Military Careers

Here is an extensive career guide that elaborates on the path for careers in military, the job outlook, salaries, qualifications required and much more.

Updated by Rakshitha.N on 8th September 2020

What do they do: The U.S.Military enlisted personnel function, operate combat vehicles, maintain the equipment and warfares during missions and expeditions. The officers have higher tasks such as directing, planning, managing and leading the troops. 

Working environment: The working environment faced by the military employees is long, irregular, work irrespective of holidays and seasons. They work in harsh, intense, unpredictable yet challenging and rewarding conditions. 

How to become: To become a military employee, you require a high school diploma or an equal certification. Also, get training through the approved training programs offered by colleges and universities. Officer requires a bachelor's degree as the minimum requirements. 

Salary offered: The salary offered to new hires for an entry-level job can range between $19,000 and $30,000 yearly. The salary differs from one branch to another and increases as the experience and skills increase. 

Career Outlook: The employment opportunities are increasing as the U.S. defense system diverges into wide branches. Sources estimate that it has grown significantly over the past years. 

Similar careers: the job opportunities are immense to candidates specialized in various other fields such as healthcare, information technology, electronics, and others. 

Branches in Military

Started in 1775, the U.S. military has a great history formed under the commands of George Washington. The Continental Congress established the army, navy, and marine divisions which has now emerged as one of the strongest armed forces. Operating under the Department of Defense choosing a career in any of these Armed Forces is one great way to serve for the nation. The Department of Homeland Security commands the Coast Guard and State leaders to the  National Guard. The U.S President directs all the branches through Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense.

The careers in the fields are not like any other routine job, it is more of a valuable, challenging, satisfying, volatile, unpredictable, and adventuresome. Here is a detailed description of the different branches in the U.S. Military.

Air Force: United States Air Force which was jointly directed with other armed forces by the U.S. military aviation was established distinctly after the National Security Act was passed in 1974. Currently, the Air Force being the largest air force in the world holds a total of 320,000 active personnel who work full-time, part-time and are benefited by the on-the-job training, tuition fees reimbursement, housing facilities and other. With several departments to function well, the Air Force acts as a bridge to the country's control capabilities through networking.

Army: Second Congressional Congress established the U.S. Army in 1775 which aimed at working on the land to control the resources through battles and performing several other responsibilities. The Army is the largest among the branches of military forces currently exists with more than 472,000 active employees. Army functions in multichannel transmission systems, cybersecurity strategies, handling combat vehicles and advanced weapons.

Coastal guards: With long history records, The U.S. Coast Guard was started in 1790 established by the United States Revenue Cutter Service. The coastal guards perform under the directions of the Department of Homeland Security and a part of the navy. With a total of 42,000 active employees, they perform in providing waterway security, security at ports, navigational aids in addition to protecting marine life.

Marine Corps: The U.S.Marine Corps established by the National Security Act of 1947 works under the direction of the Department of Defense with the Navy during expeditions. They operate as a defense to naval bases; highly trained in using asymmetrical warfare, infantry tactics; follow the directions of the President.

Navy: The U.S.Navy is the largest navy in the world with more than 337,000 active personnel, 290 deployable combat vessels, 3,700 operational aircraft and over 101,500 additional servicemen. The Navy performs an array of operations such as develop, equip, maintain the armed equipment to win wars and combat at the right time. 

The Reserve: The reserves are part-time employees in the United States Armed Forces who work for 39 days a year during national emergencies and wartime missions and when necessary. There are 7 reserve components allocated for each branch of the U.s. military and fall under 3 divisions such as Ready Reserve, the Standby Reserve, and Retired Reserve.

The National Guard: The U.S National Guard were the early regiments formed in the 1600s. Present-day, there are armed forces consisting of units from 50 states. The majority of employees work full-time in civilian jobs and part-time as National Guard airmen and soldiers. 

Types of Enlisted Personnel

Now you know how huge the U.S. Military is, among them, there are types of employment opportunities for the enlisted personnel, they are listed as follows,

Administrative personnel: the Administrative personnel oversee the information regarding the equipment, funds, employees and other military-related such as finance, accounting, legal affairs, maintenance, supply, and transportation.

Combat specialty personnel: They are expertise in and work as a part of the combat units who train other employees working in infantry, artillery, or Special Forces.

Construction personnel: These employees work towards building, maintaining and repairing the airfields, bridges, and other structures by collaborating with the engineers specialized in plumbing, electrical wiring, or water purification.

Engineering, science, and technical personnel: The engineering and science team is technically sound in performing, analysing, problem-solving, operating, ad deriving results with the use of,

  • Technology to maintain the network, communication system and computers.

  • Intelligence specialists who gather data and present during military planning.

  • Environmental health and safety specialists oversee the facilities, food available to ensure safety.

Healthcare personnel: They provide healthcare facilities to military employees and their family with emergency medical treatment during wars and in remote places. 

Human resources development personnel: The employees in the HR department of the military services work towards hiring potential candidates, train them and place them in suitable departments. The positions include, 

  • Recruitment specialist: They hire the best candidate and explain about the military departments, their roles and duties.

  • Personnel specialist: Record data about the military personnel and their job profiles and requirements to hire best.

  • Training specialist: Provide appropriate training and instructions to perform duties.

Transportation and material-handling personnel: They are responsible of transportation functions  and operating aircraft, motor vehicle, or ship including,

  • Aircraft mechanics

  • Automotive and heavy-equipment mechanics

  • Heating and cooling mechanics

  • Marine engine mechanics

Types of Officers

With a number of departments within the U.S. Military, the types of officers are detailed below,

Combat specialty officers: The offices direct, plan, and coordinate the operation and activities of the military. Also oversee armored assault vehicles, artillery systems, special operations, or infantry units.

Engineering, science, and technical officers: the officers have high technical knowledge which are applied to solve problems in areas such as meteorologists, networking, social aspects and others. 

Executive, administrative, and managerial officers: They handle the administrative tasks in areas such as human resources management, training, personnel, information, police, or other support services.

Healthcare officers: they work towards providing health services to personnel to ensure medications and safety during emergencies. They can work with a specialization such as nursing, pharmaceuticals, therapies, physician and psychology.  

Human resource development officers: they are officers who work in managing the recruitment of persons as per requirements, provide training and other benefits. 

Support services officers: The officers work as support systems in the military activities such as logistics, transportation, and supply.

Transportation officers: They manage transportation activities to ensure safe transport through air, ground, and water.

Career path in the military

Serving the National defense system, and choosing the career path in military services is a popular option. With diverse career paths and grades available, you can choose to shape your skills and requirements based on your interests. Some challenging and rewarding paths are detailed below,

Army Automobile Maintenance Warrant Officer (915A):

The career outcomes of this job profile is similar to a civilian Shop Foreman who works in automobile dealerships or repair shops. They perform roles such as equipment recovery, repair parts ordering and stock-age, body and hull repair, welding, electronics, armament, production control and quality control. You must have a grade of Warrant Officer 1 (WO1) to Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CW4) for this position. 

The education required is a high school diploma, Enlisted E-5 or above with a minimum of 5 years, and a recommendation letter from a Senior Warrant Officer

Air Force Pilot:

Aiming to become a pilot is a challenging career path, and qualifying to work as a pilot will also offer opportunities to work in military sectors.  Air Force pilots are responsible to fly bomber, fighter, tanker or cargo planes, or rotary-wing (helicopter) aircraft or can be an Instructor Qualified who direct and instruct the new hires and pilots with skills. 

Requirements for this profession is to gain a bachelor’s degree in majors such as aerospace engineering, physics, computer science or chemistry. Later clear the Class I Flying Physical, tests, complete Officer Commissioning course from Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program

Navy Flight Support

Both officers and enlisted can take part in joining this profession which is performed under Aviation Maintenance Duty Officers (AMDO) are Flight Support Supervisors. The roles include operational support, maintaining equipment, materials, manpower, also overseeing the functioning of landing gears, brakes and related systems. The education requirements are a four-year bachelor's degree. 

Marine Corps Military Police:

The marine corps branch is one of the most skilled and trained among the other branches. Also it required Marine policing activities performing duties similar to civilian counterparts. Their duties include military law enforcement, traffic control, security, crime prevention, intelligence gathering, and patrolling. The education requirements does not include post-secondary education, but it is required to score 100 or higher in ASVAB GT, additionally, you must submit a secret security clearance. 

Navy Nurse Corp

The nursing field is diverse, but working for a Navy Nurse is similar to the civilian counterpart. The tasks performed are checking the body conditions, recording vital signs, treating patients, dressing wounds, managing triage and also providing emergency care to natural disaster victims. The education requirements to become a nurse is to complete a nursing training from an accredited program, complete training and get certified. Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) also provides scholarships to nursing schools up to $180,000. 

What do Military employees Do?

The active members working in the military perform duties and roles to serve for the National defense system. Of the total, 82 percent are Enlisted personnel, 18 percent are officers distributed over all the areas. 

The duties of Enlisted personnel are listed as follows, 

  • Actively involved in the military operations, training operations, expeditions and combat.

  • They perform, operate and function using advanced equipment and technologies

  • Maintain and repair equipment, building and systems

  • Work in the supporting unit and technical areas

  • Oversee the performance of the junior enlisted personnel

The duties of Officers are listed as follows, 

  • They direct, plan and coordinate the military-related activities

  • They lead and guide the troops and enlisted personnel

  • They manage the operations of the branches

  • Command the operation of aircraft, ships, or armored vehicles

  • Provide overall services such as medical, legal, engineering to military personnel

Working Conditions in Military

The Working environment you can expect while working in military employment depends on the branch, specialty, unit and several other factors. The working conditions are,

  • Requires both physical and mental fitness to perform well

  • Always be ready to support and be part of the combats and missions

  • Work for long periods in a dangerous and violent environment

  • Travel to remote places to carry out missions

  • Service members move regularly for training or job assignments

  • Rotations can last for 2 to 4 years

  • Can be deployed internationally to defend U.S. national interests

  • Prime to injuries and death which placed at dangerous situations

  • Work full-time actively and also part-time

  • Be prepared to work additional hours to fulfill missions

  • The working environment can be stressful and intense

  • Work away from family and home for months together.

Being said that the U.S.military is a huge armed force and over more than 2.1 million active people choose to serve in the national defense system, the numerical figures working in each division are,

  • Army: 468,783

  • Navy: 330,949

  • Air Force: 327,039

  • Marines: 186,814

  • Reserves: 800,818

  • Coast Guard: 41,250

How to join the Military?

If you are interested in pursuing your career by joining the U.S.Military, there are certain necessary requirements where the initial filters are age, education, aptitude, physical, and character criteria. However, the requirements to join the military may vary from one branch to another. Certain basic requirement re,

  • Must be an aged a minimum of 17 years or above

  • Must be a U.S. citizen or have permanent resident status

  • Must complete a high school diploma or equivalent GED

  • Never convicted of a felony

  • Should pass the pass a medical exam

  • Must have the consent of a parent or legal guardian

Age limit to enter into the active-duty service are listed below,

  • Army- maximum age is 34

  • Navy- maximum age is 34

  • Marine Corps- maximum age is 29

  • Air Force- maximum age is 39

  • Coast Guard- maximum age is 27

The applications first go through a screening process to check one’s height, weight, vision, and overall health. Next, Officers and some enlisted personnel must obtain a security clearance. Candidates must go through the training process in federal service academies must be independent and not married. However, you can win scholarships available for military dependents which are rewarded based on certain criteria.

The specialties are allocated to members based on their aptitude, training performance, and their interested ranch. Signing a contract is mandatory to ensure the dedication of a fixed number of services.

Women can also participate and enter military specialties. The employer conducts the recruitment process, determines the potential of the candidate to perform well, and explains the various branches and specialties under the military services. 

Become an enlisted member: To become enlisted personnel, you must take up the placement exam called the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) which determines the capabilities and the specialties at which they are strong. Later, you must pass the physical examination and then sign a contract to agree to the terms and conditions which details the length of active-duty or reserve-duty time, the length and kind of job training, and the amount. The usual length of enlistments can be 4 years or 2, 3, and 6-year programs.

Become an officer: You can become an officer by completing minimum education of bachelor's degree, meeting the essential requirements such as being U.S. citizen, age limit and other. You are also required to clear the background check and physical exam. Clearing the ASVAB isn't necessary for officers but you must gain training through the federal service academies or through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) programs offered at many colleges and universities.

Educational requirements to work in the Military

To enter a branch of the Armed Forces candidates must have completed high school graduation or GED or equivalent credentials. Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is a preliminary exam you must clear to determine your potential for the military career. 

To become an officer in the military, you are required to earn a bachelor’s degree which takes 4 years to complete coursework. The course work includes both general and core courses based on the major you choose. You must also complete the training requirements offered by colleges through federal service academies (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine), the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) programs, Officer Candidate School (OCS), and other programs.

For instance, if you want to enter the military field as a healthcare officer, you'll need a bachelor's degree in biology or another healthcare-related field. 

Training and Certifications to work in Military

Training: Once hired newly to the Armed Forces, one must complete the initial training termed as boot camp which takes about 7 to 13 weeks. Under this program, candidates are trained on weapons training, team building, and rigorous physical exercise. After the basic training, training programs for the particular military occupational specialty. It lasts for about 10 to 20 weeks which covers on-the-job training at their first duty assignment.

Officers are trained a number of programs offered by colleges such as, 

  • Federal Service Academies: This program offers a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree with free rooms, free tuition, free medical and dental care. The graduates have a 5-year or more on active-duty obligation. The nominees are required to get their academic record, college aptitude test scores, and recommendation letter verified. Also pass the medical and background check. To get into Coast Guard Academy, is based on merit and not nominees. 

  • Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC): ROTC programs are designed to train officers with regular college courses plus 3 to 5 hours of military instruction per week. After graduation, you are eligible to serve at the Reserves or National Guard. 

  • Officer Candidate School (OCS) or Officer Training School (OTS): graduates can choose this training program in Army, Navy, Airforce, Marine corps, Coastal guards, and national guards. The program includes training on academics, physical and leadership aspects.

  • Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences: Officers trained through this program can work in the health occupations of the military forces. Interested medical students can apply for the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree under this program which in turn expects you to dedicate at least 7 years to work for the military or the U.S. Public Health Service.


In addition to getting trained, you can gain a license or certification to obtain suitable credentials to enter for the civilian position. With more job opportunities in the army alone, the certification will help in getting a higher probability to enter the military. 

  • Credentials in health fields are valuable such as x-ray technician, dental assistant, or Physician’s Assistant (PA),

  • Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) will help in getting an easy transfer to the civilian sector to operate vehicles loaded with war equipment.

  • Cisco or Microsoft or any computer-specific certification will help in gaining a job in the military to perform the network, information technology or similar jobs.

Stand Out Skills required for military employees

With numerous career paths in the military forces, the employer looks for specific skills in the candidates. Hence, implementing certain skills listed below will help you stand out among the applicants.

Physical fitness and stamina: Physical and mental fitness are two major things necessary to work for the armed forces. The Military members are trained in such a way that their physical and mental fitness mold to intense and stressful situations. Having good physical stamina will help in working better and less susceptible to injuries. 

Team member: The military forces work in teams and relies on team effort to get things done during combats and missions. Working together in unity helps in learning together, and putting efforts as one. One of the first things tight in boot camps is working in teams. 

Patriotism: Regardless of any position in the army, you must have the patriotic feeling within to serve for the nation, defending the Constitution without question is a great way to earn success. 

Adaptability: you cannot expect things to be constant while working in the military, everything changes dynamically and you must be adaptable and ready to adjust into any situation, adapting to uncertainty and overcoming the challenge is a key to a successful career in the military.

Empathy: working in the military, you expect to work in all types of environmental conditions- severe, violent, unhealthy or hostile. You just be willing to relate to any local socio-economic background, race, culture and religions

Top University Programs to pursue Career in Military 

  • Stanford University

  • Dartmouth College

  • Cornell University

  • The University of California—Los Angeles 

  • University of Southern California

  • Georgetown University

  • Carnegie Mellon University

  • University of Michigan- Ann Arbor

Also, there is a list of military-friendly colleges suitable for your career goals and interests.

Military Career Salaries

The average salaries offered to employees working in the U.S.Military varies based on the experience, specialization,  time in service, branch and other factors. The basic pay for an entry-level military recruit can start from $19,000 to $30,000. In addition to the salaries, they are also benefited by facilities such as healthcare, free or subsidized housing, food, education retirement funds and others.

As the level of experience increases the wages increase, completing assignments, continuing higher education, getting certified, or working in expeditions such as foreign, hazardous, submarine, or flight duty, or for being medical or dental officers can get paid additionally. 

The U.S officers are paid well and the wages depend on the branches they work in,

  • US Navy Military Officer salaries: $110,570

  • US Marine Corps Military Officer salaries: $93,935

  • US Army Military Officer salaries: $80,424

  • US Air Force Military Officer salaries: $109,188

Students can also borrow student loans, in turn, to serve for the national defense and can get their military student loan forgiven

Job Growth of Career in Military

The military of the U.S traces a long history and has emerged significantly into one of the strongest and largest armed forces. The divisions now include Army, navy, air Force, the Reserve, Army National Guard, and Air National Guard.

With more than 2.1 million employees currently active, the Armed Forces aim at maintaining forces allocated to fight, and overcome various threats simultaneously at multiple areas. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the job outlook of the civilian workforce and determines the employment opportunities created are massive over the past 10 years. 

However, sources estimate the job growth of military forces to be more about 53 percent during the period of 2012 to 2022 due to the emerging branches, subdivisions and implementation of advanced technologies to combat enemies. 

Related Careers in Military

As you volunteer and prepare to enter the military career, you can be directly or indirectly be involved in serving the nation. Some related careers are,

Information technology specialist:

Median salary: $50,391

The IT specialists working for the military are responsible for the implementation, monitoring, and maintenance of IT systems, information, security, communication systems, and others. They also solve computer-related problems such as software, hardware, networks, cloud platforms and technical bugs. The average growth of this job is about 16 percent. 

Law enforcement

Median salary: $41,725

Law enforcement is responsible to enforce the law in order to maintain public safety and harmony. The professional organized and enforced the laws after discovering, deterring, rehabilitating, or punishing people who violate rules. The job growth in this career is about 5 percent. 

Auto mechanic

Median salary: $37,140

An auto mechanic working for the military supervises the maintenance and repair operations of tactical wheeled vehicles and systems such as trailers, material handling equipment, and remote weapon stations. The job growth of this employment is about 9 percent.

Aircraft repairer:

Median salary: $43,333

The aircraft structural repairer works for the army who is primarily responsible for monitoring, inspecting, supervising and performing the repairing operations on the aircraft. As a number of missions are strengthened by the support of aircraft, they must be maintained and ensured that it's ready to fly. The job growth of this occupation is about 2 percent.