For those who don’t know, I was in the Air Force until late 2014. It came with plenty of positive things that I’m sure your local recruiter would be happy to explain, so I won’t bother. However, I do want to clarify some things that some of you (namely: those of you looking to join) might not know. Specifically, the stuff your recruiter left out when he was telling you about all the fun shit you’d be doing. Please note: the follow article was written in 2010, back when I was fresh into my tenure as an airman. It may seem harsh at times, but this was my perspective at the time. For a much more optimistic viewpoint, please check out part 2, which details many of the lesser known benefits that I discovered over the course of my time in the Air Force.
6. No Matter What Your Age Is, You’re Still 18 Years Old
This is something that a lot of people don’t have to worry about when they join the Air Force, because most recruits are under 20 to begin with. Granted, some shops will treat you differently, depending on where you go, but, if you’re new, then you’re still the same rank as the guy next to you. For all anyone else knows, you’re both 18 and very stupid, all because your shirt has two stripes on it.
See, the problem is that everyone assumes that if you’re a new airman, you’re also new to being an adult. It makes sense if you look at the statistics. New airmen are more likely to get into trouble because they’re exactly like freshmen in college, except even more reckless. New airmen get charged with DUI’s or underaged drinking, they get into fights, they sexually harass the shit out of women, or whatever else kids do when they get bored and/or drunk off their asses. Supervisors are constantly getting called because of something one of their airmen did, and despite all the training and the preparation, there’s simply no stopping it. Stupid people are going to be stupid. The end.
So yeah, you’re going to be treated like a child, even if you’re 28 years old. The fact that you are wearing the same uniform as Joe “I Fuck Up A Lot” Richards sitting next to you means you won’t age until you rank up, and that can take forever. Up to 3 years after you join and there’s almost nothing you can do about it.
That is, of course, unless you decide to go for a program called Below the Zone (otherwise known as BTZ, because in the military everything is an acronym). But even if you do, it’s almost not worth it. All BTZ does is take off about six months on the wait for your next rank, so instead of waiting 2.5 or 3 years to rank up, you’re waiting 2 (minimum), and you have to do a shit ton of work in order to even qualify. And then, chances are, you probably won’t get it.
But just in case you really want to try, I’ll run you through the necessary bullshit that most people need to win it. For starters, you need to get a perfect EPR (which is basically your yearly review where you are rated between 1-5), volunteer a LOT (we’ll get to what this is in just a moment), work on your education/self-betterment, or do something equally fantastic like win several awards like “Airman of the Quarter” or “Airman of the Year.” Sounds easy? Worth an extra 200 bucks a month for only six months? If you still think so, good luck and have fun.
That actually brings me to my next point….
5. Get Ready To Do Plenty of Volunteer Work. Seriously.
What they don’t tell you about the Air Force is that when you join, you’re going to end up spending several weekends at a homeless shelter, raising money for something, or signing up to run a Bingo night down at the local community center. Because hey, why the fuck not?
You see, being in the military isn’t just about being a soldier anymore. It’s about being an American. And not just an American who goes to work and does his job (even if you’re awesome at what you do). It’s about doing shit that has nothing to do with any of that.
And that’s fine. Sometimes people just like to help out. Sometimes, that’s what it’s all about, you know? Nothing beats doing what that makes you feel like a good person while simultaneously making the military look great in the public eye. Because it’s volunteering, right? It’s all up to you whether or not you do it.
Wrong. In the military, this shit is mandatory, even when it’s not. You’re not only encouraged to do it, you’re forced to. Your EPR even depends on it. If you refuse to do it, you will actually get into trouble, and you’ll be marked down on your job performance review, even though it has nothing to do with your job in any way whatsoever. So yes, I hope you’re ready for bingo night in a smoke-filled room with a bunch of old people shouting for the next number, because that’s exactly what you’re going to be doing on your “down” time.
4. You’re Going to Get Fat
While you’re waiting around to join the military, you’re encouraged to work out, get into shape, and basically get ready for basic military training (or, to use the acronym, BMT). For the first time in your life, you’re going to be buff, and not the fat ass you’ve been for the past three years since you started working at that desk job in the mall because it was right next to the food court.
Then you get to BMT, and you work out a lot, and it’s great. Maybe you’ll lose weight; maybe you’ll stay the same. If you’re really skinny, you might even gain some. If you’re used to being in the gym, you’ll probably lose muscle. It doesn’t really matter because none of this is important. What’s going to really change you is the food. Oh, and the way you’re forced to eat it.
Which is to say, very, very, very fast.
Now, if you’ve ever heard anything at all about nutrition or healthy eating habits, you know that eating your food too quickly is a bad thing, but not so in the military. In BMT you’re going to get 3 meals a day, and you have to be guzzle that shit down like you’re a college frat boy shotgunning a beer. Most groups (or flights, as they’re called), get about 5-10 minutes to eat an entire meal, and sometimes not even that. There are times when the instructors will actually come up to you and yell at you, demanding you eat faster (they’re not allowed to do this, technically speaking, but they still will). As a result, you end up devouring your food. This happens every meal for just over two months. By the time you get out and go to tech school, you’ve developed some of the worst eating habits of your life.
But that’s not all. Once you get to tech school, you’ve gone without any kind of candy, desserts, soda, or whatever for so long (or so it seems) that you’re going to consume the first garbage food you come into contact with. And believe me, there’s a lot of it at tech school, and a lot of snack machines, too. In fact, most people actually gain about 10 pounds during their time at tech school. Some people gain up to 30. It just depends on how easily you cave to temptation.
Once you finally get to your first base, you’re probably going to be back to your original size (before BMT), and you probably won’t even care. Most people will work in a place that is very similar to an office envirnment, and there will be snack machines, snack funds, potlucks, office picnics, fundraisers that will sell burgers and donuts in the building, and plenty of other shit that wants you to get as fat as possible. It’s like the world’s against you, and it tastes delicious.
So if you’ve got this image in your head about going into the military, losing a bunch of weight, keeping it off, and then having a different kind of job that doesn’t involve cubicles, think again my friend. Think again.
Oh, and as for exercising, I’m just getting to that…
3. PT is Mandatory, Unless You’re on a Waiver
When you think of the military, you probably think of working out, running, carrying backpacks full of cans and guns from one side of the desert to the other, and sometimes that’s true. Most of the time, however, you just sit around, bullshitting and typing on a computer.
Well, some jobs, anyway. But regardless, your physical training (PT) is usually mandatory, and you usually do it with your squadron. Picture about 50+ people working out together, running a few miles, or whatever. Sounds great, right? Lots of in-shape people doing what they need to do, and staying motivated? It makes for a great poster.
Except it’s not like that. You see, when you join the military, you’re going to notice that quite a few people have medical waivers which prevent them from working out with the rest of the group. Oh, they’ll still show up to PT, but they’ll be walking everywhere or pretending to move a little while the rest of you actually exercise. Because of this (and because of the previous point about the food), they’re going to be fat, and it’s going to look awkward as hell.
Granted, some of these people have legitimate reasons for being on waivers, like the fact that they got some kind of cancer or even had a stroke, but when you’ve got 20/50 people on waivers, there’s a serious problem with the system and somebody is exploiting the fuck out it.
That’s fine, though, you might be saying inside your optimistic little head. I really enjoy PT. That’s awesome, but you can’t go to the gym and exercise the way you want to during these PT sessions. It’s forced, mass PT that requires you to do their routine, which most of the time makes no sense and is a complete joke. Nothing’s personalized like it is when you go to the gym. You’re not working the same muscles every week because there’s usually someone different running the program, so good luck seeing any progress whatsoever.
And if that isn’t enough, you’re working out with people who are twenty years older than you. That means the work out routine you’re doing has to be easy enough so that everyone can do it, including your 58 year old chief. Good luck getting anything useful out of that.
2. If You Hate Your Boss, There’s Nothing You Can Ever Do About It. Ever.
Let’s say you arrive at your first base and you’ve just met your supervisor. He seems like a swell guy, you think. Maybe this won’t be so bad. I mean, sure that first day of PT was kind of a joke, and there’s a lot of fat people here, and I’m older than everyone in my shop, but hey, he seems like a nice guy. After all, he just told you all kinds of things and did it with a smile. Maybe this won’t be so bad, you think. Maybe I’ll be able to come into work and do my job and not have to worry too much about all the bullshit I kept hearing about.
Little did you know when you met him, but that nice fellow with the extra two stripes is hardcore about the most retarded bullshit you can possibly imagine. You see, in the military, there are a few people who make it their mission to find the tiniest detail and point it out (usually something to do with your uniform), because that’s the only thing they know how to do. Thankfully, these people are few and far between, because most understand that the whole point of being in the military is to perform a job, to come to work and fulfill a purpose, to do a task that needs to be done. However, you may end up getting one of these asshole people as a supervisor. The next thing you know, you’re getting sent home to re-iron your shirt because there’s a wrinkle in the bottom right of your back (which happens, unsurprisingly, when you sit down in a chair or a car seat). And you’d better not argue, because you’re always going to be wrong. You just have to do it. It’s the military, remember?
Maybe that same supervisor is just an asshole in general, though. Maybe you’re his first troop and he just doesn’t know what he’s doing. Many times that’s true, but it doesn’t matter. Even if you give them time, they might not change. But I’ll just wait them out until I get a new one, you might say. That’s a good idea, in theory, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that it will ever happen.
In fact, many people go several years with the same supervisors because, despite their protests, they just don’t have a choice. Unless they physically assault you or threaten you, you’re stuck with them. You hate the guy telling you what to do? Does he constantly berate you about the most retarded of things, but knows almost nothing about the job, itself? Well, tough shit, my friend. You’re destined to be together. Quite possibly forever.
1. You’ll Get Punished for Being Single
Another thing the recruiter won’t tell you is that if you go into the military without a wife, a number of things are going to happen. First, you’ll be forced to live in the dorms. For three years.
That’s right, for the next three years of your life, you’re going to live on base, in a dorm room, and it’s going to suck complete and utter ass. If you’re older, responsible, whatever, it doesn’t matter. You’re living in the dorms and that’s the end of it.
Unless you get married or have a kid.
You see, the dorms are way too small to raise a child or share with another human being. They’re about the size of a walk in closet, with just enough room between the bed and the dresser to walk from one end to another. Because of this, married people are given a housing allowance of whatever their local area allows. In some places, this can be anything from 800-1500 bucks a month. Add to that the extra money you get for food and you’re getting fucking paid. Of course, if you live in the dorms, you don’t get any of that for a very, very long time.
The reasoning behind this is that they don’t want new airmen to move off base and do stupid things like get drunk or whatever it is that new airmen do (we’ve already covered this). But even if you’ve never been in trouble and, for example, you’re 27 or 28 years old, you still can’t move off base, because (see number 6), your age doesn’t matter.
Then it comes time for deployments. If you’re single, get ready to ship out to the desert, because that’s just what happens. They’ll send you before they send the guy with the wife or kid because you’re all alone and, presumably, you don’t have any kind of girlfriend/boyfriend or loved ones who care about you.
You’ll also be first up for volunteer work. Let’s say, for example, there’s a hurricane. Well, they’re going to need someone to come in right after your base is obliterated by this Mega Death Force, and that someone is you, because you’re single. You don’t have a family that needs you or any of that bullshit. You’re an asshole who lives in the dorms. Fuck your non-existent couch.
Oh, married couples will also get extra pay when they deploy. It’s called Separation Pay. If you’re single, shut the hell up. You get NOTHING.
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So there you go. Hopefully you learned a thing or two about the military that your recruiter didn’t tell you. Don’t let this discourage you from joining, because you still get plenty of benefits, like a GI Bill, Tuition Assistance, free food, free rent (even if it’s the dorms), pretty decent work experience, and you may even get to travel. There’s plenty of reasons to join up, especially if you have nothing else going on, but just keep these things in mind when you go in, because otherwise you’ll be very surprised (and possibly discouraged). And I don’t know about you, but I hate surprises.
For more on things about the military you should probably know, check out the follow up to this article, titled 6 (More) Things You Really Need to Know Before Joining the Military! It’s filled with information about how you get paid, what things to avoid doing once you’re in, and there’s even information about job security. Enjoy!
You can also email me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org