By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
Joining the military for the first time is an exciting, intimidating endeavor for new servicemembers and often their families as well. There are typically a lot of uncertainties about what to expect in preparing for enlistment, basic training and reporting to the first unit.
Preparing for Enlistment
In terms of preparing for enlistment, the first step is to graduate high school, stay out of legal and financial trouble, and take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. The second step is to talk to a recruiter and get lined up with one of the military service branches.
Once you have met the criteria for military service and entered into a contract with one of the branches, the third step is going to a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) per the recruiter’s guidance. Some services require their applicants to go to MEPS directly before heading out to basic training; others enable applicants to go to a MEPS first and get a future date to head off to basic training.
MEPS involves a screening process to determine if new recruits are eligible for military service. While you are at a MEPS, you will undergo a medical screening. There will also be physical qualifications assessments, aptitude assessments and moral standards assessments.
New recruits can expect to take a drug screening test at MEPS. It is important to dress comfortably but professionally when going through the MEPS process and to avoid wearing any clothing with controversial content. Prescriptions, eyeglasses and identification documents should all be brought to the MEPS.
Once you successfully pass through MEPS, the next step is basic training. Physical conditioning is an important part of basic training, so enlistees should be well prepared by eating a proper diet and getting in good physical shape before entering basic training.
Servicemembers commonly fly to the nearest major airport to their basic training facility, and a bus takes the trainees to that facility. Upon arrival, there is a psychological phenomenon that sets the tone that exists throughout basic training.
Once the bus arrives at the basic training facility, trainees typically meet their drill instructor, who can be intimidating if they are not prepared for this meeting. The drill instructor will appear disciplined and regimented.
Instead of shaking hands with the drill instructor at that first meeting, new servicemembers typically receive shouted instructions that results in those trainees scrambling off the bus and trying to figure out what to do next to stay out of trouble and away from the drill instructor’s attention. The drill instructor will likely become confrontational with a trainee or two who may be the last to the line or who makes a mistake.
While it appears that a drill instructor is making an example of someone, what that drill instructor does is to set the tone that exists throughout basic training. Setting the tone is necessary because it is part of the military service process to screen for trainees who cannot work in stressful situations.
Basic training is all about preparing an individual for military service while simultaneously monitoring for physical or psychological indicators that someone is not fit for military service. Servicemembers will not freely be able to call their family members during most of basic training. Servicemembers may make a call once they arrive at basic training to let their family know that they have arrived, but further phone communication is typically restricted until near the end of basic training.
Families can write letters to their loved ones while they are in basic training, and it is a good idea to write letters because they can be encouraging for servicemembers. Families will be restricted from seeing their servicemembers until basic training graduation, however.
Reporting to the First Unit
Once servicemembers graduate basic training, they receive orders to report to their first unit. Unless an agreement was made with the recruiter, servicemembers may be assigned anywhere; there is often no guarantee that servicemembers will be assigned units that are close to their homes or families. Prior to reporting to their new unit, servicemembers should contact their assigned military mentor to obtain guidance on reporting procedures, get local information and gain insight into their initial job responsibilities.
Being Mentally and Physically Prepared for Military Service Is Vital
Being mentally and physically prepared for military service is essential. Once servicemembers report to their first unit, they will want to get qualified within their specific duties and assignments as soon as possible and learn how the military rank advancement process works. It is also useful to research any college education benefits that are available to servicemembers, which can reduce the normal expenses associated with attaining a college degree.