Is enlisting in the Air Force at age 38 a terrible idea?
April 30, 2016 12:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm 38 with a poor resume: not getting callbacks when I apply for jobs. I'm getting to feel quite downtrodden and that I'm slipping through the cracks of society. I thought I was too old for military enlistment but I just found out that technically I'm not...

I've been agonizing for days about what to ask MetaFilter for advice about getting my life on a better track. I was considering asking if there is something between prison, self-commitment to an asylum, and joining the military that a person can do who seems not to be able to make it own their own in open society, but then I did a websearch and saw that the Air Force had raised their maximum enlistment age to 39, so maybe joining the military isn't off the table like I had assumed.

For some personal background: I have nothing resembling a career. I've never made more than $15K in 1 year. I've never had a job with any sort of benefits like insurance. My parents were not good examples of career-holders. I have major issues with self-confidence and self-worth. Lots of people tell me I over-think things, but to me it's just my natural thought-process of examining all aspects of a given idea. I suspect I have some form of an avoidant personality disorder, but once I'm in a situation I can do well. I handle job interviews ok. I am not unintelligent. I do not drink or do drugs (anymore - 2 years sober). I can make friends and get along with people. Where I struggle is ambition, swagger. The hedgehog's dilemma. I am not what one would describe as "alpha". Lifetime sexual partners I can count on one hand (pun not intended). Therapy, I know, is an oft-cited suggestion here, but I'm not even sure how someone with no job or money even goes about getting any sort of mental health therapy.

Lately it's becoming very challenging to even fill out applications, for when I get to the work history, it's just a mess. "Was there a reason for the separation?" Fuck, man, I just... stopped going in the hope that I wouldn't think about self-harm for 10 hours a day. "Account for period since last job." I watched 173 movies and read over 12,000 web pages. Cooked a lot of rice.

I am a computer enthusiast (mainly Windows + desktop, but also Linux & Android) by hobby. I only ever have had one IT-related job, and I was fired from that in 2011 after 3 years of help desk support. Looking back, that time has pretty much been the high plateau of my life. I've been applying for help desk & similar positions locally but I suspect that because my work history pretty much looks like shit, on paper, hirers toss my application directly in the round file.

For the Air Force, I would be most interested in an IT support sort of role. I understand that specific Air Force jobs are not guaranteed, but frankly if they would train me to do something they wanted me to do I think I could be satisfied in simply having a place within the machine. If they wanted me to be an airplane mechanic, if they think I would make a good airplane mechanic & if they taught me how to do it, then I wouldn't have a problem being one.

I have not spoken to a recruiter. I have not taken an ASVAB. I went to a private military academy for my entire high school, back in the previous century, so while I realize it's not at all the same thing, I am not unfamiliar with some concepts of a military lifestyle. I am in pretty good physical shape. I could pass the running requirements for joining today, and adding situps and pushups to my daily workout I think I could get those into spec fairly quickly as well.

Is this crazy? What are some other ideas/jobs/positions in the world that I might be missing or overlooking, that having a poor resume doesn't automatically disqualify you from? I realize I put in a lot of extra information about what could be a fairly simply question but I could sit and work on refining this for another week and still not be ready to post it so it is what it is.

I am open to any helpful suggestions or advice on where to go, what to do to get a life on track again. Thanks.
posted by glonous keming to Work & Money (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You sound to me like a born postman. Welcome, brother.
posted by O. Bender at 12:41 PM on April 30, 2016 [10 favorites]

Well, I don't know where you got that information, and I don't know if it is correct or not. I found this list of age limits for various services:

US Military Enlistment Standards At least one is above age 38, but it isn't the Air Force. Furthermore, if you have terrible eyesight, the Air Force doesn't really much want you. (My ex got jerked around by them for a year before finally enrolling in the Army.)

A) Go talk to a recruiter. In fact, talk to several of them, for various branches of the service. A thing that is a deal breaker for one service is not necessarily a deal breaker for another service. For example, IIRC, if you have flat feet, the Army does not want you but the Navy does not care about that. And my recollection is that the height limit was more generous in the Army than in other branches of service. IIRC, the Army took guys who were up to 6'8" tall.

The site linked above says waivers based on age are very rare. But that means that if everything else looks good, although it is a long shot, you may be able to get in anyway. So go ahead and talk to all branches of the service that you are interested in. Just because they have a stated upper age limit doesn't mean they won't make the occasional exception for some reason.

B) What kind of physical shape are you in? You will have to go through basic training and pass your PT test. After you get in, to remain on active duty, you must regularly pass a weight check (or tape test if, say, you are a body builder, thus your weight is high even though you are in great shape) and pass your PT test. This true even if you sit at a desk all day. The military is physically grueling. Are you up for that?

C) My ex did a stint as an Army recruiter. At that time, you were more likely to get a sweet deal if you enrolled the last month of the fiscal year or the first month of the fiscal year. The last month, they have slots to fill that are left unfilled and they are more willing to be hand wavy about "eh, close enough!" and ship you. The first month, they have a lot of slots available, so there is more choice available. IIRC, September is the last month of the fiscal year and October is the first month of the fiscal year. (Please, try to double check those dates and don't just take my word for it -- I am old and have a flakey memory.)
posted by Michele in California at 12:43 PM on April 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Talk to a recruiter. Take the ASVAB. You may be able to get an initial enlistment for two or three years to see whether you fit into the lifestyle.

Take care of yourself. If you do go, you may find that throughout training your mental health concerns are exacerbated. Get help if you need help.

When I was in Army basic training, there was a guy who was 37 (IIRC). He was often the butt of age-related jokes, but he was much more mature than many of the other soldiers, and didn't otherwise attract attention because he kept his head down and did the work and didn't ask for special treatment.

My husband's friend joined the Air Force later in life than many, and it has really grown him as a person. He is stationed in England currently. He is much more confident. He has a purpose and some structure in his life, which allows him to not worry about a lot of things.

I think there are probably other things you could do (though I'm not personally familiar with them), and the big concern I would have for you is the mental health one, but once you are finished with training there will be resources available to you.

Take that first step. Talk to a recruiter. Good luck. MeMail me if you want.
posted by Night_owl at 12:45 PM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm in here for the last part of your question ("any helpful suggestions or advice on where to go"), but it is outside the military. As for Air Force, my 2 cent opinion is that - I think it could be helpful for you. Why not apply? It would give you a few years of a solid track record, training, and when you get out there are government jobs that sometimes include the description "veterans given priority" or something along those lines.

My one big concern for you is the mental health issues (self harming). If I were you, I would talk to people who have gone through the military, etc., as for the best recommendations as to what to disclose and not disclose. Also be aware for yourself that mental health issues can re-emerge during training, etc. So just be careful.

As for other suggestions since if I understand your question, you want to make over 15 K?

I would look at organizations that work with people who have overcome drug or alcohol abuse (counselors, nonprofits, etc.). Or an organization such as JobCorps as a counselor or hourly staff. The rationale is that you overcame drug/alcohol abuse and being clean is absolutely an asset. You might bring something unique to staff; you understand the problems and can realistically give advice to others (and people will know that you are not speaking from an ivory tower or what not). You would also have to look extensively into what type of job training JobCorps provides for at risk youth, but if they offer IT (or IT support) it might be a great place for you. Then you can leave after 2 years or so and say that you taught it and worked here for 2 years. I think that the most important thing for you right now is to get a few solid years at a job. Good look.
posted by Wolfster at 12:45 PM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can go and talk to a recruiter. It won't hurt. You are going to be forced to work in the miliatry. Is that compatible with your struggles? If you do have a mental health issue that's preventing you from working, getting therapy with whatever financial assistance your community provides may be a better answer. If you can work on your mental health and desire to work first, any job would be easier.
posted by Kalmya at 12:45 PM on April 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I enlisted when I was 24 for similar reasons. I knew a few people who were in their mid-30s in basic training with me who seemed to be in a similar spot (including a dude who'd done local professional wrestling shows and had the scars on his forehead from "green for red" to prove it). The much older people had some problems, including very little patience for being demeaned by drill sergeants.

Can't tell you what to do, but I'll put these things out there:

* The military is not going to "fix" you. In fact, it could break you. If you're having problems pulling it together on your own, surrendering to an external locus of control is not going to help you develop that skill and may make it worse by replacing whatever intrinsic motivation you might have with fear.

* You are how you act. A four-year enlistment will fundamentally change you. You might go in believing that the institution will not change something fundamental about you, and all I can say is "that was not my experience." You can't succeed in an institutional setting for four years without being altered by it.

* Depending on your family, friends, and hometown culture, you will risk coming out the other side feeling like an alien among those people. From the outside, it can often feel like our culture overwhelmingly valorizes people in the military. It does so less than you might think, and that gets worse the closer you get to military bases, where exploiting veterans is just good business, and where the locals are frankly hostile.

In the end, I did my four years and was successful at it. When I came out, having had a technical job while enlisted, I still ended up taking a pretty low-paying job and dealing with people who thought I must be damaged goods for enlisting. I kept at it, networked with the friends I still had, did what I wanted to do for a living for free in my spare time, and after a few years managed to find my way into what I wanted to do. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, but I didn't really need to do it, did not come out of it any "better" than simply dealing with my shit in the civilian world would have allowed, and it probably cost me a few years of productive time.

If I had it all to do over again, I think I'd choose "exercise regularly, do the stuff I ended up having to do after I got out anyhow only four years sooner, stay close to friends and family for emotional support as I tried to right my course, and seek professional counseling to talk through the places where I felt stuck."
posted by mph at 12:55 PM on April 30, 2016 [27 favorites]

I will add that if you wash out of basic training or wind up with a dishonorable discharge, this can seriously harm your career prospects and self esteem. So, while challenging yourself can be a great thing, it needs to be a challenge you have some hope of rising to the occasion for. If it is just too much, this will not do you any good.
posted by Michele in California at 1:03 PM on April 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have a cousin who joined the navy at 30 and it has worked out well for him. However, 30 is not 38, and his problems were not the same as your problems.

Another thing that someone in your situation might do is go back to school. You don't mention your educational background, but that can be a great option to get into a career, if you go into the right school for the right reasons. You like IT. Do you have a degree in IT? You could get a degree in IT from a school with good placement and get a job that way. If you already have a bachelor's, you could get a master's in a specific field of interest to gain or brush up on rusty skills. If you don't have a bachelor's, there is no time like the present. With as little money as you have, you would be eligible for good financial aid that would cover the costs of an inexpensive public college. College would also give you access to mental health services, a gym, a social support structure, and faculty to network with. To be clear, I mean a real, non-profit college, not a coding boot camp or University of Phoenix. You like working the help desk? The college where I work employs student workers at their help desk.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:06 PM on April 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

O. Bender said postman, but really, there's a non-zero amount of city, county, state and federal work out there that you can probably do. I just applied for a job to fix parking meters and bus-ticket machines all day long because it pays double what I've ever made before.

If you're looking at military stuff, you should at least explore these as options too.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:12 PM on April 30, 2016 [14 favorites]

I'm not saying don't look into joining the military, but have you also looked into being a security guard? In many places the required training is a weekend class or less, and while you begin on part-time, temp assignments, if you're reliable and reasonably good at it, you can get a permanent gig. The hours are weird, and there is the occasional intense situation, but the majority of your days are pretty boring (I gather this is also true of many jobs in the military.) Anecdotally it helps if you're older, mature, and less likely to escalate a situation, if you like walking and don't mind standing all day, have a good sense for working around people, and if you have a rich inner life. If you chose to go back to school, you could guard part-time.

I know a few guys who went into security from the military, so maybe you could skip a step? The military is not a bad choice-- they certainly have good benefits. Not everyone gets a good job right out of the military, in part because depending on what you get to do IT-wise or as an administrator, you may be trained on and working with technology that is 15-20 years out of date. Then again, many government and city jobs have a "veterans preference" that will help you get hired even for something unrelated.

I think you need more information before you can really evaluate your military options-- so good idea asking the question, and good luck in general.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:40 PM on April 30, 2016

I did join the military when I was younger and I'd urge caution. Some people fit in very well, love it in fact. Others aren't so thrilled but can deal with it as a means to an end. Others despise it with the heat of a thousand burning suns. It can be very hard on your mental health. If you go to join up make sure you understand how and when you can get out. The problem is that it's difficult to know if it'll be a good fit before you head to training and once you're there it can be hard to get out.

Have you looked into a trade? Maybe hvac? If you're in decent shape, smart, get along with people and can deal with courses something like that could be a great option. You can often work and train at the same time. Check out demand in your area of course, but don't overlook a skilled trade.
posted by Cuke at 1:57 PM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am very pro-military. I'm a veteran and have lots of family members who are in. It can be a very good fit for people who do best in a highly structured environment. In some ways, it sounds it could be a good choice for you. You sound like you want someone to point you in the right direction, pay you a steady salary, train you.

This part is why I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend it: "Was there a reason for the separation?" Fuck, man, I just... stopped going in the hope that I wouldn't think about self-harm for 10 hours a day.

What about that current position or your life made you think about self-harm? Have you resolved that? It does not sound like it. If you just stop showing up in the military, they will come and fetch you. And it will not be good.

I struggled with depression when I was in and it was hard. I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything but it was really freaking hard. And while there were counseling services available and I think the mental health care for members and veterans is slowly getting better, you are still expected to suck it up and keep going.

So yes, speak with recruiters but also speak with some current members and veterans. Find out what the day-to-day is like. Think long and hard about this (and I'm sure you are). Don't just join up to get away from problems but it may be a way for you to make a living for a while, find out what you are capable of and push yourself to stick it out when it gets really hard. (I moved a lot to get away from my problems. When I finally realized I needed to stand still and get my shit together, where and how I lived magically got better.)

Good luck to you!
posted by Beti at 2:34 PM on April 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

Eh...the military can often be a really good thing for someone who has trouble self motivating, even with depression.

The real question is: how are you with supervisors half your age?

You are not going to get much if any special treatment for being older, and you're going to have people in charge of you that are 25 or younger. You must be capable of at least acting as though they know more than you. Can you do this?
posted by corb at 4:22 PM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

You sound like someone for whom coding boot camps were invented.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:26 PM on April 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would be most interested in an IT support sort of role.

I am not in a position to say, but I don't imagine this is necessarily beyond your reach in the private sector - do you mean IT helpdesk sort of stuff? I think you could find a way into that.

If you have decent Office skills and can demonstrate your IT skills, you could also sign up with a temp agency. You just have to pass the tests, agencies are in love with high scorers. They usually just need a couple of references. Is there anyone you could ask to vouch for you?

As far as working on your resume for any of those, I think it would help to actually sit with someone supportive, extract the details of your experience, and work with them to find a way to tell your story. Some cities have peer-driven jobseekers' support groups, that might be useful. The YMCA also offers resume writing and jobsearch help (no idea of the quality of these services, might be worth checking out). There are some Asks here about how to deal with resume gaps, as well, for a start.

Also. In my area, there's a great organization that offers funding and mentorship support to people living with mental illnesses who want to start small businesses. I think they can help with everything from coming up with an idea through to execution. Maybe there's something like it in your area? I think for the organization I'm thinking of, you do have to disclose (if you have a diagnosis, obviously). I understand that a lot of people find that to be a relief - because it's out in the open, everyone knows what the deal is - but if it wouldn't be, I'm sure there are other resources for aspiring small business owners that could be useful.

If you're good at helping people with computers, you could maybe even hang a shingle right now and see what you get by advertising on craigslist (or whatever the best forum would be for that) and through the people you know (family members, anyone).
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:34 PM on April 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

As a current member of the military (officer) - I would really suggest that its not the place for you. The military treats new enlisted (at times) with tons of rules - depending on your command you would be violating orders to drink, stay out past 11PM, or even drive. You would have to have the patience of Solomon to deal with that, even for a paycheck.

That being said talking to a recruiter may be an issue, just be aware that most of the branches are downsizing - you will be competing with people straight out of college, better health.
posted by aggienfo at 5:05 PM on April 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

Have you looked at IT programs offered at your local public community college? They're usually quite inexpensive and you can get formal credentials, internships, and even job placement help. You would probably qualify for financial aid. It sounds like you want some more structure in your life and going to school can provide that.

As for seeing a therapist you should check to see if your city or county has a mental health clinic.
posted by mareli at 6:36 PM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Count on a lot of hand sitting as a reservist for your first term - sequester drained the funds big time from the reserves. No money = less training. The existing base covers all needs pretty well.

One enlistment might cover your ACA requirements for your entire life via VA eligibility. That alone is a large bennie to contend for. For active it does; for reserves; IDK.

Funding reduction can also mean that if you really, really don't like it after a year or so; your unit would probably let you go. Rather have somebody that is motivated and new; than wrestle with a junior person that just. isn't. with. it.

First few years of pay will be dismal abysmal; especially as a reservist. Google that stuff up; and be prepared. If you can get a bonus; do so; but again; sequester and the war(s) ending did away with a lot of new recruit funds.

Military is for everybody; only about 25% are the wacked and loud arrrrrrrrrrrgh!!!! types. You'll find A LOT of people just like you; and the reserves are full of older and more mature junior members.

Nobody wants to hear about your marijuana, mental issues (if you seriously are on meds and have serious mental issues; ok, uh; military might not be the right item at this point in time), drugs, bad neck/back/toe/ whatever pain (if it is really bad; then military is probably not the right fit again), time you got fired for falling asleep/whatever dumb firing reason from what was probably a crappy job to begin with, or any other small item negative item. Your recruiter is not a confessional for past events that no longer pertain to the present time; and your confessions will become a digital record in their files. Military can be a great way to leave all the old you and baggage behind; and step into a new you. Lots, lots of saved souls, changed bodies and minds in the service.

If you can pass an ASVAB, the MEPS, and meet some fitness standards (look them up or ask a recruiter); and qualify for a job that will benefit you and the miltary; then the next step is to perhaps ask here again before the final leap to contract and swearing in.

You will meet some amazing people; best of the best, and if you have ever felt like bonding with centuries of heritage and tradition; well; we're still one heck of a nation; and we're still the best military in the world (of which the U.S. military has saved at least twice now).

Memail if you like; cheers; and if you do want in; seriously bug the F out of your recruiter. The whole walk in get in thing is wayyyyyyy 30+ years ago.
posted by buzzman at 9:32 PM on April 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Take a look at the jobs at They're seasonal jobs, but most of them have a place for you to live and feed you, too. They expect resume gaps because you're probably off skiing or hiking half the year. Start off as a dishwasher or housekeeper or something and work your way up in no time.

There's also WWOOFing. It won't pay but it covers food and a place to stay.

There's also teaching English, if you have a degree. The jobs pay well relative to their local economies.

In the meanwhile, you might try volunteering somewhere.

You get mental health therapy by getting insured. If you don't make any money, insurance doesn't cost any money. I don't know how it works in other states, but that's how it works here in Oregon. I walked into a clinic, asked for help signing up for insurance, and now I have insurance. Every year in the darkest part of winter, I get a flier in the mail reminding me that insurance covers therapy.
posted by aniola at 11:31 PM on April 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

A military recruiter, to my understanding, is who you talk to only when you're at the point where you're certain that you want to join the military. Their job is to convince you to sign away four years of your life (plus I have heard there's another 4 years when they can call you back).

Do your own independent research. If you sign up and then realize you hate your job or your boss, you still work there. Many people join the military because they feel like they have no better options. The military exists to kill people, and you already know you're an overthinker.
posted by aniola at 11:42 PM on April 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

You can rehab your resume without enlisting in the military.

1. You have been self employed for the past 10 years. You have been a contractor working on a number of different projects using the skills you possess. You have typically worked on W-2. This way if there's a background check, it all looks on the up and up. You do not have to report anything past 10 years, on a resume or an application.

2. Reason for wanting to give up contract work: This job I'm applying for is so tasty I can't resist it, I MUST work here!

To address the confidence thing, middle-class and rich white guys know that most people are hired into jobs with about 75% of the skills and experience they need, they figure they can learn the rest as they go. Women, minorities and poor people think that getting more experience or education is the way into these jobs, so they wait until they have 100% of the qualifications to apply. Most jobs are about Cultural Fit, than they are about having all the Ts crossed and lower-case Js dotted. When you interview, it's not about demonstrating how much you know, it's about showing how well you'd fit in.

That said, is now the time to get career training? Coding Boot Camp, nursing school, Salesforce Administrator?

Frankly, I think you would be miserable in the military.

Do you have health insurance (if you're underemployed you should qualify under Obamacare) if not look around for free or low cost therapy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:27 AM on May 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the responses, suggestions, and ideas, everyone!
posted by glonous keming at 9:02 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

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