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Joining the military is a decision that's both noble and risky. It's one that can lead to excellent benefits and prestige, but it also can lead to an early death. It's not a career path for everyone, that's for sure.
When you've decided to enlist, the biggest issue isn't going to be getting the paperwork signed. Rather, the biggest issues you're going to deal with are all the reactions you'll get.
This is just a fact of military life. It doesn't matter whether you are in the US Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Army Reserves, or even the Air Force. People are going to assume you're entitled to their opinions.
Here are the reactions every enlistee gets—and why they're such cliches.
"Are you crazy? You'll die!"
Despite mortality rates being at record lows for wartime, most people still equate joining the military with the risk of death. Being a service member is far from being a death sentence. To be fair, being a military member is much riskier than, say, working in a corporate office. Even so, it's not as risky as people think.
Expect them to come up with a million "what-ifs" that will involve your demise or destruction. Sadly, no amount of talking to them will make them realize you've already made up your mind. Plus, there are people in the Army Reserve who sometimes never see deployment.
"You know, the military doesn't pay very well, and veterans aren't treated too well anymore, either."
Admittedly, a lot of military jobs do not pay what they should. The lowest ranking jobs sometimes only pay $10 an hour or so. Military care programs are also starting to see budget cuts, so they aren't quite wrong on this end.
What most people don't take into account are the perks that come with military life. Service members get more respect from civilians. You get a stable job, and a good chance in law enforcement later. You get free healthcare and tons of discounts.
Honestly, it balances out in most cases.
"Oh, so you're going to have PTSD in four years. Good to know."
A lot of people just assume that all veterans have PTSD, even when they do not really have much of a chance of having contact with serious combat. I mean, people in the military do occasionally get assigned desk jobs, you know.
Ignorance is bliss for people like this. These are things you do consider when deciding to join the US military; worrying about PTSD is not a happy thought, but it's one of the things that go through a person's mind when they're making such a monumental decision. Other people don't need to throw those risks in a new recruit's face. When you've decided to join the ranks of military members, you need to push worries like this one out of your mind.
"How could you!? You're going to leave us all here?"
Guilt trips are a dime a dozen among people who won't understand your need to be a military service member. You can't really blame them; a military career does take a lot of time away from friends and family.
Even so, this really isn't an acceptable reaction. Just understand that they are reacting from emotion rather than everything else. In time, they'll come around. Service to your family is one thing, but when you decide to serve your country, that's worth respect too.
Plus, let's be honest; a job in any major city takes a lot of time away from a person's friends and family as well.
"I'm pretty sure you can get a better job than that; you can't be that desperate!"
Another common trope civilians have about enlisting in the Army, the Air Force, or any other major military group, is the idea that you can't find a job anywhere else. They can't understand that some people truly do feel a calling to enlist, or feel like they would fare well there.
It's not really worth trying to explain to them what made you decide to go for it. Joining the military isn't something everyone understands, even when shown the most recent GI Bill upgrades. Laws in the United States do change frequently, but generally, there's always a strong push to improve benefits for veterans.
"So, I have questions. Like, what are the benefits? What should I expect?"
These may have been questions you asked yourself when deciding if you really want to join the military. Whatever the reasons were that you found within yourself, be ready to repeat them to others again and again.
If you're telling your immediate family that you're joining the military, this is one reaction you will get sooner or later—usually after they realize that you're set in stone about your decision.
It's a good idea to answer their questions best you can, and to help them link up with a recruiter that will be able to offer additional support. You'd be surprised at how supportive most will be.
This is the first word that you'll hear out of many peoples' mouths. Most people are curious to find out what sparked a person to enlist. It's a decision that's so unique, many people just feel like they want to get into your shoes.
Once again, answering questions will help them understand (and maybe even cope) with your decision. It's a good career; they just have to see it from your perspective. Fellow military members will be able to understand your motivations better and may even have insights on how they were able to get their families to accept their decisions.
"Congrats! I'm proud of you!"
This is one of the more unusual reactions you'll get when you announce your decision to enlist. Most of the time, it's from one of three groups of people:
- Those who believe that serving in the United States military will "straighten people out."
- Those who have a very strong military influence in their lives, or who actively served before.
- People who understand that it's a calling, or who believe in the idea of choosing to serve your country.
"Ugh, so you want to just go off and kill people?"
Though this reaction is very rare compared to others on this list, there are a fair amount of people who have this "holier than thou" attitude. Because people link military service with violence, a lot of people who are self-described peaceniks will become verbally hostile towards soldiers.
This attitude, thankfully, is frowned upon in mainstream society. Don't let the sanctimonious folks ruin your decision. They really don't matter.
"How can I help you out?"
For those who truly support people joining the military, their first reaction will be to ask them how they can help you out. Even if it's just a ride to boot camp or helping you get in shape, it's a good thing to know that people are in your corner.
You may not find an abundance of people who greet your decision with support, but those that do are welcomed allies. They can even help you through the recruitment process and have tips on traits military recruiters look for in potential soldiers.
Joining the military is a big commitment, but whether most of your peers are supportive or not, it's your choice to make. If you want to join the United States military and your mind is made up, don't let your peers feel any guilt over the path you've chosen.