Unbiased websites to help those considering enlistment?
April 13, 2007 6:52 AM   Subscribe

My brother is seriously considering enlisting in either the Navy or the Marines. Can anyone point me to good, fairly unbiased sources for the information he needs to make his decision? I’ve read the older posts, but found nothing dead on point.

Little Bro is 19, and has some college credits but not enough to equal an associates degree. He scored well on the military placement tests, and the role he wants is, according to the recruiters, in demand. He’s looking to be a communications engineer. He was considering Navy, but he was very impressed by the Marine recruiter and the opportunities that the Marines want to offer.

I think service could be good for him, but I am alsovery worried. Are there any solid websites that are not against military service, but at the same time have a flinty-eyed view of the reality of the enlistment process?
posted by BeerGrin to Law & Government (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just wanted to say good luck to whatever happens. And to never trust what a recruiter promises. They'll say almost anything to get a kid to sign up, regardless of whether or not they can follow through with it.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 7:16 AM on April 13, 2007

He ought to consider the Air Force, they are by far the most technology forward branch, so he will have a better chance of getting real work applicable training there, and he is also significantly less likely to be in a position to be killed in that service (or have to kill someone).

Navy is good too, but the Marines require a certain mindset and dedication, and it is much more likely that he would end up in a sort of infantry role with them. If he is not really into that idea, then he ought not consider them.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:25 AM on April 13, 2007

I'm sorry that I can't answer your question in the manner you would like (being unbiased, and from a website), but I can offer what I have learned and observed from talking with my uncle who ran a Navy Recruiting center, my best friends father who took over the unit when my uncle retired, and my own father who was a recruiter for a short while.

-Recruiters cannot guarantee what job you'll have when you enlist.

-Recruiters lie. They will say anything to get you to sign that contract. Read every single line, and note where every comma is before you sign the contract.

-I would reccomend that your brother sign with the Navy if he really wants to be a Comm. Engineer. In my experience the Navy and the Air Force give you a better chance of getting the job you want since they don't have infantry slots that must be filled. Plus the Navy has the added bonus that if you're deployed to the Middle East you're most likely looking at Bahrain instead of Baghdad. Although there is the downside that if war with Iran breaks out there is an increased likelihood of pitched Naval battles versus the Iranian sub fleet.

I hope this is in the smallest part helpful, and best of luck to you and your brother on such a monumentous decision.
posted by nulledge at 7:29 AM on April 13, 2007

2nd Air Force or Navy.

Every Marine is a rifleman first - even the cooks. I work with an ex-Marine comms guy, and he's really good at his job, don't get me wrong. But the Air Force guys are better.

Air Force, I think, pays a little better, and quality of life is better, too. Promotion comes more slowly, though.

I enlisted Marine Corps, but ended up not going due to a medical issue. Looking back, were I to do it over again, I'd have gone Air Force.
posted by TeamBilly at 7:30 AM on April 13, 2007

Seconding BobbyDigital. If I had it to do all over again, I would have gone into the Air Force. Better facilities, better food, better quality of life, lower risk, etc. Marines are primarily combat infantry. Right now, you have to assume that anyone going into the marines, regardless of their specialty, has a pretty solid chance of ending up on the ground in Iraq.

I'm afraid I don't know of any sites, but I can tell you this: Don't trust a single word that comes out of any recruiters mouth in any branch.
posted by Gamblor at 7:33 AM on April 13, 2007

Yeah. If he doesn't want to die, he's got a much better shot of staying alive in the Navy right now vs. the Marines.
posted by banished at 7:49 AM on April 13, 2007

if he's looking for a military experience without going overseas, i'd suggest the coast guard, which also has communications opportunities. less cachet, maybe, but good experience.

fwiw, i have a friend in the navy, and he's concerned that he won't have any applicable job skills in the outside world. he's got a full bachelor's (and is no dummy), but he's been on ships for 6 years. your brother has to be in it for the military lifestyle first and the training opportunities second, because he may find himself assigned to things he has no interest in. otherwise i'd tell him to finish college and look for work in the civilian sector.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:16 AM on April 13, 2007

"Comm. Engineer" is too broad to tell you what you're getting into. Please be aware that the Marine Corps infantry units use lots of radios, and they need technicians to work on those radios when they cease working. Those technicians spend a lot of time with a pencil eraser rubbing the metal contacts on cable-ends, in case grit is causing a bad connection. (It's a very low-skilled job is what I'm saying; the training you receive for that job will NOT aid you in any way in the civilian job market.) They also travel with the infantry units, so you are *effectively* an infantryman, even though your job title is in communications.

(I should clarify: there is almost NOTHING that one can learn in the military that is in any way applicable to the outside world, except discipline. They use technology that is 20 years behind the rest of the world and extremely specialized, so none of it is applicable to the real world. Do NOT join the military expecting to learn a trade. Go to a vocational school if that's what you want.)

You need to read the contract exactly. If a promise isn't on the contract in writing, it doesn't exist. If the contract is written so that you might or might not get the job you want, you won't get it.

Given the need for bodies right now, your brother should hold out for immediate promotion to E-3. The recruiters will sob and tell you that can't do it, the best they can offer is E-2 - but they're lying.

Things the recruiter can offer: cash signing bonus (don't know what the monetary limit might be - probably depends on the MOS you're signing up for), accelerated promotion to E-2 or E-3, choice of duty station (where you will be stationed initially - you'll still be sent to Iraq though), choice of job assignment. All of these need to be in writing on the contract.

The Navy has much more air conditioning than the Marine Corps.
posted by jellicle at 8:23 AM on April 13, 2007

To answer your specific question: I don't think that you will find an unbiased website. People in the forces rarely get out with no opinion on their hitch. The best advice I can give you is to have him talk to some people that are currently in, or have recently got out of the miltary. It would be most helpful if they were around his own age. I hated my stint, because I was unable to dedicate myself to the whole 'Military' minset. As thinkingwoman put it 'your brother has to be in it for the military lifestyle first and the training opportunities second, because the military job will come first in all aspects of life.

nthing Air Force here. (They don't call it the Chair Force for no reason!)

also nthing not trusting the recruiters.
If he does decide to sign up,make sure your brother ensures that everything the recruiter promised is in his contract, with no conditions attached, because there will be no hesitation to exercize those conditions. "We'll fix it later" is not acceptable when dealing with the recruiters or the people at the processing station. If your brother signs up and doesn't leave for boot camp that day, he is in the DEP (Delayed Entry Program), and hasn't officialy joined the service he committed to and can still change his mind about joining. It's like being in the reserves until he leaves.

The Air Force is harder to get into, and harder to get promoted in, because more people want to get/stay in, due to their reputation of cushy-ness. The Navy was cutting people left and right when I got out in september, although some jobs were still undermanned. The Army and the Marines were basically looking at anyone they could get their hands on.

'communication engineer' could mean a couple of different things to the navy/corps, from crypto, to setting up and maintaining the electronics. From my experience in the navy, he would be looking at the Radioman rating. If he is speaking to a recruiter, then he is probably looking at being an enlisted man, which will have a much lower quality of life than that of an officer.

Everybody in the Navy is a specialist, so when you sign up, you usually choose a track to go into, with specific schools you go to, and the job you eventually end up in is determined by your performance at these schools. I'm not sure about the Air Force, but I think they may be similar. The army and the marines are completely different, from what I understand.

As I understand it (and this is an issue that is constantly debated), the hierarchy of quality of life for the military goes something like this:
1) Air Force
2) Army
3) Marines
4) Navy

sure, the recruiters look impressive, that's what they are being paid to do. They are salesmen, and they can be very shady if they need to be.

when I was in the Navy, I was put off by the amount of influence that the bureaucracy (that word is so hard to spell!) had on pretty much every aspect of life. He can expect to be treated like a kindergardener for a period of time, even after boot camp, until he proves himself to his Division/Squad/whatever.

I was a Reactor Operator on a submarine, and I think that could possibly be the worst choice of job to take, so I'd tell him to stay away from that.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:30 AM on April 13, 2007

(Navy experience, wasn't in but ex-boyfriend.....)

You can't change your "job". If you go in as an x expect to be x for four years (or however long). They will swear that you can change and it's possible that some people do change, but really, no, it's not happening. ("Nukes need not apply"...heh.)

You will be offered a re-enlistment bonus after you've gone through training and been working for ~6 months. DO NOT TAKE IT. After training, being bored feels great...but 4 years from now when you've still got two more years left because you were an idiot and signed up early it will suck. A lot. If it turns out later that you really do want to stay in, you may be out some cash--if it turns out that you really don't want to be in, you will be in hell.
posted by anaelith at 8:58 AM on April 13, 2007

I understand that the Marines have difficulty recruiting enough techy people. It makes logical sense -- few fully-qualified engineers go for that lifestyle, and even among 19-year-olds without many qualifications, the nerdy ones tend not to join the marines.

How do you reckon they choose who to give specialized training to? Test marks and maybe some aptitude testing. So, a recruiter can't absolutely promise someone off the street will make the grade for the job he wants, but your broither can assess his chances and take some classes/read up to improve his relevant knowledge if his college courses have not been all comms-related (in which case the recruiter probably can forecast accurately).

All power to his elbow -- as long as we have armed forces we will need to keep the proportion of sane normal people high, heaven preserve us from being "defended" by a force consisting only of nutters.
posted by Idcoytco at 9:45 AM on April 13, 2007

Oddly enough (and I know this sounds crazy) have him sign up for the Penny Arcade forum and ask about military service in the Help and Advice subforum. There are several regular posters there who are current or recent military personel (various branches) who have in the past given very good advice on the subject. Both as to the "should I" question and how to get the best deal out of your service.

The most frequent and emphatic advice I've seen them give is to never believe anything a recruiter says. Lies are their stock in trade. If something is not explicitly written in your contract it doesn't count for anything. Despite this, it is possible to get a good gig with some negotiation. Remember that the way things are right now until you sign that contract you have the power and can walk away at any time for any reason.
posted by Riemann at 11:44 AM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: I am not a Marine. I have never served in the armed forces of this country, as I am medically ineligible to do so. However, I have multiple generations of both Army soldiers and Marines in my immediate family.

I strongly, strongly recommend that he immediately pick up Nat Fick's excellent One Bullet Away and Thomas E. Ricks' equally superb Making The Corps for relatively contemporary views of the USMC.

An enlistment in the Marines guarantees combat service in Iraq. That cannot be repeated often enough: if you enlist in the Marines at this point in time, you will see combat in Iraq. If your brother has any reservations about serving in that war or that theater of operations, he should reconsider the Marines as an option.

If your brother has ambitions of serving as an officer, it would be best for him to pursue an ROTC slot or direct assignment to OCS: "mustang" officers (officers with prior enlisted service) still suffer a degree of stigmatization and prejudice.

The Marines are the closest thing modern American society has to a professional warrior caste: they are, in some ways, descendents of the Spartans, with all the positive and negative traits that implies.

Above all, your brother should be aware that enlistment in the armed forces at this point in time is a de facto commitment to an institution that is under extreme strain, both politically and operationally, and that predicting the future course of the military at this time is nearly impossible. When large course changes or large culture changes occur in the military, the enlisted troops will have little or no say in their part of that shift: they will simply be given new orders and expected to carry them out.

However, for those who wish to test themselves in the crucible of combat, there is no better place today to do so than in the Marines.
posted by scrump at 2:05 PM on April 13, 2007

To add a little about the culture shifts that scrump was talking about, during my period on the ship (~4 years), it was normal for the Officers to have a very short turnover period between switching jobs. Basically every 2 months or so, we would get a new junior officer assigned for us. The Engineer, Executive Officer, and Commanding Officer (Typically the 3 most senior officers on the ship) never stuck around longer than 2 years, and they were staggered so that they didn't all leave at the same time.
So, very often a new officer would come in, say "This is how it's going to be...", and the ONLY acceptable response was to immediately comply, which can be difficult when you are used a certain routine.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:25 PM on April 13, 2007


hell yeah it's against military service, but if you can pick the facts out of the bias it is solid information.

i am not a soldier, a sailor, or a marine, but like any student with little money i looked into what exactly the services had to offer for the technically inclined.

if he's into the idea for college funds- the $50-70k, whatever it is, is creative accounting to say the least. i don't know if this is specifically army-related data or what, but to get the maximum education benefit you must pay into it yourself, AND not be dishonorably discharged (20% of recruits are). AND most of the money quoted in those figures are from student loans and federal aid available to all us citizens.

in general, military training prepares one inadequately for civilian careers, at least the kind of careers that also necessitate college degrees. do you, and your brother know that a SIGNIFICANT percentage of homeless people are recent vets?

but perhaps most disturbing is: it's the military, they can change the rules. the recruiters that lure you in are in no way, shape or form the people that decide your fate later on. they can, without consequence, promise that you'll be assigned to one thing (which is safe or desirable) and decide to put you somewhere else (which is less so). in todays climate, with tours of duty being extended, and armed services admissions tests standards being lowered to accommodate more soldiers, i would absolutely expect the worst.

you also have to ask yourself if you agree with the military policies of our current administration.
posted by tremspeed at 4:24 PM on April 13, 2007

I am a former USMC officer -- a jet pilot. I now work for the Air Force as a civilian.

I love the Marine Corps, love my brothers-in-arms, love everything the Marines stand for.

For the love of God, go into the Air Force. You will not regret this decision.
posted by bagels at 5:45 PM on April 13, 2007

Have him read Chris Hedges' What Every Person Should Know About War.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:12 PM on April 13, 2007

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