I'm in the Navy, now???
February 8, 2011 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Armed Forces filter: What do you wish you had known before enlisting? Close family member considering joining the Navy, and I want to provide as much info as possible.

Like many young people these days, my middle son is playing with the idea of joining the Navy. He has an older friend who is ex-Navy who has agreed to accompany him when he speaks to a recruiter. His father and I both support whatever decision he makes, so I'm not looking to discourage him in any way. I would like to gather both positive and negative information, so that we'll both feel he is better informed before he walks in to their office. I've read the previous posts, and sent him links to all the pertinent ones, but some of that information is several years old and I think an update would be really helpful.

My son is 22, currently working as a grill cook at a local restaurant, is an amateur fiction writer, has three semesters of college but is not currently enrolled.

posted by raisingsand to Education (29 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The ex-Navy guy going to the recruiter meeting is huge.

I assume they still offer guaranteed jobs, which strikes me as infinitely better than signing up and hoping for the best.

My understanding is that programs and offerings change, but it would be worth asking if there is a substantive benefit to having two years of college and if he goes through with enlisting, finishing the last semester before doing so. It may be possible to enlist to go in on x date, after the semester is finished, get benefits it would provide.

I don't know if the Navy holds special appeal for any reason(s), but it seems that there would be no loss in also checking out the Air Force. To each their own and a lot of Navy jobs don't involve being on ships, but a lot of Navy guys have said living accommodations on ships get tiresome in a real hurry.
posted by ambient2 at 11:35 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everyone I know who has joined the navy has absolutely hated it to the point that one went AWOL and another attempted suicide. However, I think this might be due to the fact that the Navy seems like a less "gung-ho" branch of the military than the Army or the Marine Corps, and the people in question were anti-authoritarian types who joined not out of a diehard commitment to serve but because they didn't have anything else going on at the time and their job prospects were somewhat dim. I think there's a certain segment of people that sort of thinks, "Well, maybe I'll just join the military," chooses to go with the Navy because they think it's going to be more laid back, then ends up unable to deal with the highly regimented lifestyle that you get in pretty much ANY branch of the military.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:35 AM on February 8, 2011

The only person I know who was in the Navy liked it. He was a corpsman and did several tours in Afghanistan with Marine units; he never set foot on a ship, he said.
posted by rtha at 11:39 AM on February 8, 2011

I put 4 years in the Navy back when Moby Dick was a minnow. If I had to do it all over again, I'd try my hardest to get a job that had a similar job in civilian life. There are a lot of jobs in the Navy that have no equivilent in civilian life. I put 4 years in a job that was all strictly military and highly classified. I would have had to stay in a Government field to continue.
The Navy also used to promote by testing rather than what was needed in a base. I think the Army had the fastest promotion rates and the Air Force and Marines had the slowest.
Looking back at it, it was a great time but of course I never set foot on a ship.
posted by JohnE at 11:48 AM on February 8, 2011

The prosaic danger is depression. You are locked in to life in a framework that is not nourishing or comforting. If you are a person who is dealing with a deficit of happiness in your life, it will wear you down severely.
posted by Paquda at 11:51 AM on February 8, 2011

Things to consider in a very random brain dump type of list.

Why the Navy and not the Air Force? Zoomies live better, by far. He should get a real look at what it is like living on a ship or a submarine.

How is he at dealing with lazy and less than intelligent people, especially when they are in charge? I am in no way suggesting that it is the norm, but it does happen. When it does, there isn't much you can do about it except smile and deal.

What is it about the military that is attracting him? Is it because he can't think of anything else right now? If so, bad idea. He is a writer. Creativity, in general, is not appreciated as an attribute in the military.

Get a guaranteed job. Don't go in as Open/General (or whatever the Navy equivalent is). Get a bonus if possible. Either in cash or starting at a higher rank, or both. Make sure everything is spelled out in writing and don't sign anything without reading it.

How does he feel about dealing with bureaucracy? Tell him to think about a time he was jerked around by a department at the college and then multiply that by a million. That is what the military can be like at times.

Does he like physical fitness? It isn't really that difficult but it is something you have to stay on top of.
posted by Silvertree at 12:03 PM on February 8, 2011

You are locked in to life in a framework that is not nourishing or comforting. If you are a person who is dealing with a deficit of happiness in your life, it will wear you down severely.

I could not disagree more. Some people are appreciably happier after they join the military. Again, to each their own, but considerable numbers of people find "nourishment" and "comfort" in any number of aspects of life in the military.

Some people enjoy the structure, work, people they meet, camaraderie, opportunities to travel and live in other parts of the country and world, income, health benefits, education benefits, etc.

I served in the USAF, enjoyed being stationed in California and England. My step-father was in the Coast Guard, enjoyed visiting a staggering number of places all over the world.

That aside, unless someone is in a warzone or on a ship, they're usually able to finish their work, go enjoy life--via taking classes in fiction writing, playing golf, going to concerts, riding a bike, etc.
posted by ambient2 at 12:09 PM on February 8, 2011

I was in the air force for five years. Everyone I knew who wasn't in it for a career wished they'd joined the air force, because while it's the most difficult to advance in rank, it's also the "easiest" as far as physical demands, as well as demands on your time outside of your regular work hours. once you're through basic training and your technical training, you are much, much more likely to be able to just treat it like a job, where with the other branches you will have many more demands - additional duties, watches, physical training, etc than the air force does. Granted, I have been out of the military for over a decade, but I served on joint service posts the whole time I was in, and this was my experience with the marines and army and navy folks I worked with.

Going in with a guaranteed job is really, really key. As is getting everything in writing. If he has college experience, that will help him join with a little bit of rank - not much, but every extra buck helps, right?

I loved being in the military, but if I could do it over again, I would have joined with a guaranteed job in a specific civilian application, probably something in the medical field.
posted by lemniskate at 12:10 PM on February 8, 2011

My dad served 20 years in the Navy. He spent a lot of time on aircraft carriers traveling the world (the Philippines, Europe, Kuwait, etc.) and hence a lot of time away from his family. He worked 18 hour days while on ships.

He also got to do a lot of cool stuff. He taught classes, worked in radio communications and hunted down and arrested guys who went AWOL. I don't know if he enjoyed the majority of the work but it was a steady paycheck and fantastic benefits for our family. Now that he's "retired," he still has to work despite the monthly pension he receives. So it's really a mixed bag. I think it's a better option for those without families or young children.
posted by Lobster Garden at 12:19 PM on February 8, 2011

My father was in the Air Force for 20 years. My ex was in the Navy for 6 years. Things that I think are important to know:

It doesn't matter what they promise you when you sign up; they will put you in whatever position they need to fill. They will give you a document that looks like it guarantees a specific job, but if they don't have any need for that when you go in, they'll put you somewhere else. Not for a few weeks- for the length of your enlistment. Do not believe a single thing the recruiter promises. They are salesmen, with quotas to fill, and some of them will say whatever they feel will sway you into signing up. They are not any more (or less) honorable because they are in the military.

One evening, my then-husband told me that he and his coworkers came to the realization that day that "If we do our job right, we kill people!" It had not occurred to them before then. Make sure your son understands the implications of joining the military.

Once you're in, the military owns you. 24/7/365. Most people who have never been in the service don't really grasp that. They can (and will) tell you that by the way, tomorrow at 6 a.m. you will be moving to your new assignment on the other side of the world. And they don't care that your wife just had a baby 24 hours before. She will just have to deal with all the packing and moving and scrubbing your military housing quarters by herself. And I do mean scrubbing - they check the grooves in the rubber gasket that seals your refrigerator door. Oh, and they may only give her 5 days to get this all accomplished.

The Navy and the Air Force are the "easiest" gigs and have the fastest promotions. The Navy is fastest, but then again, you may have to
go out to sea 11 months of the year.

Air craft carriers are dangerous places.

When you leave the military, it can be very hard to readjust to the real world, even if you never see battle. The military is regimented. Everyone knows what they're supposed to do, and they do it. Then you get out, and the world is full of people who don't do what they're supposed to, and it can be very frustrating.

The camaraderie you see in movies is real. People are generally very helpful, friendly and team oriented.

If you're going in as a short timer, save as much money as you can. Don't waste it on fancy cars, etc., as so many of them do. End your enlistment with a big savings account; you'll never regret it.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:31 PM on February 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

First thing he should know is that his recruiter is going to say whatever it takes to get him in, and the recruiter's goals are absolutely not the same as your son's. I'm not saying the recruiter will be predatory, but the hard truth is that the guy is a salesman and your son's well-being takes a back seat (a far, far back seat) to his job of getting toes on the line. When I went through MEPS, there was quite a bit of information given to me by the folks handing me the contract that was either left unsaid by my recruiter or outright contradicted it. Heck, it even says right at the bottom of your contract that nothing a recruiter says is binding in any way. I guess the thinking is that it's a lot harder to say no there than in the recruiter's office. Because of this, I would advise your son to take his recruiter's information as a guideline and research everything himself before signing anything.

Also, he should decide on which MOS he really wants and stick to it; the paper-pushers and recruiters try their best to get folks to take jobs that need filling (read: that no one actually wants). If his chosen job isn't lacking recruits, in the recruiter's office they'll tell him horror stories about it. At MEPS, they'll tell him that an opening won't be available until far out in the future (it's never as long as they say). Long story short, from day one he will be working against the tide if he wants anything popular, and that tide REALLY wants him to haul chains or live in a sub.

Oh, and I guess he should always say no to subs. Always.
posted by Willie0248 at 12:44 PM on February 8, 2011

I came to say Air Force, based on my 21 years of civilian DoD experience. Being at sea on a floating city is not my idea of fun. The Air force also seems the most advanced in their use of technology, i.e. the kind of stuff that can get you a job in the civilian world after your enlistment.
posted by fixedgear at 12:47 PM on February 8, 2011

You might want to watch the fascinating PBS documentary, Carrier, together. It looks like you can get the full episodes on the PBS site or Netflix.
posted by argonauta at 12:50 PM on February 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm in the Air Force so I can't really speak about Navy details, but I work with a few Navy AGs. They are stuck in desk job and say they would love to be on a ship, but on the other hand, I've talked to other Navy folk at Pearl Harbor who are sick of the ship life, so it really goes both ways.

My least favorite thing about the military is the fresh-out-of-high-school type who think they are on top of the world. I am biased, though, since I live in the barracks and have to deal with these people day and night. The homophobic and misogynistic attitudes at work tend to get old very quickly. The military really does manage to suck up your time with the 8 or 12 hour shifts, PT, commander's calls, recalls, FPCON exercises, etc... so you have to really utilize your days off to get errands done.

Paquda's comment is spot on. Being in the military has exasperated my depression. I enlisted in hopes of experiencing big new adventures that would break me out of my dull routine, but the military life is so, so much more draining than I expected. If your son has any objections to killing people, I would advise him against joining. Although I'll never have to hold a gun in my career, I still despise my job knowing that everything I do is directly supporting "turning the enemy into hair, teeth, and eyeballs", as all the higher-ups love to say. The people I work with that are the most enthusiastic have told me that they signed up because they wanted to kill people, and they are definitely re-enlisting in order of cross-training into another career field where they can do so.

Joining open general is really a grab bag. I have lucky friends who ended up with cushy photography and medical jobs, but most got personnel (paper pushers/cooks), security forces, or maintenance. I joined with a guaranteed job that is usually highly regarded, but still ended up disliking it. Since your son likes writing, I would recommend trying for a Public Affairs job. The PA people I know are definitely the most satisfied with their jobs, with medical being a close second.
posted by zap at 1:15 PM on February 8, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. He is very happy ALL THE TIME, laid-back, and easy to get along with, has never been prone to depression. Does not live with us (his parents), fwiw. Totally non-competitive and exercises every day by jogging. Kind of a loner, but does make friends easily and has a tight circle of four or five guys that stayed together after high school. He already spoke about getting a skill that translates to civilian jobs after his stint is up, so he's given that part some thought.
posted by raisingsand at 1:22 PM on February 8, 2011

I don't know much about enlisted life in the Navy, although I agree with others above who've said to make sure that he has a contract for a job doing something he likes/ that's useful to him when he signs up. In general, though, this is what successful enlisted personnel who I knew did:

No matter what job they had, they also had interests outside of the military. For instance, they kept in touch with their families, thought about where they were going with their future, and had school lined up, etc. The first year, it's hard to have a life because you're in training. Once you've settled into your first duty station, though, it's time to start thinking ahead again--taking care of the people you care about, and taking care of yourself.

They saved money. There are a lot of pay day lenders, strip clubs, and bars that will take your paycheck every month. A lot of people fall into those traps, and once you're in debt, it's hard to get out again. You don't need to go to a restaurant every night or drive a fancy car, but you do need about 6-7 months of living expenses in a savings account when you leave the military.

They had sane personal relationships, or stayed patiently single. The military can be simultaneously lonely and hard on marriages. A lot of young enlisted guys who have left home for the first time fall in love, get married in a few months, and then get divorced during the first deployment. Then they usually had to give up half of their paycheck for child support of other expenses. I say 'guys' because I haven't seen it happen a lot to women in the service, although I'm sure that it has happened. Don't rush into anything.

They stayed out of trouble. There are a lot of things to get angry about in the military, no matter what branch of service you're in; this is why bitching is such a highly developed art form. Pretty much none of those things are worth risking a less than optimal discharge from service. Also, some people who never thought they'd stay in the military for 20 years ended up doing a career anyway, so it's good not to screw yourself over careerwise and leave that option open.

I guess what I'm saying is, keep in mind that your training and learning your job aren't the only things to be concerned about. You can really screw up when you get to your first duty station and have a little bit of freedom and money, so be smart.
posted by _cave at 1:24 PM on February 8, 2011

As someone who was in the Navy, I wish I had known how much cleaning was involved.

On the sub I was on we cleaned for at least a half hour after our watch period (each day was divided into 3 6-hour periods. yes, that is only 18 hours.), plus a mandatory-for-all-hands (even if it was during your precious, precious sleep time) 4 hour cleaning period every week ("Field Day"). This Field Day was 4 hours long whether or not your area was clean, and the chiefs walked around and made sure you were cleaning.

Also, the reason they are offering enlistment bonus for a particular NEC is because the job is understaffed. The job is understaffed probably because it sucks, and many/most people get out of it as soon as they are able.

"Tell him to think about a time he was jerked around by a department at the college and then multiply that by a million. That is what the military can be like at times. "

Or most of the time, depending on who is in your specific sphere of bureaucracy.

"If I had to do it all over again, I'd try my hardest to get a job that had a similar job in civilian life. There are a lot of jobs in the Navy that have no equivilent in civilian life.

This is important. You might be able to get creative with what 'similar civilian job' means though.

Oh, and I guess he should always say no to subs. Always.

yeah, the extra $200 (or whatever it is now) a month really wasn't worth it.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 1:55 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If he joins the Navy make sure he goes into his basic training during warm weather months. My soon to be former son in law is in the Navy and his basic involved training and getting wet a lot and from what folks have told me it's much more tolerable in the summertime. (Basic is on Lake Michigan.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:59 PM on February 8, 2011

PS-my soon to be former loves the Navy.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:00 PM on February 8, 2011

The military is highly regimented, as you might expect. It's like being back in grammar school again, only more so. If you don't like being ordered around a lot of the time, it's not for you.

This shows up in ways you might not expect. For example, each company commander (or the equivalent in the Navy) is under pressure to have everyone participate in the (theoretically voluntary) diversion of monthly pay to buy a U.S. Savings Bond. The commander's fitness rating is influenced by this, which results in strong pressure to buy the bonds, even though they are not a particularly good investment. In theory you can't be retaliated against for not signing up, but you get no slack cut for you in other areas, and eventually everyone gives in.

And remember that you are under the command of someone who is SERIOUSLY concerned with how shiny your shoes are.

Some adjust well, but others (as you might guess including me) do not. Nevertheless, it's one of the things you need to think about carefully before you enlist.
posted by KRS at 3:34 PM on February 8, 2011

In a thread like this I would caution the OP of taking everything said at face value. I have now heard so many horror stories etc from people who have never worn the uniform for a day in their life. It has gotten to the point that I can tell from their comments which particular war film they have gained their military experience from.
posted by dougrayrankin at 3:34 PM on February 8, 2011

How long will he be in active duty for the job training? I recommend choosing a service based on jobs and training available. Some of the best jobs, with good civilian opportunities, have a longer active duty time. Ask for a draft copy of the contract.
posted by theora55 at 4:29 PM on February 8, 2011

A lot of young enlisted guys who have left home for the first time fall in love, get married in a few months, and then get divorced during the first deployment.

When I was 22, I had an enlisted Navy friend about the same age as me who had divorced once already and had recently separated from his second wife. Not saying this is typical (he had some other issues for sure), but I do think that military life can be very hard on families, especially with long and repeated deployments.

I'm an Air Force brat myself - my step-dad has been in for close to 30 years now. Despite the relative cushiness of officer life and the fact that he's only had one overseas deployment since he married my mom, there are still challenges: for him, long days, being called up to do stuff at random hours, jobs not being what he expected or wanted; for my mom, packing up the house every couple years, harder for her to build a career of her own. But they've also made great friends and have cool stories to tell, and my impression is that the Air Force takes decent care of its people. I spent a long time feeling kind of ambivalent about the whole thing, morally (I fancied myself quite the anti-authoritarian radical in my teens/early 20s), but I've come around to being proud of the work my stepfather does and grateful for the impact growing up in that world has had on my character.

A lot of the above may not be very relevant to someone not seeing the military as a lifelong career - sorry about that.
posted by naoko at 6:35 PM on February 8, 2011

"Choose your rate, choose your fate" is a common phrase which applies here. Different jobs carry with them very different expectations about working conditions, and varied rates of advancement, so it's important to know what you're getting into before you get into it. Before your son decides "I want to be an X," he should find out if X entails working in a cubicle, or lifting heavy equipment, or being exposed to asbestos, etc. And some jobs fare better when applying to be an officer, if that's something your son might be interested in the future.
posted by illenion at 10:33 PM on February 8, 2011

Since he is starting out a few years older than the average first-time enlistee, he might end up working in a position subordinate to people younger than he is. This is not a problem necessarily, but some people might be put off by it for whatever reason.
posted by illenion at 11:22 PM on February 8, 2011

I was in the navy.
Have you heard the expression "screwed, blued and tattooed"?
You see a navy guy walking down the street and say,"Here he comes: Screwed (in the recruiter's office - and elsewhere), blued (the uniform put on him in boot camp), and tattooed (got the tattoos out in the fleet)"

SNL did (a good while ago) a great and accurate send-up of the navy commercials out at the time, only they showed some really good, accurate images of bilge scraping, etc.

The navy's advertising is unwarranted over-glorification and the recruiters are liars.

I can't say anything about the air force, but it would likely beat the navy.
posted by noonknight at 1:34 AM on February 9, 2011

Me, again.
When I went to AFEES (where they inspect you and get you to sign the contract), at one point they were telling everyone to sign this separate form for sub duty. It said, in essence: I volunteer for sub duty. I actually read the form and refused to sign it. I was then told that the form only meant that I was aware of sub duty. This was a bald-faced lie. I told him I wouldn't sign. The guy got on the phone and then had me sign another form that said I wasn't signing the first form. Everyone else was signing the I-volunteer-for-sub-duty form.
I then was handed the contract of way, way too many pages of technical, legal mumbo-jumbo. I tried to read it and understand it, but could not. I signed it anyway as my position in life was too desperate. This was the worst decision I have ever made.
After a while, I made the decision to get out of the navy what I could get out of the navy, and then get out of the navy. I eventually went UA (unauthorized absence, or AWOL in other services) twice for a total of seven months. I did so with the objective of making myself unpalatable to the navy so as to make a discharge forthcoming. I got my BCD (bad conduct discharge) and have been happily out of the canoe club for thirty years.
The enlistment process is often encountered by gullible, impetuous kids in a bind of some kind. They make a big choice too fast and then regret it. The navy needs bodies in billets (job positions) and doesn't care how these billets get filled. The machine is geared to do this with deceit accompanied by plausible deniability.
I was complicit to some degree in my inveiglement into the navy, but the willing government stooges (recruiters and their chain of command) are the real culprits.
posted by noonknight at 2:20 AM on February 9, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for taking the time to post. He has a lot to consider!
posted by raisingsand at 10:23 AM on February 9, 2011

QFE: Do not believe a single thing the recruiter promises.
posted by lalochezia at 12:15 PM on February 9, 2011

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