Although it seems like yesterday, it’s been many years since I signed my name on that line and made the decision to join the military. Joining at a young age, I didn’t have much real life experience. Much of what I learned about the world was influenced by the military. It wasn’t until I got out that I realized that many of the things that I considered to be commonplace were actually not.
Although being a member of the military came with its share of sacrifices and challenges, there were many things unique to the experience that I often enjoyed, but I did not recognize their true significance at the time. Now that I have been a civilian for a while and have gained a little more perspective, I can fully appreciate their actual value in the real world. The following is my “miss-list” of advantages to being in the military.
For someone just joining the military, taking that Oath of Enlistment, even if only for four years, pretty much guarantees that you will spend some time traveling. Growing up as a city kid, I loved to travel whenever I was able, so this was right up my alley. From home, to Basic Training, to vocational school, to my first duty assignment, I made a point to see all of the surrounding areas whenever I landed in a new place.
Depending on one’s job, you could end up moving as often as every three years, not including deployments. This allows you to see many places you won’t normally have an opportunity to, all on Uncle Sam’s dime.
Nothing was a bigger eye-opener than when I filed my taxes the first year out of the military. While enlisted, a large percentage of the net pay I received came from non-taxable sources. This was a win/win due to the way federal and state taxes are calculated. A member can enjoy all of the benefits of their net pay while a lower amount is used to assess your tax bracket. Therefore, the amount of money you receive back is commensurate to someone who makes much less than you actually make.
3. Sick Call
Many times in life we wake up after a restless night’s sleep to find that we are suddenly under the weather. Perhaps we overexerted ourselves the day before or we have a nagging pain the may or may not be serious. In the civilian world, depending on your insurance and your employer, you may have to carefully consider your options and do a little planning before taking time off and going to see a doctor. There also may be deductibles and copays to take into account.
In the military, many bases have a wonderful thing called Sick Call. Basically, if you wake up feeling like you need to see a doctor, you can go see a doctor immediately. Any prescriptions you need as a result of your visit can be filled right there, and if it’s serious enough, the doctor can send you home to rest while his office contacts your job.
4. What to Wear, What to Wear …
Depending on the person, this can be considered both a pro and a con. For me, removing the added step of having to purchase and maintain a professional wardrobe was a plus. Morning routines were more streamlined and I saved my fashion statements for after work and weekends. Uniforms are relatively easy to maintain and the military even dishes out additional money to soldiers for the sole purpose of uniform upkeep.
For those who don’t know, military hops are flights that members can take for next to no cost (mine cost around $10.) Military planes fly daily to and from various bases around the world. Members can sign up to “hop “or hitch a ride to wherever a plane is going as long as space is available. The only hitch is that some hops can perform multiple stops before finally reaching your destination.
Also, there is no guarantee that there will be space available on every flight. There are certain priorities set for seating, so it’s possible that one might have to wait a day or two to get a flight. Because of this, members must be sure that they have ample leave to accommodate this.
However, even with those limitations, being able to fly from New Jersey to Germany for less than $20 is the very definition of awesome.
This might seem insignificant to some but there are many benefits to having good posture, including a decreased risk of health complications and enhanced confidence.
As part of our military training in Basic, we were taught about military bearing and conditioned through marching, standing, and other activities to adjust our bodies. Our chests came out. Our shoulders rolled back. When we sat we were forced into a habit of sitting up straight and not slouching.
As time passed this became second nature and part of who I was. Because most of us maintained good posture, we soon stopped noticing. It wasn’t until I began interacting with people outside the military that I realized that I carried myself differently. People viewed me differently.
Although I still try my best to remain aware of my posture, I miss how this used to be second nature.
7. Shattered the Job Experience Paradox
This is that situation where you go to college to learn a profession, yet you have trouble landing a job due to your lack of experience. Of course you aren’t able to gain any experience because you can’t get the job.
As long as you’re working in a military profession related to what you would like to do in the civilian world, you often come to your first job already strapped with tons of experience. Coincidentally, you’ll most likely also be equipped with the requisite leadership skills and education which makes entering the job market a whole lot easier.
I can’t really say that I miss this since the positive effect of it still lingers. However I often wish that I had taken even more advantage of the added experiences that were readily available at the time. These experiences are much tougher to come by once you leave.
8. Overall Health
There are few professions outside of sports that I imagine would include any kind of program where you had to maintain a certain level of fitness. In fact, I would suspect that even trying to implement such a thing in the white collar civilian world would be terribly un-PC.
Being forced to maintain fitness and weight standards compelled us to do what we should have already been doing on a regular basis. With the exception of those injured in combat, most military members leave the service in better shape than other people of comparable age. Although it requires one to be more proactive once you leave, with some maintenance, this foundation can lead to a better quality of life in the later years.
Of course these are not the only significant advantages to being in the military by any means. Nor should they be considered the most important ones. The fact is it’s difficult to be in any organization for a significant amount of time and not miss the things you’ve grown accustomed to having. However, life marches on, and all we can strive to do is stop every once and a while and take inventory of our blessings while we still have them.
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