So my son wants to enlist...
August 2, 2013 8:32 AM   Subscribe

So my bright, handsome hs senior son wants to enlist in the Marines. I am wrestling with a few things. He has always wanted to join the military so this was not unexpected. What is unexpected is 1) he always wanted to join the Army 2) he always wanted to do ROTC. Now he has been online with some military forums and he has decided he really wants to be on the ground doing engineering stuff (he’s thinking electrical engineering). He’s met with the recruiter, we’ve met with the recruiter and all sounds good. But I am having a hard time as a mom getting over the change of plan, enlisted vs officer, also the Marines vs any other military branch. I think of Marines as the branch that takes the biggest brunt of foreign involvement - as in really dangerous.

I am also concerned about his idea (or whatever) that he wants to serve the “real” (his words not mine) way. He doesn’t want some desk job as an officer in the Army which I guess is a real possibility. I was under the impression that moving from enlisted to officer is hard and not guaranteed. However talking to the recruiter it seems like a real possibility. How do I know the recruiter is telling us the truth? If you’ve got any insight to the Marines, I’d much appreciate it. I'd add I don't know any current Marines although we do know a bunch of (my age) guys from other branches. I'd really like him to go to college and just do reserves but the recruiter made it seem likes its hard for him to move from reserve to active after college and the best way is to go active and move to reserve. Also OCS would be harder to get in (almost impossible) as reserve Marine.

I am not asking for any political comment or about US policy - I am just a parent with a kid who wants to join up. Also we will support whatever his decision is - I just want to understand how it works.
posted by lasamana to Law & Government (47 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you convince him to enlist after completing college? I have several enlisted friends/acquaintances, and by far the ones who are happiest (and safest and best paid) are the ones who had a degree and were able to enlist at a higher rank.

They are all also married, and did so at (what I consider to be) an absurdly young age, all of them having met their wives in college. I think that has added a good deal of stability to their lives.
posted by phunniemee at 8:44 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Recruiters are just doing their jobs, so I don't want to make any moral judgments about them, but the truth is that their number 1 priority is to "close the deal," much like a car salesman, and everything he does and says is going to be focused on that.
posted by deanc at 8:46 AM on August 2, 2013 [24 favorites]

The recruiter is a salesman - trying to reach a quota.

Do ROTC. It is a great deal - paid college in return for 4 years.
He will many more options coming out of ROTC than he will coming out of enlisted boot camp.
posted by Flood at 8:48 AM on August 2, 2013 [15 favorites]

This is something I have heard - if your ambition is for a particular specialty in the service, engineering, languages, whatever - do not rely on any spoken statements from a recruiter, get something in writing that says, after basic training, you are going to XYZ school.
posted by thelonius at 8:49 AM on August 2, 2013 [25 favorites]

Also, what are his career goals? When does he expect to start, or even finish college? Does he want to stay in the Marines forever? There's not enough information here. "Electrical Engineering" is a profession that requires a college degree, or at least significant post-secondary study. It's not something you just enlist in the military and learn to "do." He'd be better positioned to do something specialized like that after coming out of ROTC with an actual degree.
posted by deanc at 8:49 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

He could look into the reserves if he's eager to go the enlisted route and get to boot camp, etc immediately. That way he can go to college while being in the military. It is more possible to commission if you go that rpute, particularly if you go to a college with an rotc unit.
posted by _cave at 8:51 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Right, he needs to not listen to the recruiter. They will get you in using all manner of promises and tricks (e.g., "just sign up for this job, and once you're in, you can move over to the job you want").

If he wants to do electrical engineering then it seems like he'd be a lot better off to get a degree in it and go in as an officer. He can start in the National Guard or something if he wants to start wearing a uniform now.

Is there a way for you to get him some meetings with people who are in the military and have no involvement with the recruiter?
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:51 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I agree that the 'electrical engineering' that the recruiter is talking about is probably more about repairing electronics rather than designing electronics. He should be really sure about the difference, and what his goals are in learning about that particular field.

It's true that most engineers don't get or need a professional license, but what he is entering will never allow him the possibility of getting an engineering license, or even applying for a job as an engineer, without significant training outside what is provided by the military.
posted by Quonab at 8:56 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Get him into a college with a good electrical engineering program & have him join ROTC on either a navy or air force trajectory. The Marines is dangerous. IED's are giving them all sorts of hell with lost hearing & brain trauma from concussions just from being in proximity to the blasts. It's not safe to be Marine infantry AT ALL & promises made by recruiters are often ignored by your c.o. once you're in.

Everyone I've known who's gone through the navy has come out the other side a very organized, & together person.

My daughter is currently beginning her senior year in electrical engineering school & has sort of thought about the navy -- I'm pretty much a pacifist, but I think I'd be okay with that. God knows she could use a dose or two of discipline.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:02 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: To add we know he needs a college degree for electrical engineering. It's either active duty or reserves (and college) at the same time. He's not sure if he wants the military as a career or not. He knows this is very different then ROTC. He's an honor student in the National Honor Society. I just want him to reach his full potential whatever it is.
posted by lasamana at 9:09 AM on August 2, 2013

Okay, here's the relevant parts of my CV:
  • Army ROTC graduate
  • Served in Army Recruiting Command (not as a recruiter)
  • Currently on Reserve status with an Army ROTC unit
My advice is this and only this: Call the Navy ROTC program at the best local college you can find and have your son speak to the Recruiting Officer (not sure what swabbies call them) and/or the senior Marine instructor. At least one of those people will have a personal view of the present-day Marine officer day-to-day life and will be able to tell him the real deal -- I'm sure the enlisted recruiter he's talking to is a fine, upstanding Marine, but he simply doesn't know what being a Marine officer is like.

I was under the impression that moving from enlisted to officer is hard and not guaranteed. However talking to the recruiter it seems like a real possibility.

As others have said, it's not easy. But if he really wants to do it, it's a distinct possibility (hell, if they won't send him to OCS, he can get out and use the GI Bill to go to college and get a commission that way).
posted by Etrigan at 9:12 AM on August 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

The recruiter is not telling you the truth--moving from enlisted is very rare, and he should not be able to say in good conscious that the odds are good for any given individual. That won't stop him from saying it anyway, of course.

The Marines is the most dangerous branch, to echo Devils Rancher above. I think that second lieutenants in the Marines have the highest casualty rate of any branch/rank.

I spent a lot of time debating these things myself a few years ago when I was in his position. I would have gone ROTC in Air Force or Army. If he ranks well enough in ROTC, he can commission as an infantry officer in the Army. Still one of the more dangerous jobs, but it will definitely let him serve "the real way".
posted by Precision at 9:12 AM on August 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Devils Rancher we are pretty much the same. I have an older kid who's pretty much a long haired hippie type. It's too funny to have both of them in the same family.
posted by lasamana at 9:12 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a former Marine, enlisted in the reserves while at college and then attended OCS.

Enlisted to officer is very difficult. In my OCS class 2 out of 45 candidates were enlisted--the rest were college students. In addition, you have to be at least a cpl to apply for MECEP (the enlisted commissioning program) and realistically a Sgt. So it's not like he'll be an officer quickly. We're talking probably 10 years from today to get his commission (time to Sgt, applying, waiting a cycle or two, re-upping and then finishing college and getting a commission).

If you just go directly to college then you can do OCS on a reserve slot (you may have to wait a cycle or two, but if he's just going to college now, he's got time).

Recruiters will tell you anything to get you to sign. They're selling a product and they're very, very good at it. You absolutely cannot take what they say for granted. Get stats, publications and get it in writing or it does NOT exist.

What I did may be a good compromise for your son. Enlist in the Reserves, go to college, and then apply for either an Active or Reserve slot at OCS (or NROTC if that's an option). Boot camp will make OCS training much easier to handle and shows a degree of commitment to the Marines that will improve his application. He still builds civilian credentials through college and if he decides that the Corps isn't for him or being an officer isn't for him, he hasn't signed anything beyond a reservist contract.
posted by limagringo at 9:13 AM on August 2, 2013 [17 favorites]

I was in the service (different branch), and you definately want to take what the recruiter is telling you with an entire shaker of salt. They are under a lot of pressure to meet their quotas, and are likely to be telling your son what he wants to hear. (Referring to being an officer as "some desk job" sounds like some recruiter propaganda).

It is not difficult to move from reserves to active duty. It is difficult to move from enlisted to officer corps. There is no way he is going to be doing "electrical engineering" as an enlisted Marine.

What are his ultimate goals? Does he want to serve his initial enlistment, then go to college using the GI Bill? If he is interested in engineering, and in doing that in the military, then he would likely be best served by attended college and joining the ROTC. He'd have to serve as an officer after graduation, and if he enjoys it he could certainly transition to active duty.
posted by maryrussell at 9:15 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your son is too young and inexperienced to filter out those aspects of the recruiters' sales pitch that are hyperbole or misrepresentation. You could help balance out the situation by trying several things:

- Explain to him that the recruiters are salespeople and their job is to recruit people.

- Ask him what are the reasons he wants to join the military - discuss those reasons and whether joining the military, and what branch, and when, makes sense in that context.

- Have him meet with some ex-military people who are NOT recruiters so he can hear other perspectives. A few weeks ago I met a bright vet who did three tours in Afghanistan, has a somewhat manageable case of PTSD, and could easily convince a young person why much of the recruiting stuff is bunk and to treat it with skepticism. In a word, your son needs to know and hear about the reality, not just the glossy sales pitch. Then he can make whatever decision he wants to make.
posted by Dansaman at 9:31 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

He's an honor student in the National Honor Society.

I have military in my background (6 years Guard).

I would push him as hard as you can to be an officer. Way better pay, way better duties, better pretty much everything. They are also generally smarter. This comes as an enlisted person. I was one of the few that had advanced education and I was surrounded by idiots. It was not a good fit.

Being an officer is just as real as being enlisted. In fact, I would maintain it's harder to be a good officer than it is to be a good enlisted.

Marines are fine. I was Army (Guard), but we went into just as many (probably more) combat zones as the Marines have in the last 20 years. I could be wrong.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:40 AM on August 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, should probably talk about what it means to be an electrical engineer in the Marines. I was an engineer officer in the Marines, and I don't know that I'd recommend that anyone sign up to be an electrical engineer--like the MOS 1141 or 1142--in the Marine Corps for a number of reasons. I'm going to throw around some jargon, so memail me if you need more clarification

Your son would enlist and probably join either an airwing unit or an engineer support battalion. He will likely be one of only a few Marines who is trained to do his specific specialized job in his unit. The job is basically being a technician, so you do things like generator repair for the crappy military generators that are deployed on military bases and run wiring. You don't often get to do large engineering projects because those are now all done by civilian contractors with degrees in electrical engineering. Also, I don't really think that these skills translate well into the civilian world. Even if he wants to run wiring in houses as a construction job, he will have to learn a new set of standards and about different types of equipment, so while military training may give him the basics, he won't be able to get out and immediately transition into a civilian job.

Since it's a small MOS, the opportunities for advancement within your particular specialty can be limited. It's not a big deal if he doesn't plan to stay in, but joining one of the smaller and less combat oriented communities of the military can also be a career limiting move if he wants to be an officer in the future. If he wanted to stay in his original MOS, then he could become a chief warrant officer, which is different than being a regular line officer in that you are a senior specialist who only can work in a small number of billets. In terms of obtaining a commission as a line officer, often Marines who are in the combat arms have more of an opportunity to commission. Not to say it's impossible for everyone else, but it can just be more difficult. Many of the MECEPs who I knew at my ROTC unit were military police, infantry, etc.

So if he is interested in being a technician, he should go for an 114X-type contract (and only sign a contract that has that MOS on it).
If he wants to be an officer, he should think seriously about some other MOS or go straight into the reserves rather than try to commission from active duty.
Don't let anyone talk him into an open contract that does not designate him for a specific MOS, as that could set him up for a really shitty experience.

He can't do electrical engineering as a line officer in the Marines, really. I was a 1302 engineering officer, in charge of detachments and companies 1141s and 1142s, and I got about four days of training on electrical engineering on a really basic level. Marine Corps engineering is pretty expeditionary--that is, we put up some plywood huts, get them some power and air conditioning, surround them with HESCO, and call it a day. The Navy CBs or Air Force civil engineers might be a better fit if he wants to really use his degree and skills in the military.

Regardless, this job will not necessarily be something that helps him in the civilian world. If he is looking for military experience that will fill in a civilian resume more generally, think about a job that requires a security clearance or teaches more technical skills, such as intelligence or communication.
posted by _cave at 9:45 AM on August 2, 2013 [16 favorites]

missed the edit window:
in charge of detachments and companies with between 1 and 6 1141s and 1142s
posted by _cave at 9:54 AM on August 2, 2013

Recruiters will tell you anything to get you to sign. My son is in the Army. This is really, really true. Recruiters of the service branches work together and will channel recruits to a branch that needs to meet recruiting goals.
The Marines seem to have the most Gung-ho macho attitude; I'd call the serve the “real” way a terrific example of this.
It seems to me that Marines have shorter deployments, but I don't have stats. My son's deployment to Afghanistan was just over 1 year.
Their combat deaths are a higher %age than their participation in Iraq and Afghanistan, though not as much as the Army.
The Army (including the Army National Guard and Reserves) comprises 48.8% of the total DOD force, but sustained 73.2% (2,716) of the combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Marine Corps (including the Reserves) makes up only 10.8% of the total DOD force, but experienced 23.3% (867) of the combat related deaths. The Navy (including Reserves) make up 18.9% of the total DOD force, and sustained 2.2% (84) of the total combat casualties. The Air Force (including Air National Guard and Reserves) comprises 21.5% of the total DOD force, and experienced 1.1% (40) of the total casualties. There has been one Coast Guard combat casualty.

The Marines are often referred to as the "Infantry of the Navy." /a/choosemarine.htm My son tested well, and got technical training, and is not in the Infantry, which I would have argued strongly against. The training for Infantry has low civilian job value, and it's dangerous.

Within enlisted ranks are non-commissioned officers. They have authority and good pay, and definitely qualify as "real" service. It's an excellent goal, but it's not the same as commissioned status. I've known and worked with ex-Marines, and have a great deal of respect for their service, but I strongly encouraged my son not to choose the Marines, because of the hardcore macho BS. It's bad enough in the Army. All this said, the Army has been a very good thing for my son, who was not ready to go to college. The structure, discipline, training, and camaraderie were just what he needed. Your son is ready for college. I would really encourage him to do ROTC or Reserves in college, and go for commissioned officer status. I love that he feels patriotic and idealistic, but as a grown-up, it turns out that making more money and having more status is pretty awesome.
posted by theora55 at 9:55 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Adding to _cave, I would note that the Navy has all sorts of electrical engineering; to my limited knowledge the Marines really don't do that. Marines are riflemen first, specialization second, and the recruiter can make no guarantees that he will be able to get into any engineering path. I'm not saying anything about your son's aptitude, just that nobody in the military has any duty to honor the recruiter's promises.

If he enlists in the Navy and pursues the EE track, there are a lot of schools for electrical, radio, radar, IT, and technical weapons specializations, and they will train him for something.

Something to consider is the commitment term (if negotiable) for the enlistment. He should set a goal to be on track by the end of that term and if he isn't, he needs to make sure the service works hard for him to get on track for him to re-enlist.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:57 AM on August 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Having been an enlisted person in the USAF, I'm among vast numbers of former military people, independent of branch, with a view being an officer is about 800 million times better than being enlisted.
posted by ambient2 at 10:09 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

You mentioned that your son is an honor student. Have you looked into the possibility of him attending West Point or the US Naval Academy? (The US Naval Academy trains both Navy and Marine officers.)

Competition to get into these schools is tough and requires the recommendation of someone like a congressman or senator, but if he were to be selected, he would receive an education equal to or better than any Ivy League school. If he chooses to leave the military after serving his commission, he would be able to demand a significant premium in pay and benefits over most other college educated people. People who have succeeded at the military academies and served with honor as officers are people who have their sh*t together.

Please tell him that being an officer is "really serving". It doesn't get much more real than leading other people in the military.
posted by double block and bleed at 10:10 AM on August 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

There is not much more of miserable experience than being enlisted in the military, yet being as smart (or smarter) than many of the NCO's and officers. If your bright, dedicated son wants a frustrating, head-banging, what-was-I-thinking type of tour in the military, have him enlist.

Otherwise, have him go the officer route.
posted by dinger at 10:15 AM on August 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have degrees in both computer science and electrical engineering. When I was a high school student, I did go through a phase of wanting to go into the military, but my interest in engineering drew me away from it. I now work in engineering with many clients in the military. Here is how my reasoning worked:

1) the core function of the military is not the design and development of devices or doing engineering. It is blowing things up. As cyber warfare becomes more of an issue, this is changing, but I believe that the Army is taking on that responsibility

2) the "technology" positions that the military advertises and promotes, specifically for the enlisted, are about being a technician-- knowing how to fix stuff and being trained to know which button to press at what time.

3) Most "engineering"-- that is, building and designing new things -- is handled by civilian contractors who have civilian university engineering educations. That is not to say that a military background is not an advantage: most defense engineering jobs require a security clearance, and if you already have a clearance from your time in the military, you are a VERY attractive candidate, as well as being attractive for your contacts within the military which you would only have if you were an officer

If your son wants to go into the military, there is absolutely no reason for him NOT to do ROTC in college or enter OCS after graduating college. Enlisting should not even be a consideration.
posted by deanc at 10:17 AM on August 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

That said, if your son wants to spend a few years in the marine infantry before or after going to college, that is fine, but it will not in any way relate to "electrical engineering," and it would mostly just be a "stopover" in his overall career path. A lot of military job skills, contrary to what recruiters tell you, are not easily transferable to the civilian world, so that's another thing to keep in mind. His path might be to be in the military and then, after getting out, having to figure out how to get a job doing something totally different.
posted by deanc at 10:37 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did USMC ROTC in college (actually, it's NROTC - Marine Option, but that's, depending on where you are, just semantics). A couple of data points:

If you're going to pursue a commission... and I can't emphasize this highly enough... apply now while in high school. The field for a college option (what they call someone who starts school, then goes to ROTC and competes for a scholarship while in college) is very very competitive. As many other posters of noted, the odds/potential for getting selected for a commissioning program as an enlisted member aren't very good. That's not a function of ability/intelligence either. Often, it comes down to Needs of the Service/Cutting Scores, etc. Seconding the note up above to find your local college/university's MOI (Marine Officer Instructor - you'll find him through the NROTC unit) and make an appointment to talk, ask questions, etc. These officers are generally O-3's, so they've been in four 4-5 years, and know the path your son is going through.

You will spend your first year as a Naval ROTC student taking your normal college courses, plus a few "Navy" courses (Intro to the DoD, Leadership 101, that sort of thing), plus PT in the mornings (usually run by a Marine Staff NCO - a GySgt - whose job (among others) is to whip everyone into shape).

During your first summer, you'll go to CORTRAMID - it's basically an open house sort of program where your son, now a Midshipman (MIDN - you're not on active duty, and can't be called up to service, but you do have some obligations as far as respecting chain of command, etc) will spend basically a week with each branch of the Navy (Surface, Subs, Wing), then a week with Marines.

During your (usually third) summer, your son will go to Officer Candidate School (OCS). Despite the name, it's less of a school than a place where both your son and the Marine Corps will look at each other and decide whether or not you want to do this. That is to say (and there are online forums that go into this in more detail), he will be exposed to instructors with a lot of experience, and be told to take charge (in various billets) of his peers and make decisions while under as much stress as the Sgt. Instructors can create. (that last bit is pretty representative of the experience*)

After OCS, he'll go back to school, finish his fourth year, then, having completed the requirements necessary for commissioning, be commissioned a 2LT of Marines.

... then more school: six month's at The Basic School for Marine Officers where he'll learn to be a rifle platoon commander (along with some of the other nuances of life in the Marine Corps) with all the other newly commissioned butterbars. This is where he will eventually choose (it's a competitive process, so more accurately, request) his branch/service - - combat arms, logistics, maintenance, etc.

Couple of good things about this process (which, at times, seems like it sucks, but reflecting, was one of the smartest things I've ever done):

1) You get your degree. You go through school. You leave without student debt. That's a pretty big thing right now.

2) You interact with some really freakin' smart people. That is - - the Marine Corps has a reputation for being filled with knuckle-draggers, but he will find himself surrounded by extremely motivated, extremely dedicated personnel (and some knuckleheaded nasties too, don't get me wrong, but that's life). Most likely, he will be working together (all year, at the ROTC) not only with other college students, but with MECEP (enlisted Marines who've earned a spot in the degree program to pursue a commission) students who will be able to help him help himself.

3) You get to get a taste of what you're getting into. I understand, very well, the mentality of "I will do this because it's the right/honorable/etc thing to do". And while the program itself can be something of a sales pitch sometimes, you're also exposed to a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, some dumbass decisions, some policies that may not make sense to him, and a lot of other things that will take the shine off. That's a good thing: the more information he has, the more informed his choice will be. And while the program will teach you - or try to - that it's not all about you, it's not about the individual, he's still deciding about his life, and the more information he has, the better a decision he can make.

(*OCS: the most fun you'll never ever want to have again... It's a camp in the woods... with hiking... singing songs... supportive camp counselors... "More games than Milton Bradley"... sure...)
posted by Seeba at 10:54 AM on August 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

Nthing that life as an officer is so much better than an enlisted, and that engineering is a very strong word for what he would actually be doing.
posted by Silvertree at 11:06 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

He is young. He wants to see action.

I have been in your shoes, a bit. What I recommend to you is you find some real enlisted guys, either online or in person (it's easier for me, I live near Ft. Bragg) and talk to THEM. They will tell you the real scoop. You want someone who has been deployed and who will tell your son exactly what military life is like both here and in the sandbox.

They will also tell you recruiters lie. a lot.

Your son probably cannot hear this from you. He needs to hear it from someone who has been there and done that.

He needs to know what he is getting into. If he still wants to do it, that is more than fine. But this is a case where being naive could have lifelong consequences.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:12 AM on August 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

FWIW - my dad did the ROTC equivalent and got himself a degree in electrical engineering and was a 1st lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Both experiences served him well and while lifetime membership in the officer's club has its privileges, dad has gotten far more mileage from his EE.
posted by plinth at 11:13 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is there such a thing as a lawyer for this? Military recruiting is famous for "promising" that you'll be doing one thing, but really slotting you into something completely different when the time comes.
posted by amtho at 11:25 AM on August 2, 2013

Please tell your son that recruiters will tell you ANYTHING to get you to sign. They are sales staff, they have quotas. When I enlisted right out of high school, they swore my test scores would let me easily jump to officer (nope) that I could go home for two weeks after basic before shipping out for AIT (nope) that I would get my my signing bonus for my specialty MOS almost immediately (bzzzzzzzzzzzt.)

There's so much great, specific advice in this thread that I second. But I just wanted to add more signal to the "don't believe the recruiters" message. Please, please don't believe the recruiters!
posted by headspace at 11:40 AM on August 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

 Most "engineering"-- that is, building and designing new things -- is handled by civilian contractors who have civilian university engineering educations.

I came in to say this. My best childhood friend is an electrical engineer who works on Army helicopters. No one he has ever worked with in an engineering capacity was in the military.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:40 PM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just so you know where I'm coming from, I'm an Army Officer in the Infantry who got his commission from West Point. If he is dead-set on enlisting and he hasn't talked recruiters from other branches, he should probably do that to determine which branch offers the best opportunities regarding electrical engineering. As others have mentioned, be wary of the promises recruiters make and always get the details of his contract in writing to make sure he gets what he thinks he is getting.

Your son mentioned that he wants to serve the "real" way and thus not have a desk job in the Army. I would consider the Infantry to be the branch with the least likelihood of doing desk work, and I still do a whole lot of desk work as an Infantry officer. The NCOs in my platoon also do a lot of desk work, but they don't even have desks to do it on. I understand his desire to not do boring stuff in the military because I also had the same thoughts when I signed up. However, he needs to understand that a large part of being in any branch of the military, enlisted or otherwise, is doing boring stuff like weapon and vehicle maintenance. It can't be all shooting, moving, and communicating all the time. That being said, I still get to do a lot of cool stuff as an officer. I also get paid a lot more than plenty of my Soldiers, as well as people who are just getting out of college.

Also, someone above mentioned going to a service academy. I know that West Point has a great EE program and it would get him a great education without incurring any debt. If he's got questions about the Army side of things or about Army Infantry or West Point or why our football program is terrible, feel free to send him my way.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 12:49 PM on August 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

I did AFJROTC all through high school with some great instructors, who are (as part of the job description) required to be retired Air Force NCOs and Officers. Their advice regarding recruiters: Don't trust them to do anything that's not in writing.

I later ended up on an Army ROTC scholarship at a prestigious engineering school, I didn't finish school there and also dropped the Army scholarship before the obligation for payback/service clause would have kicked in, so I'm not just someone coming in from left field on this. I did finish my engineering degree elsewhere fwiw.

My advice to you is to encourage your son to go to college, possibly on a military scholarship possibly not, if he has the smarts/test scores/inclination. Putting someone into the enlisted ranks who could/should/wants to be an officer is very much suboptimal, both for the service involved and the person.

You need to get your son to a campus somewhere and have him talk to some folks in the programs there, get him away from the rank and file recruiters. Take him to a gold bar recruiter at a ROTC program at an engineering school. If he has the scores and background to carry him they'll be glad to see him.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:49 PM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Doing an EE degree at the same time as being active duty or even reserve military sounds like a recipe for burning out even the brightest, most motivated kid. If he were really more interested in repairing ground equipment and not so much in the trappings of being an officer or a formal engineering education, that would be one thing, but trying to do both at once doesn't seem workable.
posted by kagredon at 12:54 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a veteran of the Navy, not the Marines, but making the transition from enlisted to officer is not easy, generally very uncommon, and the likelihood that your son actually ends up doing this is really, really low.

If being an officer is important to your son, I would not recommend enlisting.

This, a thousand times this. The enlisted recruiters will tell him OCS is an option. This is going to be nowhere near as feasible as going in on an ROTC scholarship.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:56 PM on August 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

There are a few interesting military specialties which for institutional reasons are limited to enlisted people. Translator is one of those things -- not regarded as sufficiently professional to justify a commission. A friend of mine with an absurd degree of professional qualification (degree from a top college, very successful on Wall Street) was very close to enlisting as a private in order to get a Defense Language Institute place.
posted by MattD at 1:21 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I didn't read all the other answers because I don't have time so this may have already been covered. My husband received his commission last summer after completing ROTC. While he was in ROTC he was in the Simultaneous Membership Program so he went to enlisted boot camp and AIT and worked as an E5 for four years while in college. This meant that for four years we lived the enlisted life in the National Guard and now he's an Active Duty officer. While he did learn a lot of value things as an enlisted man we both agree that four years of it was enough and that he has many more career opportunities as an officer and the pay is double, woo! If you'd like you can memail me questions and/or we could let them chat. My husband is away at training but has nights and some weekends free to answer any questions.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 1:28 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, my husband is in an ADA/Engineer unit (MEB) and is going to ADA BOLC now and Engineering BOLC next summer. He served in an engineering unit while enlisted.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 1:32 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

My nephew (out of h.s. two years, did a year at community college that he hated with white hot hate) joined the Marines this summer. My impression talking to him is that he and his buddies considered the Marines to be the most badass branch of the service and therefore of course the only one you'd want to join. Maybe this is of particular appeal to young men of the post-9/11 and realistic war video game generation? I'm not sure (my sister and brother in law are fairly conservative and my nephew has had free reign to play games like Code of Honor for many years).

As a former academic and now tech worker of liberal slant, I've spent a lot of time gnashing my teeth and trying to more subtly steer his fate, which of course has been completely ineffectual. I particularly tried to influence his choice of a specialty, which it seems he had some control over, within a certain range of choices based on the results of his ASVAB test. (If your son is thinking about enlisting, he might want to take a practice one of those.)

Anyhow, after having recently completed boot camp in S.C., he's now in Missouri getting additional training of some sort. He's insanely psyched about it all. I am pretty anxious about what happens when he gets sent overseas to places with IEDs, with his "transportation" specialty and his uber-gung-ho demeanor.

Good luck to you and your son. I hope this somewhat anecdotal reply is of some help.
posted by aught at 1:53 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Marine basic will waive him having to attend basic for any other service branch. Army covers all except Marine basic. Navy covers Air Force basic but not Marine and Army. Air Force basic covers Air Force basic...any branch change requires a basic in that branch.
posted by buzzman at 5:54 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of my brothers is a Marine doing engineering stuff, sans college degree, as a non-com. He's in his early 20's, so not too much older than your son.

He's currently on a boat somewhere and relatively incommunicado, but he has internet access every once in a while. If you wan't, I'd be happy to put him in touch with you and/or your son. He could probably answer questions that you have. I would also be happy to put you in touch with my mom, who is not on a boat somewhere and is involved with the wider community of Marine moms.
posted by Sara C. at 7:21 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is not much more of miserable experience than being enlisted in the military, yet being as smart (or smarter) than many of the NCO's and officers. If your bright, dedicated son wants a frustrating, head-banging, what-was-I-thinking type of tour in the military, have him enlist.

I feel like I can't entirely speak to this because it's not first hand experience for me, but my brother the enlisted Marine complains about this a lot, almost every time we talk.
posted by Sara C. at 7:28 PM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding ASVAB. Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, emphasis on Vocational.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:52 PM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

However talking to the recruiter it seems like a real possibility.

these people do not work for you.
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:20 PM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I worked at Martin-Marietta (now Lockheed-Martin), we put resumes from ex-military in a pile between high-school educated and college educated. A common dismissal was that someone was a "radar operator", hence, not suitable for the kind of slots we were trying to fill.

If the boy doesn't know what's involved in being an engineer, it's unlikely you'll pierce the veil of ignorance there. Teen brains don't work all that well. That's why we turn them into soldiers. Marines get some seriously difficult assignments. They aren't going to train an 'engineer' to waste him, if indeed they can train him in the first place.

I worked on a remotely operated vehicle for the Marines. I was debugging a video link. It had problems relating to core saturation in a coupling transformer that affected linearity and imposed image content specific distortion in a video waveform. Took me a month to find it and convince my cohort of the cause and remedy, which involved changing a resistor value. That's the kind of thing engineers do. No Marines were consulted. They do something else. All we cared about was how it worked when they got it. All they cared about was how it worked when they got it. All my managers were engineers. They didn't understand, for the most part, what I was talking about. It's a virtual certainty that I could not have found many Marines who could.

My career has included a total of about 10 years of defense industry work, and in that time, almost the entire cadre of engineers has been populated with college grads, not former military, unless you include the West Pointers, who obviously were both.

What you are fighting with this youngster is ignorance. Ignorance of what engineers do, what Marines do, what college is, and how life works. If he's an honor student, great. That needs to translate into making good decisions from the git-go. One of those is to finish his education before he starts his career. A high school grad going into the service sets the stage for a life far removed from that of a college grad. It is what it is. I make no value judgment. I respect members of the military, and am grateful for their service and sacrifices, but their main job is to die where they are told to die, if need be.

One more thing... "engineer" can mean something other than a P.E. (professional engineer) certification. Having held the title with hundreds of co-workers, most (95% of more) did not have a P.E. and many had less technical educations. (Mine for instance, is in computer science.) For every design engineer (the film version of what engineers do) there are a hundred metrology, manufacturing, quality, support, liaison and sales engineers. I've worked with engineers who had math degrees, physics degrees (including the best engineer I ever worked with), chemistry degrees, yada yada. PE's are more common in civil engineering and structural work, less so in electrical. It's not that it's too hard, but that it's not required for most technical jobs.

If the kid simply and steadfastly only aspires to be a warrior, send him on. If he wants to use his brain, it needs more training before he uses it to make the decision. Get him to interview 5 engineers and 5 Marines. My bet is that all the engineers tell him to go to college that the Marines tell him to go to college. (My bet is that he'll also go into the Marines. Teen brains and all. Oy.)

In my family, no one knew how to go to college. No kidding. My father was a Navy pilot, with no college degree, an unheard of accomplishment in the post-WW2 era when he served for 23 years. He rapidly disabused me of my post-high school exploration of joining up in favor of whatever that college thing was. The answers here pretty much support that. The young man has some clarification tasks to do before he makes a commitment.
posted by FauxScot at 5:51 AM on August 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

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