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Though there are tales as old as time, being in the military is one of those "you have to see to believe" life experiences. It's impossible to realistically imagine life in the Navy unless you've lived it yourself. The Navy is a family. Sailors are brothers and sisters. They have each others' backs. There are many things to consider when deciding whether to join the Navy so learn about what it's like to be a sailor. It's probably not at all what you think it is.
Life in the Navy is not like a TV show.
The biggest misconceptions about life in the Navy come from TV shows and movies. You might think that real life is like NCIS, with a Petty Officer going missing or being murdered at every turn, but that's just television drama. The best military movies of all time typically show off the more glamorous side of Navy life, focusing on commissioned officers as if they're the only people with knowledge and power in the Navy. That couldn't be further from the truth—but let's give that point a more in-depth look a little later. Suffice it to say that Navy life isn't about musicals staged on the flight deck or POs getting screamed at by abusive, overbearing COs.
You're not always away from home.
Media portrayals point to a life spent at sea—all the time. That's far from the truth. Deployment is a significant part of the job, but it's never forever. Moreover, the higher up you move in the ranks, the more control you have over the job that you do. It's possible to land a position—pun not intended—that allows you to spend the majority of your time in one place. Being away from your family, friends, and other loved ones is difficult, no question, but sailors learn to cope. Every job has its downside; every job comes with tasks that you don't enjoy doing. The Navy is no different.
Your schedule can be normal.
As mentioned, however, being in the Navy can ultimately be the same as any other working environment—because it is a working environment. Even when longer deployments remain a factor, you still spend substantial time in your home port. You may not always work a standard workday, but working from 0400-0800 and again from 1600-2000 allows you time to pick up the kids, have dinner with your spouse, or see a movie with your friends. It's not uncommon to net a traditional 9-5 job, either—or perhaps that should be 0900-1700.
The dress-code is strict, but not unreasonable.
You hear numerous misconceptions and stereotypes about how strict life in the Navy is, and to some extent, that's true. However, the restrictions and guidelines aren't unreasonable. For example, brightly colored fantasy hair isn't allowed, and both men and women have to keep their hair and their persons professional and tidy. Tattoos and piercings aren't entirely verboten, though, especially if they aren't extreme. It's true that Navy personnel must dress neatly and with class even when they're off-duty. That's because you're representing the United States Navy regardless of your clothing.
It takes work to become a cadet.
Applying to become a cadet means that you're on an officer track. That's an intense employment path. It's worth all the effort, but your training essentially begins from the moment you enlist. Officers have to know the ship inside and out, which means that cadets do, too. It's wise to learn about every aspect and area on-board.
That's not all, however. Cadets also have to undergo training and take a battery of tests to eventually captain a ship. Executive officers must be a specific age, they require certain certificates, and their fitness assessments must be top-notch. You're training for a specialty position, in essence.
The quarters aren't too close.
On the base, you can choose to live at the barracks, in an apartment, or in a house. These options come with full amenities, such as kitchens, laundry, and access to gyms and recreation. Onboard, however, Navy life is a bit different. Stereotypes suggest that you barely have room to turn around on the ship, but that's not the case. At sea or in a submarine, you get a berth that provides storage along with your sleeping rack. You can head to the mess deck to eat, hang out, and play games, while crew lounges have TV sets and other entertainment options. Some aircraft carriers even have ATMs and WiFi, as well as postal services.
The physical tests are intense.
Life in the Navy demands peak physical fitness, and they're happy to test your endurance and strength at every level. The training doesn't begin and end with boot camp. From the Navy Physical Fitness Assessment and the Body Composition Assessment to the Physical Readiness Test and the Physical Screening Test, recruits, cadets, and officers are constantly pushing themselves. Fortunately, you generally have access to gym facilities and nutritional information that allows you to perform at your best at all times. The Navy takes health care seriously and looks beyond merely providing health insurance.
Commissioned Officers aren't always in charge.
As briefly mentioned earlier, movies and television shows have a terrible habit of highlighting commissioned officers as if they're doing all the grunt work and making things run smoothly. The sailors themselves are primarily responsible for the day-to-day business of keeping the ship afloat, however. Everyone reports directly to someone, but the team on the ship works together like a well-oiled machine to keep the trains running on time—so to speak.
Work/Life balance isn't impossible.
Navy life isn't all bad, not by any means. Work/life balance is possible, and you find a way to make it work. The Navy takes pride in making sure every member, from recruits to officers, can spend time with their families. Enlisting requires sacrifice, sure, but you don't have to give up everything.
Deployment is always hard.
One true aspect of life in the Navy is that people often join up because they want to travel and they love exploring new places. Sailors certainly do get to satisfy their wanderlust. No matter how much you enjoy traveling or how many times you've deployed, however, it's always hard. Leaving behind friends and family is bad enough. There's something to be said about losing touch, however briefly, with familiar places, as well. Not to mention the strain it puts on new military wives and couples.
All service members make personal sacrifices to serve and protect their country. The Navy is no different. Sailors keep our shores and waters secure.