retirement System (the retirement plan for all members who join after January 2, 2018) offers a slightly different retirement multiplier with matching Thrift Savings Plan contributions of up to 5% of your base salary. The TSP is like a civilian 401k plan.

5.  Full medical coverage for you and your family.

Military members are immediately eligible for full health care benefits for themselves and their immediate family members as soon as they enter the service, and if you stay through until retirement, you and your family can take these benefits with you when you leave the military. These health benefits extend to immediate family (e.g. spouses and children, and sometimes dependent parents). You may also be eligible for temporary military healthcare benefits after you leave the service.

6. Skills and training.

The military provides advanced technical training in a variety of career fields and also offers opportunities for additional training when you are off-duty. Many military members are able to attend college courses that are often paid for by tuition assistance. You can use your training opportunities to advance within your career field, earn certifications or degrees, or prepare yourself to transition back into civilian life.

7. Leadership opportunities.

Military leadership is a great way to get your resume on top of the pile for your next career. If you were to hire someone, would you want to hire someone with proven skills and experience and a degree, or someone right out of high school/college? Give me the experienced professional any day of the week! (More tips for creating your post-military resume).

8. Travel opportunities and vacation time.

The military has installations all around the world and pays for you and your family to get there and back. Your off duty time is yours and you are free to travel and see the world. The military gives you 30 days of paid leave per year, not including weekends and federal holidays.

The military also has several resorts around the world, including the Hale Koa resort in Hawaii, Shades of Green at Disney World in Florida, and resorts in Japan, Germany, and South Korea. Most major military installations also have base lodging (military hotel), where you can stay on a space-available basis for less than the cost of an off-base hotel.

To top it off, you may be able to jump on a military hop and fly for free if there are available seats. A military hop is a scheduled military flight that may take on passengers on a space-available basis (also known as Space-A). These tickets are either free, or a very minimal charge (such as $5, or the tax charged at the airport). It’s an inexpensive way to see the world!

Benefits After Leaving the Service

Reasons to join the military extend beyond your initial time in the service. There are many veterans benefits that are available to prior military members for long after they leave active duty or reserve service.

9. Education opportunities after you leave the military.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays veterans who served at least 36 months a monthly living stipend and full tuition to pay for college after they leave the military. Depending on how long the service member commits, this Post-9/11 GI Bill can be transferred to spouses and children.

10.  Buy a home with no money down with a VA Loan.

The Veterans Affairs office offers veterans a way to purchase a home with no money down through the VA Loan. This makes it easier to purchase a home while you are serving, or after you have left the service.

11.  Military retirement benefits are worth millions.

It’s not an exaggeration to say military retirement benefits are worth millions of dollars.

Military members receive a lifetime pension based on the average of their highest three years of base pay. Military retirees who are in the High 3 Retirement System receive 2.5% of their base pay for each year of service. So 20 years of service would equate to a pension worth 50% of their highest 3 years of base pay (25 years would 62.5%, 30 years would be 75%, etc.).

Members who are participating in the new Blended Retirement System (BRS) use the same calculations, except that you would use a 2.0% multiplier instead of 2.5%. So a retirement at 20 years would be 40%, 25 years would be 50%, and 30 years would be 60%. However, there are two big additions: the first is matching TSP contributions of up to 5% of your base pay, allowing you to have portable retirement benefits when you leave the military, even if you don’t reach retirement. The other is a Continuation Pay Bonus, which is a mid-career cash bonus for extending your service commitment.

Example retirement value:

An officer with 20 years of service, who earns over $100,000 per year, could retire with a pension of over $48,000 per year for life in his or her 40s and start a second career. Imagine earning over $4,000 per month for the rest of one’s life, starting at age 42. This equates to an accumulative pay of $480,000, $960,000, $1.4 million in 10, 20, and 30 years, respectively, in addition to having full health care coverage and an income from a second job, if desired. (Oh, and those numbers don’t account for the annual cost of living adjustments (COLA) which increase your monthly pension each year).

Enlisted members earn somewhat less than commissioned officers. However, their pensions are based on the same formula and receive the same cost of living increases each year. So you can easily run the numbers and get a rough approximation of potential retirement benefits. For example, a $2,500 a month pension is worth $30,000 per year. That would be worth $300,000, $600,000, or $900,000 over 10, 20, or 30 years.

When you add in COLA, it’s easy to see 30 years of pension payments being worth $1,000,000 or more. And that doesn’t include your other retirement benefits, such as military medical care and more.

Learn more about retirement benefits:

What are the Downsides?

But wait… isn’t the military dangerous?

One major reason many people don’t consider the military is the perception of a high mortality rate. This is primarily caused by the media. The reality is many military specialties are no more dangerous than their civilian counterparts. Your branch of service and your career field will go along way toward determining the risk you will be exposed to.

Military members may be eligible for VA service-connected disability benefits if they are injured or become ill during their military service. Receiving a VA disability rating makes the veteran eligible for lifetime disability compensation benefits.

In the unlikely event of a service member’s death, the military or the VA provides a lifetime of benefits for your survivors. The surviving family is given an immediate $100,000 death gratuity benefit, a $400,000 lump sum life insurance benefit (if the member opts into the life insurance), social security and indemnity monthly payments for years, and the transferability of many VA benefits. The military member’s time served is not taken for granted.

What else do I need to know?

Well, that’s a broad question! The best recommendation I have is to speak with some current or former military members to get an idea of their experiences. Keep in mind that everyone has a unique experience, so it is your job to read between the lines. Also, understand that each branch of the military is different. So an Army veteran from 20 years ago would have an entirely different perspective than someone currently serving in the Navy.

Once you have enough information, set up an appointment with a recruiter. They can walk you through your career options, the available benefits, and answer any questions you may have.

Serving in the military is not for everyone, but it does offer many tangible and intangible benefits.

Photo credit: United States Forces – Iraq (Inactive)

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes, Military.com, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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  1. Larry Martin says

    I love the article. My only suggestion is that instead of only using the term “2nd Lieutenant”as an example of a brand new officer, also mention that the Coast Guard & Navy use the term, ” Ensign.”

    I retired from the Navy w/21 yrs.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Thanks for the feedback, Larry. The funny thing is this article was written by a Navy officer. Ha. There is one reference in the article, and as such, I’m sure most Navy and Coast Guard members can make the quick mental translation. We also run into this with other ranks, as many of the enlisted ranks are different and the Air Force doesn’t have Warrant Officers. But I’ll keep this in mind for future articles. Thank you for the feedback and thank you for your service!

  2. George cahill says

    If your recruiter does not lie to you, loose your paperwork and any bonuses you have coming and terms of service. You maybe could start off good. But beaware it is all in the paperwork, do not believe b.s. till the paperwork is recorded. Remember the recruiters are being paid to keep the ranoe full, only a very few become pilots or joy stick wondered.

  3. Joe says

    There has been a huge shift in the retirement area. If a person joins after 01 Jan they will be getting enrolled into a 401 K. The days of getting up to 75 percent of your retirement is gone.

  4. SaltyJO says

    Its an overgrown, inefficient scam. After your time serving and selling our boondoggles around the world to civilians you’re just a low skill white collar worker and go into sales. Go be a teacher instead

    • Pilot73 says

      You wouldn’t have to go into sales with a retirement like that! You would learn to be honerable, just, and be a respected person, not just some person who corrected homework papers and tried to talk to kids. Go be an Air Force pilot and live a life instead 🙂

  5. Elizabeth Barton says

    Hi Ed,
    I joined the USAF at the age of 17 and retired as a Master Sergeant at 35. (early retirement was an option in 1995) I have no regrets about my time in the service and patriotism is one of the biggest reasons I joined. My husband is also a retired Technical Sergeant. At the time I joined in 1978 benefits were starting to be chipped away. The GI Bill is no where near what it used to be. Medical and Dental Benefits have been drastically lessened. Educational benefits were whittled away at while I served but I did attain two Associates Degrees while serving and my husband got a Masters Degree. Retirement has also been severely cut since I joined.

    The current political environment is not one in which I would serve in the military as I did in the late 70’s. The culture of praising non-patriotic acts such as sitting or kneeling during the national anthem is an example. When the POTUS supports these actions, it speaks volumes to me. One of the current candidates for POTUS seriously risked national security by ignoring the laws of classified material handling and storage and was not penalized.

    We are at a place where if one of my children asked me if they should join the U. S. Military, I would strongly advise them to set their sights elsewhere. The place I find myself in is a huge distrust of our leaders in Washington DC, the current Commander in Chief, the former Secretary of State, the Justice Department and the FBI.
    If you were my child or someone I cared about I would advise you to sit back and wait…..see what this Presidential election produces tomorrow. If it produces a Clinton presidency, run, don’t walk away from the military. Under her plans you as a civilian will already have free medical, free college, food stamps, subsidized housing and you won’t put your life and limb at risk for an administration that will not honor its veterans. If the election produces a Trump presidency…..sign on up.
    God bless you and good luck with your decision!

    Elizabeth

  6. Ed Zahniser says

    Hey guys and girls, im 24 and have experienced life well more then others my age. I am looking to join any service that is going to help me out in the long run. I do want to serve my country more than anything, but i also want to make sure that it benefits me and my family. I have read into joining, and everything on the internet just says “Dont Do it!” We all know you cant believe everything you see on the internet, but if someone could, I Would just like some light shed on how this can benefit me. Thanks everyone. God Bless.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Ed, Thank you for contacting me. The best thing you can do is speak to current and former military members. This will help you get an idea of the military way of life, career opportunities, and some of the personal perspectives. Keep in mind everyone’s opinion is personal. Some people will love it, others will hate it. Some veterans will look back fondly at their time in the service and reminisce about the “good old days,” while others will look back and hate every memory associated with their time in the service. Some will fall in the middle. Your job is to read through the lines and figure out what it all means to you.

      If you are still interested in joining after speaking with several military members or veterans, then I recommend contacting a recruiter to learn more about the different branches of the military and the careers that are available to you. I wish you the best!

  7. Answer101 says

    Answer101 says:
    March 2, 2015 at 9:29 pm
    Um, did you not read the first line about where it says serving the country is an honor? It clearly talks about serving others is a great way to be satisfied. And by the way it’s not like this website comes straight from an admiral or generals mouth. If you want to see how the us military helps others then you should have typed that into your google search box instead, rather than ridiculing great reasons how YOU would benefit serving in the US military.

    Reply

  8. Answer101 says

    Um, did you not read the first line about where it says serving the country is an honor? It clearly talks about serving others is a great way to be satisfied. And by the way it’s not like this website comes straight from an admiral or generals mouth. If you want to see how the us military helps others then you should have typed that into your google search box instead, rather than ridiculing great reasons how YOU would benefit serving in the US military.

    • Brooke says

      I agree, as my my favorite quote by Gandi said “The best way to find yourself is to loose yourself in the service of others.”

  9. Ryan says

    Soooo where do the parts about freedom, protecting the constitution and bill of rights come in? Or are the only reasons to join just money based and driven and in a sense welfare being that they’re all funded with tax payer money?

  10. Ann says

    notice there’s no mention of protecting anyone’s right or defending our country…it’s all about how it benefits the soldier. Such a selfless profession

    • Pilot73 says

      Notice that this article is ABOUT what you can get out of it, in the greed’s perspective, If it only talked about what people do for their country, and not as your job, then people wouldn’t know if it would support them. I am going into the military as an Air Force pilot, not because I’m greedy for what I could get out of it, but because I want to pursue my carrer of an Airline Transport (or commercia) pilot and I love to fly. This is a really cool way to do it. I would be more than glad to go on a dangerous mission because it would assist my country and I get to fly! Not because it benefits me. Such a selfish profession.

    • Damion hubbard says

      It’s not really a selfless profession. I joined the United States Army and I did it to serve and protect our flag and country. But I’m not going to lie, I did it partially because of the benefits. Don’t act like you haven’t looked at a job’s benefits and dictated whether or not you wanted a job because of benefits.

  11. John says

    While these benefits are great, they should be better! Our men and women in uniform deserve the very best they can get – and I’m afraid we don’t always provide them with the best benefits possible.

    I respect those who join the military and serve our country. It’s amazing that they are so selfless in defending our country.

    Thanks for great insight into the benefits of joining the military!

    • intelligence says

      What about the reasons not to join the military? Extremely poor culture, emphasis on chain of command instead of greatest benefit, risk of death or injury, extremely increased risk of emotional trama resulting in life changing disabilities, increased divorce rate, indentured servitude, frequent irregularities in pay… The list goes on.

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