Military Careers

What They Do

military careers image
Some members of the military are deployed to other countries or regions to defend U.S. national interests.

Members of the U.S. military service maintain the U.S. national defense. While some service members work in occupations specific to the military, such as fighter pilots or infantrymen, many work in occupations that also exist in the civilian workplace, such as nurses, doctors, and lawyers. Members serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, or in the Reserve components of these branches, and in the Air National Guard and Army National Guard. (The Coast Guard, which is included in this profile, is part of the Department of Homeland Security.)

Duties

The military distinguishes between enlisted and officer careers. Enlisted personnel make up about 82 percent of the Armed Forces and carry out military operations. The remaining 18 percent are officers—military leaders who manage operations and enlisted personnel. About 8 percent of officers are warrant officers. They are technical and tactical experts in a specific area; for example, Army aviators make up one group of warrant officers.

Enlisted personnel typically do the following:

  • Participate in, or support, military operations, such as combat or training operations, or humanitarian or disaster relief
  • Operate, maintain, and repair equipment
  • Perform technical and support activities
  • Supervise junior enlisted personnel

Officers typically do the following:

  • Plan, organize, and lead troops and activities in military operations
  • Manage enlisted personnel
  • Operate and command aircraft, ships, or armored vehicles
  • Provide medical, legal, engineering, and other services to military personnel

Types of Enlisted Personnel

The following are examples of types of occupations for enlisted personnel:

Administrative personnel maintain information on personnel, equipment, funds, and other military-related activities. They work in support areas, such as finance, accounting, legal affairs, maintenance, supply, and transportation.

Combat specialty personnel train and work in combat units, such as the infantry, artillery, or Special Forces. For example, infantry specialists conduct ground combat operations, armored vehicle specialists operate battle tanks, and seamanship specialists maintain ships. Combat specialty personnel may maneuver against enemy forces and fire artillery, guns, mortars, or missiles to neutralize them. They may also operate various types of combat vehicles, such as amphibious assault vehicles, tanks, or small boats. Members of elite Special Forces teams are trained to perform specialized missions anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice.

Construction personnel build or repair buildings, airfields, bridges, and other structures. They may also operate heavy equipment, such as bulldozers or cranes. They work with engineers and other building specialists as part of military construction teams. Some construction personnel specialize in an area such as plumbing, electrical wiring, or water purification.

Electronic and electrical equipment repair personnel maintain and repair electronic equipment used by the military. Repairers specialize in an area such as aircraft electrical systems, computers, optical equipment, communications, or weapons systems. For example, weapons electronic maintenance technicians maintain and repair electronic components and systems that help locate targets and help aim and fire weapons.

Engineering, science, and technical personnel perform a variety of tasks, such as operating technical equipment, solving problems, and collecting and interpreting information. They perform technical tasks in information technology, environmental health and safety, or intelligence:

  • Environmental health and safety specialists inspect military facilities and food supplies to ensure that they are safe for use and consumption.
  • Information technology specialists manage and maintain computer and network systems.
  • Intelligence specialists gather information and prepare reports for military planning and operations.

Healthcare personnel provide medical services to military personnel and their family members. They may work as part of a patient-service team with doctors, nurses, or other healthcare professionals. Some specialize in providing emergency medical treatment in combat or remote areas. Others specialize in laboratory testing of tissue and blood samples; maintaining pharmacy supplies or patients’ records; assisting with dental procedures; operating diagnostic tools, such as x-ray and ultrasound machines; or other healthcare tasks.

Human resources development personnel recruit qualified people into the military, place them in suitable occupations, and provide training programs: 

  • Personnel specialists maintain information about military personnel and their training, job assignments, promotions, and health.
  • Recruiting specialists provide information about military careers; explain pay, benefits, and military life; and recruit individuals into the military.
  • Training specialists and instructors teach military personnel how to perform their jobs.

Machine operator and repair personnel operate industrial equipment and machinery to make and repair parts for a variety of equipment and structures. They may operate engines, nuclear reactors, or water pumps, usually performing a specific job. Welders and metalworkers, for example, work with various types of metals to repair or form the structural parts of ships, buildings, or equipment. Survival equipment specialists inspect, maintain, and repair survival equipment, such as parachutes and aircraft life-support equipment.

Media and public affairs personnel prepare and present information about military activities to the military and the public. They take photographs, make video programs, present news and music programs, or conduct interviews.

Protective service personnel enforce military laws and regulations and provide emergency responses to disasters:

  • Firefighters prevent and extinguish fires in buildings, on aircraft, and aboard ships.
  • Military police responsibilities include controlling traffic, preventing crime, and responding to emergencies.
  • Other law enforcement and security specialists investigate crimes committed on military property and guard inmates in military correctional facilities.

Support service personnel provide services that support the morale and well-being of military personnel and their families:

  • Food service specialists prepare food in dining halls, hospitals, and ships.
  • Religious program specialists assist chaplains with religious services, religious education programs, and related administrative duties.

Transportation and material-handling personnel transport military personnel and cargo. Most personnel within this occupational group are classified according to the mode of transportation, such as aircraft, motor vehicle, or ship:

  • Aircrew members operate equipment on aircraft.
  • Cargo specialists load and unload military supplies, using forklifts and cranes.
  • Quartermasters and boat operators navigate and pilot many types of small watercraft, including tugboats, gunboats, and barges.
  • Vehicle drivers operate various military vehicles, including fuel or water tank trucks.

Vehicle and machinery mechanical personnel conduct preventive and corrective maintenance on aircraft, automotive and heavy equipment, and powerhouse station equipment. These workers specialize by the type of equipment that they maintain:

  • Aircraft mechanics inspect and service various types of aircraft.
  • Automotive and heavy-equipment mechanics maintain and repair vehicles, such as Humvees, trucks, tanks, and other combat vehicles. They also repair bulldozers and other construction equipment.
  • Heating and cooling mechanics install and repair air-conditioning, refrigeration, and heating equipment.
  • Marine engine mechanics repair and maintain engines on ships, boats, and other watercraft.
  • Powerhouse mechanics install, maintain, and repair electrical and mechanical equipment in power-generating stations.

Table 1. Active duty enlisted personnel by broad occupational group and branch of military, and Coast Guard, May 2015

Enlisted

Army

Air Force

Coast Guard

Marine Corps

Navy

Total enlisted personnel in each occupational group

Occupational group

Administrative

6,140

14,046

1,507

12,018

18,635

52,346

Combat Specialty 

109,625

677

649

39,350

8,388

158,689

Construction 

15,313

5,195

6,252

3,987

30,747

Electronic and Electrical Equipment Repair 

31,051

29,310

4,341

16,822

48,236

129,760

Engineering, Science, and Technical 

43,567

49,162

1,256

26,917

39,611

160,513

Healthcare 

29,986

15,441

707

25,345

71,479

Human Resource Development 

16,558

7,720

1

2,214

3,941

30,434

Machine Operator and Production 

4,107

6,063

1,688

2,539

8,542

22,939

Media and Public Affairs 

6,646

7,095

136

2,439

3,859

20,175

Protective Service 

21,802

32,573

2,720

6,096

12,011

75,202

Support Service 

9,901

4,981

1,145

2,263

8,129

26,419

Transportation and Material Handling 

48,096

27,840

9,879

23,213

37,709

146,737

Vehicle and Machinery Mechanic 

45,344

41,555

5,532

21,511

47,353

161,295

Non-occupation or unspecified coded personnel

2,984

5,038

1,439

1,161

2,555

13,177

Total enlisted personnel for each military branch and Coast Guard

391,120

246,696

31,000

162,795

268,301

1,099,912

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Manpower Data Center

Types of Officers

The following are examples of types of officers:

Combat specialty officers plan and direct military operations, oversee combat activities, and serve as combat leaders. They may be in charge of tanks and other armored assault vehicles, artillery systems, special operations, or infantry units. This group also includes naval surface warfare and submarine warfare officers, combat pilots, and aircrews.

Engineering, science, and technical officers’ responsibilities depend on their area of expertise. They work in scientific and professional occupations, such as atmospheric scientists, meteorologists, physical scientists, biological scientists, social scientists, attorneys, and other types of scientists or professionals. For example, meteorologists in the military may study the weather to assist in planning flight paths for aircraft.

Executive, administrative, and managerial officers manage administrative functions in the Armed Forces, such as human resources management, training, personnel, information, police, or other support services. Officers who oversee military bands are included in this category.

Healthcare officers provide medical services to military personnel in order to maintain or improve their health and physical readiness. Officers such as physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and dentists examine, diagnose, and treat patients. Other healthcare officers provide therapy, rehabilitative treatment, and additional healthcare for patients:

  • Dentists treat diseases, disorders, and injuries of the mouth.
  • Nurses provide and coordinate patient care in military hospitals and clinics.
  • Optometrists treat vision problems and prescribe glasses, contact lenses, or medications.
  • Pharmacists purchase, store, and dispense drugs and medicines.
  • Physical therapists and occupational therapists plan and administer therapy to help patients adjust to injuries, regain independence, and return to work.
  • Physicians, surgeons, and physician assistants examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses, and provide treatment to military and their families.
  • Psychologists provide mental healthcare and may also conduct research on behavior and emotions.

Human resource development officers manage recruitment, placement, and training programs in the military:

  • Personnel managers direct and oversee military personnel functions, such as job assignments, staff promotions, and career counseling.
  • Recruiting managers direct and oversee recruiting personnel and recruiting activities.
  • Training and education directors identify training needs and develop and manage educational programs.

Media and public affairs officers oversee the development, production, and presentation of information or events for the military and the public. They manage the production of videos and television and radio broadcasts that are used for training, news, and entertainment. Some plan, develop, and direct the activities of military bands. Public affairs officers respond to public inquiries about military activities and prepare news releases.

Protective service officers are responsible for the safety and protection of individuals and property on military bases and vessels. Emergency management officers plan and prepare for all types of disasters. They develop warning, evacuation, and response procedures in preparation for disasters. Law enforcement and security officers enforce all applicable laws on military bases and oversee investigations of crimes.

Support services officers manage military activities in key functional areas, such as logistics, transportation, and supply. They may oversee the transportation and distribution of materials by ground vehicles, aircraft, or ships. They also direct food service facilities and other support activities. Purchasing and contracting managers negotiate and monitor contracts for equipment, supplies, and services that the military buys from the private sector.

Transportation officers manage and perform activities related to the safe transport of military personnel and equipment by air and water. They operate and command an aircraft or a ship:

  • Navigators use radar, radio, and other navigation equipment to determine their position and plan their route of travel.
  • Pilots in the military fly various types of military airplanes and helicopters to carry troops and equipment.
  • Ships’ engineers direct engineering departments, including engine operations, maintenance, and power generation, aboard ships.

Table 2. Active duty officer personnel by broad occupational group and branch of military, and Coast Guard, May 2015

Officer

Army

Air Force

Coast Guard

Marine Corps

Navy

Total officer personnel in each occupational group

Occupational group

Combat Specialty 

22,865

3,799

65

4,388

6,402

37,519

Engineering, Science, and Technical 

24,353

15,227

215

4,261

10,631

54,687

Executive, Administrative, and Managerial 

13,763

6,716

220

2,516

7,105

30,320

Healthcare 

12,052

9,046

0

 

6,805

27,903

Human Resource Development

2,933

1,588

154

706

3,587

8,968

Media and Public Affairs 

326

300

16

190

264

1,096

Protective Service 

3,215

1,010

70

409

1,053

5,757

Support Service 

1,705

746

12

42

966

3,471

Transportation 

12,550

18,543

586

6,048

10,724

48,451

Non-occupation or unspecified coded personnel

2,155

4,174

7,114

2,432

7,090

22,965

Total officer personnel for each military branch and Coast Guard

95,917

61,149

8,452

20,992

54,627

241,137

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Manpower Data Center

 

Work Environment

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Military members must be physically fit and ready to participate in, or support, combat missions.

In May 2015, more than 2.3 million people served in the Armed Forces. More than 1.3 million were on active duty, including the following subtotals: 

Army         487,037
Navy 322,928
Air Force 307,845
Marines 183,787

In addition, about 1.0 million people served in the Reserves in these branches and in the Air National Guard and Army National Guard. In May 2015, about 39,452 people served in the Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

The specific work environments and conditions pertaining to military occupations depend on the occupational specialty, unit, branch of service, and other factors. Most active-duty military personnel live and work on or near military bases and facilities throughout the United States and the world. These bases and facilities usually offer housing and amenities, such as stores and recreation centers.

Service members move regularly for training or job assignments, with most rotations lasting 2 to 4 years. Some are deployed internationally to defend U.S. national interests.

Military members must be both physically and mentally fit, and ready to participate in, or support, combat missions that may be difficult and dangerous and involve long periods away from family. Some personnel, however, are rarely deployed near combat areas.

Table 3 shows officers, warrant officers, and enlisted ranks, by grade and branch of service, who served on active duty in May 2015.

Table 3. Military rank and employment for activity duty personnel, (excluding Coast Guard), May 2015

Grade

Army

Navy

Air Force

Marine Corps

Coast Guard

Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard)

Commissioned Officers:

O-10

General

Admiral

General

General

Admiral

37

O-9

Lieutenant General

Vice Admiral

Lieutenant General

Lieutenant General

Vice Admiral

144

O-8

Major General

Rear Admiral (Upper Half)

Major General

Major General

Rear Admiral (Upper Half)

306

O-7

Brigadier General

Rear Admiral (Lower Half)

Brigadier General

Brigadier General

Rear Admiral (Lower Half)

401

O-6

Colonel

Captain

Colonel

Colonel

Captain

11,411

O-5

Lieutenant Colonel

Commander

Lieutenant Colonel

Lieutenant Colonel

Commander

27,877

O-4

Major

Lieutenant Commander

Major

Major

Lieutenant Commander

43,421

O-3

Captain

Lieutenant

Captain

Captain

Lieutenant

77,012

O-2

1st Lieutenant

Lieutenant Junior Grade

1st Lieutenant

1st Lieutenant

Lieutenant Junior Grade

29,514

O-1

2nd Lieutenant

Ensign

2nd Lieutenant

2nd Lieutenant

Ensign

23,504

Warrant Officers:

W-5

Chief Warrant Officer 5

Chief Warrant Officer 5

Chief Warrant Officer 5

 

821

W-4

Chief Warrant Officer 4

Chief Warrant Officer 4

Chief Warrant Officer 4

Chief Warrant Officer 4

2,828

W-3

Chief Warrant Officer 3

Chief Warrant Officer 3

Chief Warrant Officer 3

Chief Warrant Officer 3

5,457

W-2

Chief Warrant Officer 2

Chief Warrant Officer 2

Chief Warrant Officer 2

Chief Warrant Officer 2

7,561

W-1

Warrant Officer 1

 

Warrant Officer 1

 

2,391

Enlisted Personnel:

E-9

Sergeant Major

Master Chief Petty Officer

Chief Master Sergeant

Sergeant Major/Master Gunnery Sergeant

Master Chief Petty Officer

10,012

E-8

First Sergeant/Master Sergeant

Senior Chief Petty Officer

Senior Master Sergeant

First Sergeant/Master Sergeant

Senior Chief Petty Officer

26,629

E-7

Sergeant First Class

Chief Petty Officer

Master Sergeant

Gunnery Sergeant

Chief Petty Officer

90,148

E-6

Staff Sergeant

Petty Officer First Class

Technical Sergeant

Staff Sergeant

Petty Officer First Class

158,306

E-5

Sergeant

Petty Officer Second Class

Staff Sergeant

Sergeant

Petty Officer Second Class

221,513

E-4

Corporal/Specialist

Petty Officer Third Class

Senior Airman

Corporal

Petty Officer Third Class

267,554

E-3

Private First Class

Seaman

Airman First Class

Lance Corporal

Seaman

191,160

E-2

Private

Seaman Apprentice

Airman

Private First Class

Seaman Apprentice

63,207

E-1

Private

Seaman Recruit

Airman Basic

Private

Seaman Recruit

40,383

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Manpower Data Center

Injuries

Members of the military are often placed in dangerous situations with the risk of serious injury or death. Members deployed to combat zones or those who work in dangerous areas, such as the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, face a higher risk of injury or death.

Work Schedules

Military personnel on active duty typically work full time. However, hours vary with the person’s occupational specialty, rank, and branch of service, as well as with the needs of the military. Personnel must be prepared to work additional hours to fulfill missions.

How to Become a Member of the Armed Forces

Military careers
After basic training, military members attend additional training at technical schools that prepare them for a particular military occupational specialty.

To join the military, applicants must meet age, education, aptitude, physical, and character requirements. These requirements vary by branch of service and for officers and enlisted members.

Although entry requirements for each service vary, certain qualifications for enlistment are common to all branches:

  • Minimum of 17 years of age
  • U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status
  • Pass a background investigation
  • Never convicted of a felony
  • Able to pass a drug test

Applicants who are 17 years old must have the consent of a parent or legal guardian before entering the military.

Age limits for entering active-duty service are as follows:

  • in the Army, the maximum age is 35;
  • in the Navy, the maximum age is 34;
  • in the Marine Corps, the maximum age is 29;
  • in the Air Force, the maximum age is 39; and
  • in the Coast Guard, the maximum age is 27.

All applicants must meet certain physical requirements for height, weight, vision, and overall health. Officers must be U.S. citizens. Officers and some enlisted members must be able to obtain a security clearance. Candidates interested in becoming officers through training in the federal service academies must be unmarried and without dependents.

Service members are assigned an occupational specialty based on their aptitude, previous training, and the needs of their branch of service. All members must sign a contract and commit to a minimum term of service.

A recruiter can help a prospective service member determine whether he or she qualifies for enlistment or as an officer. A recruiter can also explain the various enlistment options and describe the military occupational specialties.

Women are eligible to enter most military specialties. They may become mechanics, missile maintenance technicians, heavy-equipment operators, and fighter pilots, or they may enter into medical care, administrative support, and intelligence specialties. Generally, women are excluded only from occupations involving direct exposure to combat. However, all services have plans to integrate and open these occupations to women in the near future.

Become an enlisted member

Prospective recruits who wish to enlist must take a placement exam called the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which is used to determine an applicant’s suitability for military occupational specialties.

A recruiter can schedule applicants to take the ASVAB without any obligation to join the military. Many high schools offer the exam as a way for students to explore the possibility of a military career. The selection for a certain job specialty is based on ASVAB test results, the physical requirements for the job, and the needs of the service.

Applicants who decide to join the military must pass the physical examination before signing an enlistment contract. The contract involves a number of enlistment options, such as the length of active-duty or reserve-duty time, the length and kind of job training, and the amount of bonuses that may be earned, if any. Most active-duty programs have first-term enlistments of 4 years, although there are some 2-, 3-, and 6-year programs.

All branches of the Armed Services offer a delayed-entry program allowing candidates to postpone entry to active duty for up to 14 months after enlisting. High school students can enlist during their senior year and enter service after graduation. Others may delay entry because their desired job training is not immediately available or because they need time to arrange their personal affairs.

Become an officer

To become an officer, candidates typically need to have at least a bachelor’s degree, be a U.S. citizen, pass a background check, and meet physical and age requirements. Candidates for officer positions do not need to take the ASVAB. Some achieve officer candidacy by completing a degree and training through the federal service academies (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine) or through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs offered at many colleges and universities.

Education

All branches of the Armed Forces require their members to be high school graduates or have equivalent credentials. Officers usually need a bachelor’s degree. Some officers entering the service may need to have education beyond a bachelor’s degree. For example, officers entering as military lawyers need a law degree.

Those who want to become an officer have several options to meet the education requirements, including the aforementioned 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.

Important Qualities

Mental preparedness. Members of the Armed Forces must be mentally fit and able to handle stressful situations that can occur during military operations.

Physical fitness. Members of the Armed Forces must be physically fit to participate in, or support, combat missions that may be difficult or dangerous.

Readiness. Members of the Armed Forces must be ready and able to report for military assignments on short notice.

Training

Training for enlisted personnel. Newly enlisted members of the Armed Forces undergo initial-entry training, better known as basic training or boot camp. Basic training includes courses in military skills and protocols and lasts 7 to 13 weeks, including a week of orientation and introduction to military life. Basic training also includes weapons training, team building, and rigorous physical exercise designed to improve strength and endurance.

Following basic training, enlisted members attend technical schools for additional training that prepares them for a particular military occupational specialty. This formal training period generally lasts from 10 to 20 weeks. Training for certain occupations—nuclear power plant operator, for example—may take as long as a year. In addition to getting classroom instruction, military members receive on-the-job training at their first duty assignment.

Training for warrant officers. All services except the U.S. Air Force have warrant officer programs. Selection to attend Warrant Officer Candidate School is highly competitive and is restricted to those who meet rank and length-of-service requirements. The only exception is the selection process for Army aviator warrant officers, a process that has no requirement of previous military service. Training may last several weeks.

Training for officers. Officer training in the Armed Forces is provided through the federal service academies (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine), the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program, Officer Candidate School (OCS) or Officer Training School (OTS), the National Guard (State Officer Candidate School programs), and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

  • Training for officers in the federal service academies. The federal service academies provide a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree. Midshipmen and cadets receive free room and board, free tuition, free medical and dental care, and a monthly allowance. Graduates receive regular or reserve commissions and typically have a 5-year active-duty obligation, which may be longer for some specialties, such as medicine or aviation. Service academy cadet or midshipman candidates must be nominated by an authorized source, usually a member of Congress. In addition, nominees must submit their academic record, college aptitude test scores, and recommendations from teachers or other school officials. They must also pass a medical examination. Academies make appointments from the list of eligible nominees. Appointments to the Coast Guard Academy, however, are based on merit and do not require a nomination.

  • Training for officers in ROTC programs. Participants in ROTC programs take regular college courses along with 3 to 5 hours of military instruction per week. After graduation, they may serve as officers on active duty or in the Reserves or National Guard. In the last 2 years of an ROTC program, students receive a monthly allowance while attending school, as well as additional pay for summer training. ROTC scholarships for 2, 3, and 4 years of school are available on a competitive basis.

  • Training for officers through OCS or OTS. College graduates can earn a commission in the Armed Forces through OCS or OTS training programs in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Air National Guard, and Army National Guard. These programs consist of several weeks of academic, physical, and leadership training. Those who complete the programs as officers must usually complete their service obligation on active duty.

  • Training for officers through the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Personnel with training in certain health occupations may qualify for direct appointment as officers. For those studying health professions, financial assistance and internship opportunities are available from the military in return for specified periods of military service. Prospective medical students can apply to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, which offers a salary and free tuition in a program leading to a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. In return, graduates must serve for at least 7 years in either the military or the U.S. Public Health Service

  • Training for officers through direct appointments. Direct appointments also are available for those qualified to serve in other specialty areas, such as the Judge Advocate General’s Corps for those in the legal field or the Chaplain Corps for those in religious ministry. All prospective officers who enter the service through a direct appointment attend several weeks of military-related training that typically includes courses in military orientation, academic subjects, and officer leadership and tactics. This program usually lasts a few months.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Depending on the occupational specialty, members of the military may need to have and maintain civilian licenses or certifications. For example, officers serving as lawyers, also known as judge advocates, may need to have and maintain their state bar licenses to enter and remain in the U.S. military. Air traffic controllers, dental assistants, medical laboratory technicians, and many others also need to have civilian occupation equivalent licenses or certifications.

Advancement

Each branch of the military has different criteria for determining the promotion of personnel. Criteria for promotion may include time in service and in grade, job performance, a fitness report, and passing scores on written exams. Enlisted personnel can be promoted to higher ranks, which may include serving in a supervisory position and being in charge of junior enlisted members.

Each military service may have other advancement opportunities for its enlisted personnel. For example, enlisted personnel may become warrant officers if they complete a bachelor’s degree, have several years of experience in higher enlisted positions, and meet age and physical requirements. The Army offers a direct enlistment option to become a warrant officer aviator.

Officers can also be promoted to higher ranks, which may include the command of a military unit of both enlisted members and officers, or being in charge of an entire military base.

Pay

Basic pay is based on rank and time in service. The pay structure for military personnel is shown in table 4. Pay bands are the same for all branches. Members of the Armed Forces may receive additional pay based on their job assignment or qualifications. For example, they receive additional pay for foreign, hazardous, submarine, or flight duty, or for being medical or dental officers. Retirement pay is generally available after 20 years of service.

Table 4. Monthly pay by military rank and years of service, January 2015, (O-officers, W-warrant officers, E-enlisted members)

Pay Grade

2 or less

Over 2

Over 3

Over 4

Over 6

Over 8

Over 10

Over 12

Over 14

Over 16

 Over 18

Over 20

O-10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 $16,072.20

O-9

                     

14,056.80

O-8

9,946.20

10,272.00

10,488.30

10,548.60

10,818.60

11,269.20

11,373.90

11,802.00

11,924.70

12,293.40

12,827.10

13,319.10

O-7

8,264.40

8,648.40

8,826.00

8,967.30

9,222.90

9,475.80

9,767.70

10,059.00

10,351.20

11,269.20

12,043.80

12,043.80

O-6

6,186.60

6,796.80

7,242.90

7,242.90

7,270.50

7,582.20

7,623.30

7,623.30

8,056.50

8,822.40

9,272.10

9,721.50

O-5

5,157.60

5,810.10

6,212.10

6,288.00

6,539.10

6,689.10

7,019.10

7,261.50

7,574.70

8,053.80

8,281.20

8,506.50

O-4

4,449.90

5,151.30

5,495.10

5,571.60

5,890.50

6,232.80

6,659.10

6,990.60

7,221.00

7,353.60

7,430.10

7,430.10

O-3

3,912.60

4,435.20

4,787.10

5,219.40

5,469.60

5,744.10

5,921.10

6,213.00

6,365.40

6,365.40

6,365.40

6,365.40

O-2

3,380.70

3,850.20

4,434.30

4,584.00

4,678.50

4,678.50

4,678.50

4,678.50

4,678.50

4,678.50

4,678.50

4,678.50

O-1

2,934.30

3,054.30

3,692.10

3,692.10

3,692.10

3,692.10

3,692.10

3,692.10

3,692.10

3,692.10

3,692.10

3,692.10

W-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7,189.50

W-4

4,043.40

4,349.70

4,474.20

4,597.20

4,808.70

5,018.10

5,229.90

5,548.80

5,828.10

6,094.20

6,311.70

6,523.80

W-3

3,692.40

3,846.30

4,004.10

4,056.00

4,221.30

4,546.80

4,885.50

5,045.10

5,229.60

5,419.80

5,761.50

5,992.50

W-2

3,267.30

3,576.30

3,671.70

3,736.80

3,948.90

4,278.30

4,441.50

4,602.00

4,798.50

4,951.80

5,091.00

5,257.50

W-1

2,868.30

3,176.70

3,259.80

3,435.00

3,642.60

3,948.30

4,091.10

4,290.30

4,486.80

4,641.30

4,783.20

4,956.00

E-9

 

 

 

 

 

 

4,885.20

4,995.90

5,135.40

5,299.20

5,465.10

5,730.30

E-8

 

 

 

 

 

3,999.00

4,175.70

4,285.20

4,416.60

4,558.80

4,815.30

4,945.20

E-7

2,780.10

3,034.20

3,150.30

3,304.20

3,424.50

3,630.90

3,747.00

3,953.40

4,125.00

4,242.30

4,367.10

4,415.40

E-6

2,404.50

2,645.70

2,762.40

2,876.10

2,994.60

3,261.00

3,364.80

3,565.80

3,627.30

3,672.00

3,724.20

3,724.20

E-5

2,202.90

2,350.80

2,464.50

2,580.60

2,761.80

2,951.40

3,107.10

3,125.70

3,125.70

3,125.70

3,125.70

3,125.70

E-4

2,019.60

2,122.80

2,238.00

2,351.40

2,451.60

2,451.60

2,451.60

2,451.60

2,451.60

2,451.60

2,451.60

2,451.60

E-3

1,823.40

1,938.00

2,055.30

2,055.30

2,055.30

2,055.30

2,055.30

2,055.30

2,055.30

2,055.30

2,055.30

2,055.30

E-2

1,734.00

1,734.00

1,734.00

1,734.00

1,734.00

1,734.00

1,734.00

1,734.00

1,734.00

1,734.00

1,734.00

1,734.00

E-1

1,546.80

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Finance and Accounting Services

In addition to receiving basic pay, members of the military are either housed free of charge on base or they receive a housing allowance.

Members who serve for a certain number of years may receive other benefits. These benefits may include educational benefits through the Montgomery GI Bill, which pays for a portion of educational costs at accredited institutions; medical care at military or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals; and guaranteed home loans.

Military personnel on active duty typically work full time. However, hours vary with the person’s occupational specialty, rank, and branch of service, as well as with the needs of the military. Personnel must be prepared to work additional hours to fulfill missions.

Job Outlook

The total number of active-duty and reserve personnel serving in the Armed Forces is expected to remain roughly the same through 2024.

The goal of the Armed Forces is to maintain a force sufficient to deter, fight, and overcome various threats or conflicts in multiple regions at the same time. Emerging conflicts and threatening global events, however, could lead to restructuring and a demand for a larger force. Consequently, the nation is expected to maintain adequate personnel in the Reserve, Army National Guard, and Air National Guard.

Job Prospects

Opportunities should be very good for qualified individuals in all branches of the Armed Forces through 2024. All services have needs to fill entry-level and professional positions as current members of the Armed Forces move up through the ranks, leave the service, or retire.

All services of the Armed Forces establish recruiting goals for each year to replace those who complete their military service commitment, leave the service, or retire. For example, about 240,000 personnel were recruited in the Armed Forces active and reserve components in 2014. The military has been an all-volunteer force since the end of the draft in 1973.

When the economy is thriving and civilian employment opportunities are generally more favorable, it is more difficult for the military to meet its recruitment quotas. It is also more difficult to meet these goals during times of war, when recruitment goals typically rise. During economic downturns, candidates for military service may face competition.

Similar Occupations

The military employs people in numerous occupational specialties, many of which are similar to civilian occupations. To match military occupations with similar civilian occupations, O*Net OnLine offers the Military Crosswalk Search tool.

Contacts for More Information

Each of the military services publishes handbooks, fact sheets, and pamphlets describing its entrance requirements, its training opportunities, and other aspects of military careers. These publications are available at all recruiting stations; at most state employment service offices; and in high schools, colleges, and public libraries. 

For more information on the individual services, visit

U.S. Air Force

Air National Guard

U.S. Army

Army National Guard

U.S. Coast Guard

U.S. Marine Corps

U.S. Navy

In addition, the Defense Manpower Data Center, an agency of the Department of Defense, maintains a website that provides information and resources for parents, educators, and young adults who are curious about joining military service. To see the information, visit

Today’s Military

For more information about military testing, visit

ASVAB

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Military Careers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/military/military-careers.htm (visited February 12, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015