You could be thinking of joining the Military because of these difficult economic times, or possibly it’s your career choice out of high school. I will tell you what I wish I knew when I joined and what to expect during the recruitment process. I’ll tell you about basic training to the best of my knowledge, as I joined the Navy so I can’t really speak to the Marines or Army’s basic training as they are much more rigorous.

Your first step is to find a Recruiter if he or she hasn’t already found you. Your parents or friends may tell you that you need to be wary of the Recruiter. This is not really the case. Your Recruiter, if they do their job correctly is your best friend. They want you to have a positive experience so that you can tell all your friends that the military is the way to go and who they can contact. Another reason they are your best friend is because at any point you can change your mind, they want to keep you focused on joining.

Next you will take an ASVAB test which is a long test. The test is designed to gauge your proficiency and qualify you for a job in the military. You need to do as best you can here because nobody wants to chip paint for a living. I think it would be best to know what job you want before you take this test but some might disagree. Those that would disagree would say that you should take the test and see what you qualify for. I say take the test once you know what you want so that your Recruiter and Detailer don’t make your mind up for you.

Sometimes there are incentives for joining like a bonus or a promotion to E2 or E3 after Boot Camp. Ask your Recruiter about these because you want to take advantage of them. For me it was a promotion to E2 out of Boot Camp if I passed the physical training exam before I even shipped out, which I did.

Next you will go to MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) located in your nearest city. You will undergo many physical exams by doctors and be asked several questions. This is the part where you feel like some kind of alien. This process will take an entire day. At the end of this day once you’ve passed all those exams then you will be called in to see a Detailer.

Once you are called in to see your Detailer (this is the person that will place you in a job) you need to be prepared for this person. This person is not your friend and he or she will lie to you and withhold information in order to fill a job that they need filled. This person is who gives your Recruiter a bad name. You need to have your stuff in order and you better know what you want before you walk in. Don’t let him tell you anything. Remember you hold all the cards because you can still walk out. Also be prepared to walk out. This person is like a used car salesman and you need to treat him like such. If you fold or you take what he gave you rather than making him give you what you want then you will spend the next 4 years, or however long your contract is, regretting this very day. I’m not telling you to yell or be impolite so please don’t misunderstand. You should be polite even though you are probably aggravated after all the exams. The two things you need to know before you even walk into this office are what you want to do for a job, and what you qualify for. Because they are not below telling you that you don’t qualify for a position when you do. Ask to see a written list of all jobs that you qualify for. Also it would be helpful to know the most undesirable jobs. The reason this would be helpful is because your Detailer will do everything he can to place you in them, it’s more than likely his area of most need.

After this fun process you are sworn in and off to the airport you go to catch a plane to wherever your Boot Camp is located. For me it was Chicago. Once you arrive be ready because they start as soon as you get off the plane right there in the airport. Listen carefully to everything they say because they are looking for that one person who misunderstood so they can drop them. By “drop them” I mean in pushup position they won’t hit you, at least I don’t think they will I’ve never seen anyone give them a reason to. You will wish you slept on the plane because you will get none on this first night. Of all the forms you fill out and sign pay attention to one called the Montgomery GI Bill Application. This will give you a lot of money for college. Possibly pay your entire tuition. You want this trust me.

The key to get through Boot Camp is to put your pride on the back burner keep your mouth shut and do what you’re told to the best of your ability. Once you do that it’s kind of fun. Your RDC’s (Recruit Division Commander is what we called them) are typically hilarious. For me it was one of the hardest things not to laugh while getting yelled at for “summer creases” on my uniform (“some are here and some are there”). Also remember the Military is not like Boot Camp. Once it’s over you will have great stories to tell your friends at home and others who have experienced the same thing. All I ask is that if you’ve made up your mind to join, serve honorably and you will never regret the decision. Of all the things I’ve done and regret, joining the Navy was not one of them.