Which Branch of the Military Should You Join?

Branch of the military

To know which branch of the military to join, we’ll give you a breakdown of about each branch in order to assist you in making the right decision about your future with the military.

Considering a military career is a life-changing decision, determine first if you are ready for a rigorous, demanding, and highly disciplined lifestyle and career. You have to be committed to your decision and not just because you are not sure or cannot find anything else to do.

Before jumping into each branch, it is best to know the enlistment standards in military service.

Joining The Military

Here are standards you should know prior to deciding to join:

Citizenship

You must be a US citizen or a resident alien/permanent immigrant with a green card, currently living in the US, and can speak, read, and write English fluently.

Age

At least 17 years old (17 with parental consent), not to exceed 39 years old, although each branch has its own age requirement as mentioned below.

Education

A high school diploma or in very few cases, GED (General Education Development) although with the latter there will be limitations with some branches.

To qualify even with a GED, you can increase your chances to be accepted by having a good score in the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, and/or earning some college units.

Credit History

You must not have a bad credit record or serious debt issues.

Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Test

There are different minimum passing scores for each branch. This test determines which branch/es you may join and which job specialties you qualify for.

Physical Fitness

You must be physically fit as military service is physically demanding. This is measured by the Body Mass Index or BMI.

There are also certain medical conditions that can disqualify you from joining the military.

Height and Weight Requirements

There are slight differences in height requirement according to branch, but it is generally between 60-80 inches tall for men and 58-78 for women. This is primarily because, along with a certain range of BMI, the uniform need not be custom-fitted.

In addition, certain jobs like that in airplanes, tanks, or shipboards will be difficult if the maximum height is exceeded.

Should the weight standards be exceeded, the body fat composition will be looked into. There are cases wherein the weight is exceeded because the applicant happens to be a bodybuilder, hence, there is the military body fat percentage calculator to check it.

Dependents

The military requires that you are able to provide ample financial support for your dependents. Thus, there is a limit to the number of dependents can have, and for any number beyond that, there must be a waiver to enlist.

The limit of the number of dependents differs per branch and this will be discussed per branch below.

Drug Use / Alcohol Dependency

Failing the drug test or alcohol dependency will get you disqualified.

Will a DUI (driving under the influence) offense/conviction immediately disqualify you from joining the military? You may find it hard to get enlisted but you still may be able to get in, it depends on the circumstances of your DUI offense.

It will make it worse though if you try to lie about it. It is best to consult your recruiter about it and in some cases, initiating a waiver can help you get in. Just make sure to disclose everything to your recruiter – full disclosure is a must.

Sexual Conduct

Deviant sexual behavior will be a reason not to be accepted into military service.

Criminal History

Any criminal record resulting in conviction is, in most cases, a reason for disqualification. This is not automatic though. You can always file for a “Criminal Waiver.”

The Military Base Pay 2019

This is a preview of the military base pay for enlisted personnel:

  Rank /
Service
< 2yrs > 2 yrs > 3 yrs > 4 yrs > 6 yrs
E7 3020.70 3296.70 3423.30 3590.10 3720.90
E6 2612.70 2875.20 3002.10 3125.40 3254.10
E5 2393.40 2554.80 2678.10 2804.40 3001.50
E4 2194.50 2307.00 2431.80 2555.40 2664.00
E3 1981.20 2105.70 2233.50 2233.50 2233.50
E2 1884.00 1884.00 1884.00 1884.00 1884.00
E1 >4 Mo 1680.90 1680.90 1680.90 1680.90 1680.90
E1 <4 Mo 1554.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00

Please note that with higher qualifications, such as college units or a degree, one can get a higher enlistment rank, (even that of an officer’s rank) and thus, higher base pay.

On top of that, there are many other special pays, allowances, and benefits that make the over-all military compensation package very competitive.

Now that the military general enlistment standards are clear, you can now look into each branch of military service and see which one you should join.

The Five Branches of the Military

There are five military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard.

Here you see the distribution of military personnel (both in active duty and reserve) as of 2017 (credit Statista)

US Military Personnel Statistics
2017 US Militry Personnel Statistics by Branch

For the enlisted personnel, each of the five military branches has literally thousands of careers available spread across several occupational fields:

  • Administrative
  • Combat Specialty
  • Construction (except for the Coast Guard)
  • Electronic and Electrical Equipment Repair
  • Engineering, Science, and Technical
  • Healthcare (except for the Marine Corps, their healthcare comes from the Navy)
  • Human Resource Development
  • Machine Operator and Production
  • Media and Public Affairs
  • Protective Service
  • Support Service
  • Transportation and Material Handling
  • Vehicle and Machinery Mechanic
  • Non-occupation or unspecified coded personnel

Based on data by the U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Manpower Data Center, as of 2017, the total enlisted personnel for each military branch numbered 1,085,286. Of that number, only 14% are in active combat.

That being said, you have a wide array of career choices per military branch. It boils down to the differences per branch in terms of lifestyle, the training, and requirements.

US Army

US Army logo

The Army serves primarily as the main ground force of the military to defend the US and its interests with ground troops, armor tanks, and weapons.

They also have specialized units such as Special Forces, the infantry, and Rangers which require additional rigorous training.

 Age Requirement

For enlistment in the army, the minimum is 17 (with parental consent) maximum age to join the army:  34 years

  Height and Weight Requirement

In the Army, the height requirement for males is from 60 inches (5 feet) to 80 inches or 6’8′ for males and 58 inches (4’10”) to 80 inches or 6’8′ for females.

As for the weight requirement, you can refer to this army body fat calculator.

 The Army ASVAB test

To qualify for Army enlistment, the Army requires a minimum ASVAB score of 31 if you have a high school diploma. With a GED, you still can enlist as long as your ASVAB score is a minimum of 50.

Also, with college credits or a college degree, you can enter the Army with a higher enlistment rank.

  Dependents

If the applicant has 2 or more dependents aside from the spouse, the Army will require a waiver.

  Army Training

Basic Combat Training (BCT): 10 weeks in one of four locations: Ft Benning in Columbus, Georgia, Fort Leonard Wood in St Robert Missouri, Fort Jackson in Colombia, South Carolina (more of non-combat), or Fort Sill in Lawton Oklahoma.

Regardless of Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), all enlisted personnel undergo the BCT because the Army believes that no matter what career path one takes, everyone should know the skill sets and basic procedures to work together properly or to defend themselves or a fellow soldier.

After the intense, physically demanding BCT, comes the Advanced Individual Training (AIT) which can be anywhere from 4 weeks to several months, depending on the soldier’s career path of choice.

The BCT and AIT are done back-to-back in the same location, the same instructor, and also the same recruits; hence it is called the One Station Unit Training (OSUT)

Army Pay and Benefits

As of 2019, all enlisted personnel regardless of branch, and entering at E-1 rank receive a basic pay of $1,554. Remember you can enlist at a higher rank, and thus have a higher starting pay depending on your educational qualification.

There are benefits specific to each branch that, overall, makes the military pay competitive.

For the Army, the benefits include:

  • Housing allowance
  • Food allowance
  • Tax advantages
  • Health care
  • Educational assistance – you can earn up to your full tuition should you decide to go to college
  • Special Pay and Special Duties
  • Recreational facilities in the bases
  • Retirement pay with 20 years served

For MOS with higher education requirements and specialties, such as medical professionals, there are special benefits so that their pay is close to that of their civilian counterpart.

The bottomline is, the overall compensation and benefits package that the Army offers is competitive.

Army Deployment and Tour of Duty

The average tour of duty is from 9 months to 1 1/2 years, but in extreme situations, like times of war, it can go beyond, as much as four years. It is also the active soldiers of the Army that get deployed the most than any other branch.

Soldiers on administrative duties can also be deployed, just not as much as combat or combat support personnel.

As for quitting the Army, you cannot just quit as you are bound by a contract. You can, however, be discharged early from the service if for any reason that you are incapacitated physically or psychologically to perform your duties.

US Air Force

The main mission of the US Air Force is to defend the United States through the use of air and space.

Age Requirement

For enlistment in the US Air Force, the minimum age is 17 (with parental consent) maximum age to join the Air Force:  39 years.

Height and Weight Requirement

In the Air Force, the height requirement for both males and females is from 58 inches (4’10”) to 80 inches or 6’8″.

As for the weight, if your Body Mass Index or BMI is above 25, you need to lose weight to be able to enlist.

To be a pilot though requires differently.

  • When standing, the height should be minimum 62 inches up to a maximum of 77 inches tall
  • When sitting, the height should be between 34-40 inches tall.
  • An Air Force pilot should be between 160-231 lbs, proportionate to the height according to BMI.

The Air Force ASVAB test

To qualify for Air Force enlistment, the Air Force requires a minimum ASVAB score of 36 if you have a high school diploma. With a GED, you still can enlist as long as your ASVAB score is a minimum of 65, though your chances are very slim with a GED.

Also, as in the Army, with college credits or a college degree, you can enter the Air Force with a higher enlistment rank.

Dependents

You may enlist in the Air Force even if you have up to two dependents. Beyond that, you will need to execute a waiver.

You cannot, however, give up custody for the purpose of enlisting in the Air Force with the intention of regaining custody after enlistment. Transferring custody for this purpose is prohibited and is cause for disqualification.

Air Force Training

The length of the Air Force Basic training (AFB) is eight weeks plus one week of in-processing.

The Air Force conducts its enlisted basic training in only one location: the Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas.  The AFB holds true whether you are enlisting to be on the active duty Air Force, the Air National Guard, or the Air Force Reserves.

With a college degree upon enlistment with the US Air Force, your military career will begin in the Officer Training School which is an intensive training program of nine and a half weeks.

Air Force Pay and Benefits

As of 2019, all Air Force recruits entering the E-1 rank, gets a basic pay of $1554. If with college units or a college degree at the time of enlistment, you can enter at a higher rank and correspondingly get a higher base pay.

Other than the basic pay, when deployed you get

  • Tax-free pay
  • Family separation pay
  • Combat/hazard pay

The other benefits in the Air Force:

  • Low-cost insurance for airmen and their families
  • Comprehensive medical and dental care
  • Food and living expenses are taken care of by Air Force for on base, while tax-free housing assistance for off-base
  • Sports recreation facilities at bases (free or better rates)
  • Vacation and travel – 30 days with pay; they can fly internationally via available space on an AF aircraft, or in almost any state
  • Educational benefits, earn college credits, be awarded scholarship for outstanding airmen, or get up to 100% Tuition assistance program
  • Retirement plan after 20 years served

Air Force Deployment and Tour of Duty

The length of deployment is anywhere between four to twelve months, depending on your job, mission requirements, and location. Deployment may happen every 20 months.

This is a great choice when you like electronics and computers.

Like in any military branch, you cannot just quit. It is a contract with a minimum of 8 years.

US Navy

Us Navy Emblem

The basic duty of the Navy is to patrol the world’s oceans to help keep it safe. This means being in naval ships, submarines, and naval aircraft where enlisted personnel are assigned in squadrons.

They also have special operations forces such as the Navy SEALs, Navy EOD, SWCC, and SAR swimmers.

Age Requirement

For enlistment in the Navy, the minimum is 17 (with parental consent) maximum age to join the Navy:  34 years

  Height and Weight Requirement

In the Navy, the height requirement for males and females is from 57 inches (4’9″) to 80 inches or 6’8″.

As for weight standards, you can use this calculator for Navy weight requirements.

  The Navy ASVAB test

To qualify for Navy enlistment, the Navy requires a minimum ASVAB score of 35 if you have a high school diploma. With a GED, you still can enlist as long as your ASVAB score is a minimum of 50.

Also, with college credits or a college degree, you can enter the Navy with a higher enlistment rank.

  Dependents

If the applicant has 2 or more dependents aside from the spouse, the Navy will require a waiver.

Navy Training

The Navy boot camp is eight weeks long in only one location: the Great Lakes Naval Training Center which is on the western shore of Lake Michigan.

One of the things for you to do prior to going to Navy boot camp is to get into shape, or you might likely get injured in this arduous training, or worse, fail.

You will also be screened for swimming skills, hence if you do not know how to, learn before going to Navy boot camp.

Navy Pay and Benefits

As of 2019, all enlisted personnel regardless of branch, and entering at E-1 rank receive a basic pay of $1,554. Remember you can enlist at a higher rank, and thus have a higher starting pay depending on your educational qualification.

There are special pays and benefits specific to the Navy.

For the Navy, the benefits include:

  • Housing allowance
  • Food allowance
  • Tax advantages
  • Health care
  • Insurance (health and life insurance)
  • Training and advancement to learn new skills
  • Educational assistance – you can earn up to your full tuition should you decide to go to college
  • Travel and recreational facilities in bases
  • Sea Pay for active members on sea duty
  • Retirement pay with 20 years served

For MOS with higher education requirements and specialties, such as medical professionals, there are special benefits so that their pay is close to that of their civilian counterpart.

Medical professionals of the Navy are also responsible for the healthcare of the Marine branch.

Adding up all the special pays and benefits makes it over-all a good compensation package.

Navy Deployment and Tour of Duty

Generally, the tour of duty in the Navy is Sea duty (3 years assigned to a ship) and 3 years of shore duty.

This does not necessarily mean you will spend 3 years at sea because there will be a lot of times that the ship you are assigned to is docked.

There will also be times you go to sea for 10 days to 2 weeks for training, but for extended operations at sea, the deployment can last up to six months.

The Navy is less rigid than the Marines or the Army, but nevertheless tough. It is great for those who like to travel.

US Marine Corps

US Marine Corps logo

The Marine Corps are active in combat, trained to fight sea and land, and reputed as among the world’s fiercest combatants.

Age Requirement

For enlistment in the Marine Corps, the minimum is 17 (with parental consent) maximum age to join the Marines:  28 years.

Height and Weight Requirement

In the Marine Corps, the height requirement for males and females is from 58 inches (4’10”) to 80 inches or 6’8″.

As for the weight requirements, should you fall below or above the Marines’ weight standards, you will be enrolled in the Body Composition Program.

 Marine Corps ASVAB test

To qualify for enlistment in the Marine Corps, a minimum ASVAB score of 32 if you have a high school diploma. With a GED, you still can enlist as long as your ASVAB score is a minimum of 50.

Also, with college credits or a college degree, you can enter the Marines Corp with a higher enlistment rank.

  Dependents

If the applicant has any dependent under the age of 18, a waiver will be required.

 Marine Corps Training

The US Marine Corps (USMC) Training boot camp is thirteen weeks long. However, prior to proceeding to boot camp, the recruit must first pass the Initial Strength Test (IST) which is composed of sit-ups, pull-ups, and a 1.5-mile run.

At week 10 or 11, the recruit must pass the Final Physical Fitness Test (PFT), which is composed of abdominal crunches, pull-ups (Flexed Arm hang for females), and a 3-mile run within a single 2-hour session.

There are two locations, for the west side it shall be in San Diego, while for the east side it shall be in Parris Island, South Carolina, which is also the only training ground for the female recruits.

USMC Pay and Benefits

As of 2019, all enlisted personnel regardless of branch, and entering at E-1 rank receive a basic pay of $1,554. Remember you can enlist at a higher rank, and thus have a higher starting pay depending on your educational qualification.

There are special pays and benefits for members of the Marine Corps. These benefits include:

  • Housing allowance
  • Food allowance
  • Tax advantages
  • Health care
  • Insurance (health and life insurance)
  • Training and advancement to learn new skills
  • Educational assistance – you can earn up to your full tuition should you decide to go to college
  • Travel and recreational facilities in bases
  • Sea Pay for active members on sea duty
  • Retirement pay with 20 years served

The Marine Corps enjoys health care from the medical professionals in the Navy.

Adding up all the special pays and benefits makes it over-all a good compensation package.

Marine Deployment and Tour of Duty

Marines deploy anywhere from 6 months to a year. It has been said that it is hardest to get into the Marines.

The Marines are known to be riflemen first, and any Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) is second. They are always on the front lines and the US’s first line of defense.

That being said, the Marine Corps is reputed to be the toughest military branch and the most feared as well. The PFT is taken by each Marine every 6 months.

Coast Guard

US Coast Guard logo

The Coast Guard’s main mission is search and rescue operations in the sea, as well as maritime law enforcement against illegal immigrations.

Age Requirement

To be a member of the Coast Guard, the minimum is 17 (with parental consent) maximum age to join the Coast Guard:  31 years.

 Height and Weight Requirement

To be part of the Coast Guard, the height requirement for males and females is from 58 inches (4’10”) to 80 inches or 6’8″.

For the weight requirement, the Coast Guard bases it on Body Mass Index, the minimum should be 19 and the maximum is 27.5.

 Coast Guard ASVAB test

To qualify as part of the Coast Guard, you need a minimum ASVAB score of 36 if you have a high school diploma. With a GED, you still can enlist as long as your ASVAB score is a minimum of 50, but you will have difficulty getting accepted as a member of the Coast Guard.

Also, with college credits or a college degree, you can be part with a higher enlistment rank.

  Dependents

The Coast Guard requires a waiver if the applicant has more than one dependent (or two if enlisting at E-4 rank) other than the spouse.

 Coast Guard Training

The Coast Guard Training boot camp is eight weeks long and is held in only one location: the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, New Jersey.

The Coast Guard Physical Fitness test is tough.

  • Sit-ups: (60 sec) 38 for male and 32 for female
  • Push-ups: (60 sec) 29 for male and 15 for female
  • Run: (1.5 miles) 12:51 for male and 15:26 for female
  • Sit and Reach*: 16.5 for male and 19.29 for female
  • Swim Circuit Test: Tread water 5 minutes
  • Jump off a 5 ft platform and into the pool, swim 100 meters

(*The Sit and Reach is a test of flexibility as to how far you can reach your feet with legs and feet together, you must be able to reach for your feet 16.5″ for male and 19.29″ for female past your knees)

Coast Guard Pay and Benefits

As of 2019, all enlisted personnel regardless of branch, and entering at E-1 rank receive a basic pay of $1,554. Remember you can enlist at a higher rank, and thus have a higher starting pay depending on your educational qualification.

There are special pays and benefits for members of the Coast Guard. The benefits include:

  • Housing allowance
  • Food allowance
  • Tax advantages
  • Health care
  • Insurance (health and life insurance)
  • Training and advancement to learn new skills
  • Educational assistance – you can earn up to your full tuition should you decide to go to college
  • 30 days paid vacation per year
  • Sea pay
  • Free travel via military space available flights
  • Recreational facilities in bases
  • Retirement pay with 20 years served

Adding up all the special pays and benefits makes it over-all a good compensation package.

Coast Guard Deployment and Tour of Duty

While during peace time, their main responsibilities include search and rescue missions, maritime law enforcement, and environmental protection. They also get deployed in times of war and conflict.

During times of war or conflict, the president can transfer any or all assets of the Coast Guard to the Navy.

Best Military Branch

There is always a question as to which military branch is the best. There is no single answer here as it depends on your personal preferences.

The key details of the five military branches have been given enough to make you decide. The common thread is it takes a lot of discipline, commitment, and dedication to pursue any of these military careers.

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