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Based on this, should I join or not?

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Joseph II

Well-known member
Mar 11, 2002
I am a CFI (currently not employed flying) with and end sight of flying for the airlines. I don't have a huge desire to fly military aircraft but I've always been intrigued by the military (particularly AF). I only have an Associates Degree in Electronics and I'm 25.
Although I would prefer to be an officer in the military I don't have a bachelors degree so I would consider enlisting. I also would be only interested in the Guard or Reserves because I want to pursue my civil aviation career.

That's my background, here are my questions...

1. What would be a military career path that is closely related to flying but not sitting in the cockpit? (BTW I am not interested in maintenance E.G A&P for the civil world).

2. If possible, something where you actually rode in the aircraft.

3. Are the shows on TV and the ad's BS or what?

4. Take a look at the following and tell me what you think.

Reasons I would like to join.
***Instill confidence***
Ability to earn medals and awards (cool uniforms too).
Keep in shape.
Serve your country.
Learn something new.
Gain leadership skills.
I like the rigidity and command the military offers.
I like the ranking system, where you can advance to higher ranks.
I have no problem being told what to do.
Extra $$.
Money for school.
I have a very high respect for military personnel. My Dad was in Vietnam.

Reasons why I hesitate.
#1... Getting killed.
Not able to be an officer because I only have an associates degree.
The commitment.
I find it hard to trust the recruiters when I talk with them.
I fear getting through basic only to find out the job I selected
absolutely sucked.
Concerned that I would not fit in to the "brute" military image. I would consider myself a smart professional both in the aviation domain and the technical/computer domain.
If I eventually became an officer I am not sure how good of a leader I would be.
I am not totally enthused about going to Iraq.

All comments appreciated. Feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]
"1. What would be a military career path that is closely related to flying but not sitting in the cockpit? (BTW I am not interested in maintenance."
If you wanted something where you rode in the aircraft you could try for a loadmaster or AWACS/JSTARS radar operator - it's not technically in the cockpit. If you're talking non-aircrew and don't like maintenance, about the only thing I could think of would be as intel or life support personnel. By the way, all those non-cockpit positions are filled by enlisted personnel (since you mention not being an officer).

"3. Are the shows on TV and the ad's BS or what?"
Shows and movies - Absolutely 100% garbage. Not sure what ads you're referring to, but the few AF ads I have seen are fairly accurate.

"Reasons I would like to join. Ability to earn medals and awards (cool uniforms too)"
That's a pretty shallow reason. IMHO, there are very few medals and awards that carry weight in the Air Force - many times they are given out like candy and at such a rate that it devalues those who receive and truly deserve them. Example - I have one medal for being commissioned and one for being on active duty during September 11. Basically, they're two awards everyone should have, so what's the purpose? As far as cool uniforms - what exactly are you looking at? Flight suits may be cool, but if you don't want to be in the cockpit, you're not likely to be wearing one.

"Keep in shape"
That one gets a laugh. The military will not keep you in shape; they will require that you stay in shape, but any exercise program (in the AF) past basic training is almost entirely up to you. There are some squadrons that will mandate an exercise program, but it's generally the cops.

"Extra $$"
Not sure what you mean by "extra". About the only extra money you get is from flight bonuses which only come at the point when you are eligible to retire (after at least ten years) and they only come to pilots.

"Reasons why I hesitate. #1... Getting killed"
Again, if you don't want to be aircrew, this isn't a factor for you. With few exceptions, the only AF personnel who face combat are fighter/bomber aircrew and some heavy guys (C-130s). With the aircrew positions you're interested in(non-cockpit), getting killed would only be a factor if your plane crashed on an instrument approach or if you were intercepted by the Chinese AF.

"Not able to be an officer because I only have an associates degree"
Go get a bachelors.

"Concerned that I would not fit in to the "brute" military image"
In the AF? Hah.
Why not join the Guard enlisted and use the education benefits to finish your degree?

You could then apply for an officer position (such as an AWACS or JSTARS operator as Toro noted) once you finish your degree. Or you could apply for a pilot position.

The benefits that the military offers are great, but you should join for the right reasons. If you join primarily for the "cool uniforms" or the base gym, you may be in for a rude awakening, even if it is the Guard or Reserve. If you join primarily because you want to serve your country (while getting some great benefits and experience), you'll love it.

Based on what I'm reading, I wouldn't want you on my wing. Don't think the AF or any other service need half hearted and selfish folks. If your interested in the fruit salad and uniform, trust me, it takes acts of bravery and dedication to get the hardware, which I don’t think your showing. You want to be an airline guy, work your way there by the civilian route. I don’t think the military is the place for you.
get your degree

I got suckered into enlisting into the Navy because I wanted to be a Naval aviator. Recruiters are all talk. Don't sign up on anyone's word that you can get into an officer program more easily by enlisting.
Age limit is 27 for officers, 30 for the AF I think. So finish your BA. You still have time. You are only 2 years away and airliners are looking for people with BA's anyway.
After looking at your reasons to hesitate, my advice is... look elsewhere!! You talked about the "brute" military image and concerns about going to Iraq while also talking about cool uniforms and medals. Let me tell you something, it's not a trendy club or stylish fraternity you are talking about. Tactical airplanes exist for one reason... to destroy things. Pilots are taught from day one to employ their specific platform to the fullest of its capabilities. If you have even the remotest of reservations about doing that and by definition taking other peoples lives, then you are not what the military is looking for. Sorry to be so blunt but the reality of what we do is often lost on the TV generation.

I think it's great that you're interested in serving your country. I wish more folks were these days. Given your motivation and list of concerns and the simple quality of life considerations, I'd say the AF is probably your best choice.

Let's address your options:

-Rated Officer (pilot, nav, oso, dso, etc..)
You would really have to dive in for this one. Finish your BA or BS as fast as possible. In the meantime, research different ways to get commisioned. Go talk to a recruiter. Take notes. Go talk to a recruiter in another city. Take more notes. Resist anyone who wants to formally start any sort of process while you are still in school. There are PLENTY of honest laid-back recruiters out there who are happy to help you navigate the waters. You don't have to be an expert on the military to tell when you're getting the hard sell.

-Non rated Officer (lots to chose from here)
Again, finish up your degree asap. These positions are not as competitive as a UPT slot. Air Traffic Control? Command Post? Maintenance? (no wrench-turning) Supply? Admin? Life Support? (your teaching backround would help you here) Services? (hotel & restaurant management) Real Estate? Contracting? Disaster Preparedness? The list goes on and on. Research it.

-Enlisted Dude
Not as much pay and responsibility as the officer side, but quite a bit more variety of jobs. (and there are some exceptions to the responsibility issues) Just about anything you can think of and some you probably have not imagined. Again, start taling to recruiters. There are a ton of great opportunities. There are some aircrew possibilities: Gunner, FE, Steward, Medic, PJ. Boomer...

There are lots of arguments as to the enlisted vs officer choice. My advice is to chose based on job you would really love. One thing to keep in mind is that if you're an enlisted guy, hate your job but are doing it well, you have MANY more opportunities for change than an Officer who dislikes their job.

I don't have time to address each of your concerns this morning, so I'll focus on what I think the important ones are.

Easily the most important reason

Very Important. I enlisted at the age of 19. The AF saved my life. I was an undisciplined slob who quickly learned that I was responsible for my choices and had to work hard to get what I wanted. Sounds trite, but it's just the thing I needed at the time.

Your chances are pretty slim. More civilians were killed on 9-11 last year than all active duty deaths for the entire year. Your choice dude. You do have to be comfortable with the possibility. If you join up, you'll eventually sign some sort of statement to the effect of: "I understand that in the performance of my duties, I may be required to fire a weapon at a human being, and I understand and accept this responsibility."

I can't offer you much here. Every year goes by faster, so why not do it?

I was on active duty for nine years and had a blast. I recomend the experience to anyone. What did I enjoy the most? There were a lot of fun things, but more than anything I loved the fact that because we were willing to serve and willing to give up some of our constitutional rights, we have a free country where the very principles we in the military hold dear can be questioned in public by those who never served. Sounds strange, but for me it was an incredibly liberating feeling. Kind of hard to explain.

To those of you in the "break things and kill people crowd" Come on guys, he's just looking for advice here. Not all of us were born warrior kings. There were many who joined for one reason or another, only to discover the important stuff once we got there. He did say that he wanted to serve and he has no problem with being told what to do. In my mind those are the two most important qualities for anyone considering the military.

Lastly this:

Which one of us did not gaze approvingly in the mirror at ourselves the first time we put on our service dress?

Which one of you guys or gals are "enthused about going to Iraq?"

PM me if I can help you Joseph.
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Your post was very well thought out and articultaed. As one of the "break things and kill people crowd", as you put it, my only point is to keep the reality of military life up front. You would be amazed at the people who sign up influenced by the movies and what they see on TV only to find out that the real world isn't quite that simple or glamorous. I, of course, say this with the benefit of 20 years of hindsight and will freely admit that the things Joseph cited attracted me too. I just think people who are considering this life need to remember that the military exists for the specific purpose of waging war and they may be asked to do things and take risks that are pretty sobering. The time to have thought that out is now, now when they are on the tip of the spear.


You are so right. A lot of the people joining up (particularly enlisted folk) these days seem to have an attitude of "I want mine and I shouldn't have to work for it." My wife won't let me watch anything on TV about the military because I invariably start yelling "That's not how it works you morons!" I saw some Navy commercial the other day narrated by Louis Gosset Jr. I was laughing so hard. They show these folks hanging out in some Asian City like smiling tourists. No mention of 16 hour days hot-bunking it for weeks on end.

My personal favorite memory of someone who just doesn't get it, was when I was working as a Security Poilice Augmentee at a northern tier SAC base some years ago. I'm standing my post next to some KC-135 on a hardstand way out in the boonies. Some fellow augmentee came on the radio with something like this: "Um..hello?" The control center guy replies: "This is CSC, state your post number please." She ambles on: "Yeah, um.. this is airman ______." He sarcastically comes back with: "OK airman______, what can we do for you?" The girl genius continues: "Um.. I think I left my gun on the bus." (the posting bus) Later on after her weapon has been retrieved, QA came by to get a post briefing from her. (Simple questions about threat level, post boundries and the like.) When asked how many rounds she was carrying she replied: "Twelve hundred SIR!" (120 was correct) When asked what the maximum effective range of her weapon was, (M-16) she says: "5 miles." What a warrior!

My friend just finished a four year tour as a Military Training Instructor at Lackland AFB. (DI or Drill Sergeant type) He said it was very discouraging to see the quality of some of the folks that are being recruited. Female trainees would routinly come on to him in an attempt to get preferential treatment. These are probably the same youngters that; if my friend did not posses as much integrity as he does, would have no doubt ended up crying on CNN next to their lawyer aout how they were harrased. His theory is that these kids today were raised on 80's and 90's TV.

Take Care,
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