Some countries have mandatory military service. Luckily in the eyes of many Americans, the US isn’t among them. But a curious foreigner who turned to an Ask An American forum wanted to know, “What’s the incentive for Americans to join the Army?” Americans shared their perspectives.
Note: Some quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for grammar.
1: It’s a Job
Over 400 people agreed with an American who said that people join the Army because they “consider it a job like any other.” They explain, “You sign a contract. You do the work outlined in the contract. You get paid.”
2: Career Path
The same commenter noted that some soldiers sign up for the Army to build their careers. By doing so, they can “reenlist or go on into officer training to earn commissions.”
3: Trick or Treating for Vets
A soldier jokes, “I joined for the free meals at Applebee’s on 11 NOV every year.” Another person agrees. “My colleagues plot their Veterans Day circuit every year. ‘Here for lunch and then go here because they give gift certificates instead of comping the meal, and then I’m going to get my free cookie, and…’ Like trick or treating for vets.”
4: Ditto on the Perks
While one soldier admits, “I feel weird declaring my status for a free lunch,” they don’t turn away from the 365-day perks available to current and former military members. “I 100% rock that Home Depot/Lowe’s 10% year-round.”
5: And More Perks
Another American chimes in saying “Free college, free healthcare, (relatively) high pay, [and] no annual fee on Amex Platinum” are some reasons people join the Army.
6: Only Option
A soldier who found themself homeless at 18 says they joined the Army because they “had no realistic options after high school.” They explained how the “Army offered housing, health care, a job with steady pay, [and] travel,” along with a free college education after they enlisted.
7: Why Not?
An Army vet cites not wanting to rely on their parents for a college education and having “nothing better to do” as reasons for joining the military. “I scored high in the ASVAB but chose to ride tanks for four years. Totally voluntary, and NOT because I couldn’t get a top-secret security clearance.” They admit that while they enjoyed their four-year service, they couldn’t see themself sticking it out for 20 years.
8: Finding Purpose
A now-retired Army veteran says they chose to enlist at 17 years old because they were poor and hated school. The result? “The Army gave me direction. Discipline. A sense of purpose.” They explain that within six years, they had gotten enough experience under their belt to become successful in life, including going to college and getting a job. They retired at 50 years old and describe themself as, “Living well. Not rich, but comfortable.”
9: Lifelong Benefits
One commenter suggests that many people chose to join the Army because there are “about a thousand different benefits,” and lifelong ones, at that. They point out that being a current or former military member makes it easier to buy a house and that most of the people they know joined the Army because they wanted a free college education or experience to become a cop or fireman.
A soldier agrees with the sentiment of joining the Army for its perks, particularly for homeowners-to-be. “I definitely wouldn’t own a house right now if it weren’t for a VA-guaranteed loan with no money down.”
11: Show Me the Money
Sign-on bonuses are a driving factor for people joining the military. One person comments that some people receive as much as $50,000. They also note that not only do Americans who serve in the Army receive free college tuition, but they also receive free training and certifications in other areas if they choose, such as aviation.
12: The Making of an American
Joining the Army “can be a path to citizenship for permanent residents.” Given how difficult gaining US citizenship is, this is a big incentive for many foreigners living in the US.
What the Army Isn’t
A commenter made it clear that there’s a largely untrue notion that many, if not most, soldiers join the Army because they “view it as a patriotic duty or a calling.” While they acknowledge that such American soldiers are out there, “they’re not nearly as plentiful as some would believe. These kinds of enlistment usually come about from family traditions of everyone in the house being soldiers.”
Hear Me Out
A former marine shares a different point of view. “I enlisted [in the military] because I wanted to serve my country and fight terrorism, following in a long family line. I also wanted to gain some good benefits and a skill set that would remain useful throughout my life.” They made special note that, unlike some people, they didn’t join the military for status or bragging rights.
An Army veteran says that unlike what many Americans assume, the Army is composed of people from many backgrounds. “Some were dirt poor, a few were rich, and most were middle class. Most were only high school educated, but a good chunk of us had some college education, especially those of us who were in for a bit and utilized the tuition assistance program.”
Gotta Be Tough
A Navy veteran speaks on behalf of the military community, including a laundry list of pros that cause Americans to want to serve. Free housing, free food, a “pretty livable” wage, making best friends, and gaining life skills were among them. But they urge people to note that with great benefits come great sacrifices. They said life is incredibly hard in the military, and the rules are stringent. “Point is, you get out of it what you put into it.”
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