liberal artist in the military?
June 21, 2009 4:29 PM   Subscribe

militaryfilter: I'm a 22 year old female with an art history BA, should I join? and which branch?

I apologize, this is going to take some explaining...

So first off, I don't really have the BA yet. I graduate on December 19th. But I only have three evening classes I need to finish so, not too difficult. I currently work full time as a network technician for my university getting paid such that I am on a very tight budget. I'm working on my CCNA but I meant to finish that a few months ago so... times are tough.

It seems to me that despite being a network tech for four years, I'm not going to get a full time job in that field anytime soon. And I have about four years experience working for museums too, and I'm pretty sure I don't want a career in art. I've enjoyed networking much more anyway.

Somehow this all leads to: the military.

I have not spoken to any recruiters yet but I will try to do that this coming week. I really don't know very much about the military which is funny because everyone in my family works for either the military or the federal government. My favorite uncle is even a retired admiral so I've been hearing stories about being in the military all my life but I've never seriously contemplated joining until now.

Why am I even thinking about it now? For one thing, I do care a lot about America so despite being a liberal aetheist I think I can deal with the military culture. Also I like risk and adventure and physical training. (I play a lot of rugby.) And third I think I kind of need a drastic change. I've been living in the same city (albeit a relatively large one) my whole life. I've never even been outside the country.

What I would hope to get out of the military are, hopefully some kind of skills I could apply to a civilian job (a federal job would be fine but you know, just something that's not art for god's sake). Preferably something that would make me enough money to start a family at that time (read: if I'm 22 now, 'that time' would be around 28 presumably). Some help paying off my college loans, some money for grad school if I decide I want to go and last but hopefully not least, some kind of exciting/challenging experience that I won't regret six years from now.

I definitely get that the military is, like all things, a 'you get out of it what you put into it' deal and I am ready to put a lot into it. I just want to make sure I know how to do that.

I've done a lot of reading, around this site and other sites and I guess my questions at this point are:

1. Which branch will I have the best chance of getting a job where I'll learn skills that will help me in civilian-world? Right now I'm thinking Air Force, Navy or Coast Guard. I could be talked into doing Reserves, National Guard or Army. I'm not sure at all about the Marines.

2. I've taken a few classes in Arabic and I would love to get more Arabic training and a job using said training. I looked a little at what the Defense Language Aptitude Battery test entails and I think with a little preparation I could do well on it. Do all the branches give you the chance to take this test and attend the Defense Language Institute? Even if you do well on the test is it hard to get in?

One more thing, I'd really like to get a job with a Top Secret Clearance. I know I have a clean enough background for it. Any suggestions of which military jobs will help me with that are very welcome.

Thanks a bunch MeFi-ers! I know this isn't the first time this topic has been discussed but I guess I'm looking for some more circumstance-specific advice. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.
posted by emmatwofour to Work & Money (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
sounds like you don't really want to enlist, but would be happy working for the army/govt as a why not choose that route and look for government jobs which seems to be your ultimate goal anyway?
posted by spacefire at 4:42 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Try working for the state department. If you can pass the test, which requires a bit of studying, you could work at an embassy in another country. Seems to me that your language and networking skills would be a good fit. Good luck!
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:47 PM on June 21, 2009

Seconding spacefire-- there are a lot of ways you can have physically demanding, exciting careers with the government without joining the military. You sound like you're mostly thinking about it for employment, not for the lifestyle. Have you considered the FBI or the CIA? I think Arabic skills would be really desirable in either institution.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:50 PM on June 21, 2009

If you're looking to go into the DLI and you do in fact score well enough to qualify for the difficult languages, they would love to have you. There's a different enlistment agreement for going into the DLI, you have to commit for (I think) five years, and you get to start out at a slightly elevated pay-grade. Mention this to your recruiter, I'm sure he or she will be able to give you all the necessary information. Keep in mind however, that you are NOT guaranteed your choice of which language you will study. You can list your preferences, but I don't know that this means anything to them. I have a friend who did the DLI, he said he was fine with any language assignment except Hebrew or Korean. He got assigned Korean.
posted by bluejayk at 4:51 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

twenty-five years ago i would have asked you if you were crazy & told you to run the other way. which is what i told my sister 25 years ago. per usual, she didn't listen to me, and i must say she's had a good career (in part because of the military; in part because she's smart). additionally, she's got a great retirement plan out of the deal, along with free healthcare (altho she uses her healthcare plan thru her job, i think).

if you don't get your ass shot off & you can put up with the bull, i'd say go for it. you only have to commit for 2 years at the minimum, and if you like it you can stay until you retire. (my sister did 6 years active, then another 20 in reserves.) you can get specialized training in your field courtesy of the gov't, there's a chance they'll either pay to send you for another degree or pay off your student loans, and getting a gov't job will be *much* easier with prior military experience.

i contract w/the feds, dept. of defense. fully half of my coworkers are former military. i don't like their politics, but i envy their retirement. and the ones that are working now directly for the government have the benefit of further padding out their military pensions, and knowing that pretty much hell will freeze over before they lose their jobs.

just don't tell 'em you've ever smoked pot. knocked my sister right out of the running for a secret clearance.
posted by msconduct at 4:55 PM on June 21, 2009

It used to be that USAF and USN IT were top drawer, but I'm not sure these days. I'd willingly defer to someone else who's gotten out recently. My opinion was informed by guys I knew who were in awhile back. Considering your location, you might also check with the myriad contractors in your area.

You could also go straight to the source.
posted by jquinby at 4:56 PM on June 21, 2009

just don't tell 'em you've ever smoked pot. knocked my sister right out of the running for a secret clearance.

I'm reliably informed that the times have changed somewhat on this matter. The important bit is not to lie about this sort of thing. Background checks are very, very thorough and discrepancies are Not A Good Thing.
posted by jquinby at 4:59 PM on June 21, 2009

Er, sorry, let me clarify my last: occasional use in your past may not necessarily disqualify you from a clearance. Saying that you never did, but having friends and co-workers attest otherwise during the check is not so good, nor is failing a polygraph.
posted by jquinby at 5:08 PM on June 21, 2009

Well, the thing about the military is, it kind of sucks. You get a bunch of benefits, and some good experience, and some education, sure. There are some good times. Mostly though, it's long hours, short deadlines, deployments away from home, substandard pay and housing, etc. I'm sure your uncle the Admiral has a different perspective on some of the fringe benefits, but I bet he can tell you stories of being a junior officer when it wasn't so nice.

You'll get some leadership skills, which is nice. On the way there, you'll have to be in charge of (and responsible for the actions of) morons, smart asses, and Clint Eastwood, who thinks you're a snot-nosed kid.

Which isn't to say don't do it. Just that all the good stuff about it is earned good stuff. If you can take that for several years without the possibility of quitting, then it may be for you.
posted by ctmf at 5:12 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Would you be interested in getting that type of job in the near future (instead of a full time military career -- although you could still join the Guard or Reserves)? Since you are in DC, there are a ton of government and contracting jobs that involve getting a security clearance.

Being an entry level intelligence analyst could involve using GIS tools (which you list as an interest in your profile), could involve learning about various cultures, with opportunities to be exposed to Arabic (you could take classes, and your new skill would be rewarded in the intel world). Plus entry level contracting salaries are significantly higher than entry level military salaries. Even

USA Jobs is the place to look for government jobs. Individual agencies may have their own listing sites (e.g., the Defense Intelligence Agency -- they have entry level intelligence analyst positions that are a great starting point for someone with a generic liberal arts degee) All the big contractors have job openings listed on their sites.

That being said, if you are set on joining the military, in my opinion, the Air Force and Navy are still the best in terms of trade off between opportunity to get technical skills and likelihood to avoid the most dangerous deployments.
posted by i love cheese at 5:16 PM on June 21, 2009

Given the current international climate, unless you want to go to war, I wouldn't be joining the military. Recruiters will tell you whatever you want to hear because they are desperate, so be very careful when evaluating any offers.
posted by doctor_negative at 5:17 PM on June 21, 2009

Recruiters will tell you whatever you want to hear because they are desperate

Not true.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:23 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

First, talk with your retired-admiral uncle. Tell him what you're thinking and get him to give you the straight dope before you get within a block of a recruitment office.

Get your BA.

Your language and academic generalist background are not a bad match for intelligence work. Consider also civilian intelligence agencies. As noted above, look at USAJobs to get a sense of what agencies are looking for.

The big scary polygraph (lifestyle) is not required for most people. A counterintelligence (are you a spy?) poly is common.

MeMail me if I can offer more specifics.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:35 PM on June 21, 2009

If you haven't already, you should really speak with your family members who are military or work for the federal government and ask them what they think. Your uncle should have plenty to say about your desire to serve. I agree with the above on looking into just going straight to work for federal agencies.

Re: languages -- the Army, Air Force, and Navy all have linguists.
Navy Cryptologic Technicians Interpretive
Airborne Cryptologic Apprentice
Army Cryptologic Linguist
However, these are all enlisted positions. Since you're almost done with your degree, you'd likely be looking into becoming an officer, and there are no officer linguist jobs. The closest would be the intelligence field.

I'll note that there are separate recruiters for enlisted and officers, so make sure you go see the specific kind you want. Officer recruiters are generally considered less "desperate" than enlisted recruiters, but either way you should be looking very closely at any contract before signing it.
posted by lullaby at 6:30 PM on June 21, 2009

The nearly-graduated niece of an admiral probably doesn't best start of her exploration of federal service at a storefront recruiting center which will be oriented to entry-level enlisted recruitment. You should, instead, be talking with your college career center and with your uncle about introductions to officer recruiters as well as recruiters for the three-letter agencies (CIA, FBI, NSA, etc.) If at the end of the day you opt to pursue a career path (such as translation or IT) which at least in the military (if not 3-letter service) is enlisted rather than commissioned, you have at least had other options in front of you.
posted by MattD at 6:37 PM on June 21, 2009

Or, what lullaby said...
posted by MattD at 6:39 PM on June 21, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the answers so far. Getting the objective perspective helps. To clarify some things:

bluejayk: Thanks for the info on the DLIT. I don't think I would mind getting training in any of the difficult languages but it does help to know that I don't get to pick.

oinopaponton: I have considered the FBI and the CIA-- especially the CIA. Actually I would love to work for the CIA and I've known a few people (including family) who worked for them, some for very long careers. The thing is, entry-level, for both of those agencies you need to have at least done well in school. But I haven't done well. In fact, academically speaking, I've made just about every mistake a person can make in college short of failing out. And I've taken classes in Arabic but I haven't studied it in a couple months now and I couldn't write the alphabet it my life depended on it so I kinda need language training if I want to make a career out of that (which would be awesome). But I will give the FBI another look, per your advice.

ctmf: Yea, I don't doubt you. I assume the military will suck verily. But like I said, I think I need a drastic change. And if that means giving up control of my life for six years I think I can do it. I think I can anyway. I still haven't ruled out being a reservist.

i love cheese: Thanks for the advice. I am aware of the kind of fed/contracting job saturated city I live in. I'm seriously looking at working for Lockheed. I know enough about GIS that I could probably put a map together tonight as long as it were something simple but probably not enough to get an entry-level job. Mostly because my only qualification in GIS is one class, a seminar, and helping my friends with their homework. So I need more training.

To clarify some general things: I probably should ask my uncle to give me the low down on the navy but for one thing he's really old, he's been retired for a long time, for another thing I kinda don't want him to get excited in case I change my mind.

About the pot-TSL thing-- I have a very close friend who recently went through the vetting for a TSL and I know you won't get thrown out now for having smoked pot once. Which is good because I might have once or twice in high school. But I've heard a lot about how clearances work and I know I can get one. I just want to know what military jobs could get me one.

As for the whole am I afraid to go to war? Get shot at? Kill people thing? Well, I guess I'm not a very good liberal because no, no and no. I guess I'm kind of a self-serving asshole actually because I wouldn't mind going to Iraq or Afghanistan as long as I don't end up coming right back to the same position I'm in now in six years. I'm not afraid to get shot at or kill people even if it's on orders I disagree with.

If I sound like it would be completely wrong for me to join the military I really would like to hear that now so if you read this and think that, please tell me.

But what I really want to know is, if I do go in, what's the best way to do it so that I am not just a poor liberal arts major who knows how to fire a machine gun when I get out.

If anyone has any experience they could talk about or experience of someone very close to them. Especially recent experience. That would be really helpful.

But thanks to everyone for giving their two cents. I really appreciate it.
posted by emmatwofour at 6:48 PM on June 21, 2009

Response by poster: You know what? I'm sorry that comment about not being afraid to shoot or get killed on on orders I disagree didn't come out right. On the whole it's true but I don't want to imply that just because anyone doesn't want to shoot or get killed on orders they disagree with doesn't mean they're afraid of anything. Pretty much all of my friends would not share my view on this subject. And it's not all about fear.
posted by emmatwofour at 6:53 PM on June 21, 2009

Response by poster: I should add that, of course my first choice would be OTS. But like I implied above, my grades have been terrible. And OTS likes a good college GPA from what I understand.
posted by emmatwofour at 6:55 PM on June 21, 2009

years USN here, talk to your admiral uncle and get hi to introduce you to the officer recruiter for either the Navy or the Air Force. I LOVED the Navy, but I also managed to avoid going floating, my sea duty was with P3 aircraft and we went to an air force base in Misawa Japan.

The USAF has a much better educational system and a lot of their jobs are much closer to civilian qualifications than the USN (for instance, I was an Airfames Mechanic, but I did not come out of the service qualified to be an licensed Aircraft Mech)

I always tell peeps to go USAF rather than Navy...I really loved being in the Navy, but there are a lot more opportunities in the USAF and you don't get stuck on a boat for 6 or more months so even if you are working 12 hr days, you can still go get a beer someplace after work :)

Feel free to memail me if you want.

posted by legotech at 8:32 PM on June 21, 2009

You could call up some ex-military headhunting companies (Bradley Morris is the name that pops into my head, but that's only because they spammed the crap out of me with snail-mail for the entire 5 years before I got out) and ask them all about who gets what kind of jobs and what skills are most marketable.
posted by ctmf at 8:52 PM on June 21, 2009

If you want OTS it doesn't hurt to apply. Grades are part of the equation but not the whole thing. Also have you seen this thread from a couple of days ago?

1. Which branch will I have the best chance of getting a job where I'll learn skills that will help me in civilian-world?
I'm not convinced that there is a huge link between a military background and jump-starting a civilian career. I think you already know the areas where a military background really does help: a) it is much easier for vets to get federal jobs and b) various industries that contract with the federal government are screaming for people who already have security clearances.

2. Even if you do well on the test is it hard to get in?
The language test really does measure aptitude for languages rather than the ability to take tests well. I had never met a standardized test I didn't like, and I bombed it. If you do well on it, though, in the Army at least, being a linguist requires a security clearance. But, as lullaby mentioned they are enlisted positions.
posted by txvtchick at 9:04 PM on June 21, 2009

(Sorry I didn't actually answer your second question. I couldn't find any stats. When I was in they were screaming for people because not very many recruits could jump the ASVAB/appitude test/security clearance hurdles. And they had a high washout rate. But these things change by the month - this article may be of interest. Note that it's a year old.)
posted by txvtchick at 9:24 PM on June 21, 2009

what's the best way to do it so that I am not just a poor liberal arts major who knows how to fire a machine gun when I get out.

What you've already started doing: research. Looking into jobs you'd like. Possibly speaking to servicemembers who are doing those jobs right now (make connections through the ex-/military family members?). Talking to recruiters. You won't know if your qualifications are too poor to get into OTS/OCS unless you sit down with a recruiter or two and ask. I've always been told that OCS applications are about the "whole person" - and clearly you are more than just your college GPA. And one of the most important things you can do is never believe what any recruiter tells you is "guaranteed" (job, training, duty station, whatever) unless it is written in your contract, which you will have to read very carefully prior to signing any dotted lines.

And you may feel differently about war, being shot at, or killing people, if/when you are actually in that position.
posted by lullaby at 1:02 PM on June 22, 2009

Former air force enlisted linguist here, these are my pretty specific thoughts.

It's my opinion that the Air Force is the best of the services for women, and going into intelligence will put you in a field where the male/female ratio is much closer to even. It's also got the shortest basic training and the least physically demanding basic training. Once you are out of basic and finish whatever occupational training you'll have, it's also the branch that will let you have the closest to a normal civilian life, there are much fewer additional demands on your off-duty time in comparison to the other branches.

When I was in language school, the Arabic course was 63 weeks long, and you spent an additional four months after that learning the technical side of your job, so a six year enlistment was required. There's a bonus though, for what it's worth. You'll have your clearance investigation ongoing as you go through training, completed by the time you go to your first duty station. A lot of linguists are able to put these skills to pretty lucrative use once they complete even one enlistment.

It was a while ago, but back then, recruiters had a quota for linguists, and once you qualify on the DLAB, you are pretty much locked into that job. If you decide not to go for intell, my main piece of advice would be to have a guaranteed job in your contract going to basic training. You can change that once you're there, if something else opens up that appeals to you (as long as you're not a linguist), but if you leave it up to the military to choose for you - well, that's never a good idea.

Feel free to contact me if you want.
posted by lemniskate at 9:45 PM on June 22, 2009

Lot of good advice on here so far. I'll only contribute a few things:
1) Recruiters are not your friend, I imagine this is probably pretty well known, but make sure you get stuff in writing and check everything they tell you.
2) MI sounds like a good fit for what you want, especially since you are interested in that field already. Make sure you get an MOS that matches what you want to do in the civilian world - i.e. analysis or imagery or whatnot.
3) Serve the minimum amount of time you can and still get the bonus you want. You can always re-enlist, but you can't serve less. I know the Army Reserve offers a "try 1" option, but it sounds like active duty is what you're looking for.
4) Shop around the services for the highest starting rank and bonuses that you can get.
5) Plan on deploying at least once if not several times. That will happen.

On a more personal note, I say don't worry so much about trying to explain your take on the politics, I've thought about it for years and I've never figured out a way to explain how I feel about service, but I know what it means to me.
posted by Horatius at 10:12 PM on June 22, 2009

« Older I don't need a video camera shaped paperweight.   |   What's up with our cat? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.