The U.S. Military offers something that companies just don’t offer anymore: paid training. Drawing a salary with full medical/dental benefits while training is almost unheard of. Especially because they provide pancakes almost every morning. But it’s not without its price. There’s that pesky Boot Camp or Basic Training (and I don’t care what you say, you won’t yell back at the Drill Sergeant/Drill Instructor) There’s also that looming threat of combat and being wounded/dying. I’ve been wounded, and it’s not fun. But I’ve also eaten the pancakes, which are pretty good, so it comes out in the wash I think.
The college path offers education, enlightenment, beer pong and drunken hookups. Supposing you select the four-year college option, and the four-year military option, both obligations are the same. So what are the real differences?
I went to college at an SEC school. For those of you unfamiliar with the SEC, it’s an athletic conference which, in my opinion, has the most rambunctious fans. As a Florida Gator, we once got into a potato-gun fight with some Seminole fans. My friend Ryan had his arm broken by a flying spud. We awarded him the congressional beer of dishonor.
On the other hand, I had the pleasure (sure, let’s go with that) of visiting a couple of places where they were short on potatoes, but somehow still had the audacity to shoot at us. My friend Ryan followed me into combat long after the great potato battle of 2002 and suffered far worse a fate than a broken arm.
I mentioned that the U.S. Military has a habit of offering dollars for things. While it may not sound like much, $1,402.20 per month is what you will receive as an E-1 (Private/Recruit, Seaman Apprentice or Airman Basic, depending on branch) each and every month. Once you rise to E-3, typically within a year or two, that number jumps to almost $1,800 per month.
Just to be clear: This is base pay, if you have a wife and kids, expect closer to $2,200/month to start. But also bear in mind that while you’re in Basic Training (Bootcamp for the Jarheads) you’re fed, clothed and sheltered at no additional cost. Your family is also receiving healthcare in full and will continue to do so for the four years while you’re enlisted. (Payscale)
While I was at UF, I subsisted on Ramen noodles and anything on the bottom shelf of a vending machine. I had extra money, because I was in the National Guard at the time, but most of that went to beer. The National Guard, if you will, stood in for my parents. Generally speaking, you aren’t racking up a bunch of savings while in college. As a matter of fact, you’re racking up debt; huge amounts of it. Did I mention you also get access to the GI Bill? So after your four years in the service, you can also attend college? Did I also mention that it provides a stipend for rent, utilities, food, etc., in addition to paying for your book learning?
Trying to get a job as a marketing director probably won’t work if you’re a 22-year-old former infantryman with no experience in the field. However, there are many companies and organizations who offer Job Preference to the U.S. Military. The National Weather Service, Wal-Mart, the Post Office and many civilian law enforcement agencies.
Whatever plays into your wheelhouse is what’s going to land you the job. Focusing on leadership ability, experience handling conflict resolution and maintaining equipment — and that infantryman very well could end up as a retail manager in training with little difficulty. While the formally educated college graduate would be lobbying for the same position, but have no experience.
Advantage: Tie (unless you attended college for a specific occupation, i.e., law school)
I wouldn’t change my experience for the world. I carried a weapon for many years while serving in the 82nd Airborne Division, but I also enjoyed carrying my books in a leather strap on my way to college. The military isn’t for everyone, but neither is college. It can be a launching point, a maturation period for many or even a lifetime career. Whatever you choose to make of it, it’s your life.