While day-to-day life in the Military varies depending on Service branch, career choice and location, there are several experiences servicemembers have in common. Preparing for Basic Training, taking care of a family on base or deploying for the first time are just a few examples. Get a complete picture of military life by learning about all its unique challenges and benefits.
A servicemember’s length of commitment largely depends on Service branch, career choice and required training. With that said, most first-term enlistments are four years of Active Duty, followed by four years in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). Active Duty is not a 24-hour job; servicemembers have off-work hours, similar to people in civilian jobs. The IRR, on the other hand, could be described as an “on call” job. You don’t train, and you live at home maintaining a civilian job, but you may be called to duty, if necessary, until your term expires. Regardless of which type of enlistment is chosen, be sure to ask about enlistment bonuses – some Services offer them. Most local recruiters have all the details you’ll need about terms of service.
There are many opportunities to travel the world in the Military. Your first step after Basic Training will most likely be Advanced Individual Training (AIT), followed by travel to your first duty assignment. While there’s no guarantee of placement, you can volunteer for overseas duty if you want to see more of the world. The Military has bases in Hawaii, Japan, Germany, England, Italy, Spain and other unique locations. And no matter where they are based, depending on their current assignment, servicemembers have opportunities to travel the world through deployment and recreation.
If you’re looking to travel on your own, many commercial airlines offer discounted fares for servicemembers. In addition, you can often take a free “hop” on a government airplane when extra seats are available through the Military’s Space Available program. The Military also operates low-cost rest and relaxation lodges and hotels in Virginia, Korea, Hawaii, Germany and other popular destinations – even Disney World.
From rank titles and base names to training drills and various equipment, the Military is full of unique terminology. Through the course of everyday interaction, military personnel have shortened many formal terms to abbreviations, acronyms or slang. It’s certainly easier to say “EOD” than the full title “Explosive Ordnance Disposal,” but for an outsider listening to his or her first military conversation, it can all start to sound like a foreign language. Learn how to “translate” common military jargon and participate in servicemember conversations by reviewing the Military Jargon Checklist.
Physical fitness has always been a large part of military training. It’s a crucial element of Basic Training and strongly encouraged throughout a servicemember’s military career.
Every recruit must pass the Physical Fitness Test (PFT) at Basic Training to graduate. The PFTs of each Service branch have differing exercises, standards and distances in runs and swims, and they break out as follows:
The best way to approach any PFT is to come in as physically prepared as possible. Review the specifics of your Service branch’s PFT and focus on the required exercises. Also, remember to time yourself; it will help you practice pacing.
Physical fitness requirements throughout your time of service vary, depending on branch and career choice. Some servicemembers are required to pass a PFT every six months to continue serving, while it is less frequent for others. Regardless, the Military always promotes continued functional fitness, which includes mental, emotional and social well-being. In fact, the Army recently adopted a Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program that emphasizes not just muscle strength, but the five pillars of total fitness: physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family strength. Such emerging programs aim to develop and maintain balanced and healthy servicemembers, whose total fitness will help them in a range of challenging situations and foster long-term resilience.
On-base housing varies by rank, location and family situation. All recruits live in the barracks during Basic Training. Upon completing Basic Training, most single servicemembers are required to live on base for a period of time. On-base housing varies from one location to the next, but, generally speaking, it is similar to living in modern college dormitories and apartment complexes. Servicemembers with families who live on base have a variety of options, such as apartments or single-family homes.
In addition to the living quarters, most bases feature many amenities and recreational facilities accessible only to military personnel and their families at greatly reduced prices. Some examples include gyms, pools, bowling alleys, movie theaters, riding stables, libraries, camping grounds and golf courses.
Servicemembers who live in off-base housing are given a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which varies depending on the cost of living in their area. Also, keep in mind that off-base housing is granted based on a servicemember’s rank and family status.
Generally speaking, deployment is the moving of military personnel and materials from a home station to a specified destination. It’s never guaranteed that a servicemember will be deployed, and it depends on an individual’s Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) and unit of assignment (the group of servicemembers you work with). Keep in mind that deployment doesn’t automatically mean going to war. Servicemembers can be deployed for support in noncombat areas or foreign humanitarian missions, or they may even be deployed domestically to help with disaster relief. The U.S. Military has bases in 16 countries besides the United States. During deployments, servicemembers may have some time for recreation and exploration.
With that said, deployment can present legitimate concerns. Proper preparation, especially for servicemembers with families, can help minimize stress and anxiety. Several deployment preparation websites are available that offer guidance and support to servicemembers and their families. It’s also important to note that during deployment servicemembers usually have access to postal mail, email, instant messaging and phone service (even at sea). While communication may be restricted during certain missions, modern technology makes it relatively easy for servicemembers to keep in touch.
The Military understands that family is an important part of servicemembers’ lives. More than half of the active-duty force, approximately 56 percent, are married, and approximately 44 percent of families with active-duty servicemembers include children. As a result, the Military makes family support a top priority.
The Military has established exclusive programs addressing every aspect of family life to help servicemembers and their loved ones. Some program examples include affordable family housing, military spouse education, child care, affordable shopping, youth education and development, family health care, family advocacy, services for families with special needs, family citizenship, family recreation, financial stability, family relocation and family counseling. And that’s just to name a few. The Military is constantly developing and expanding programs to maximize servicemember families’ stability and quality of life.
Each Service branch uniform is different and servicemembers take great pride in their distinct dress. From the black silk neckerchief worn with Navy Service Dress Whites to the Outer Tactical Vest worn with Army and Marine Corps Utility uniforms, servicemember dress caters to both form and function. Generally speaking, uniforms can be broken down as follows:
This is considered formal wear. This uniform would be worn to special occasions such as balls, graduations, award ceremonies and weddings.
This refers to daily wear uniforms, roughly equivalent to the civilian “business suit.” These uniforms are worn in office environments and in certain public events.
These are work-duty uniforms. These uniforms are worn in combat and during day-to-day functions.
This is considered fitness wear. These uniforms are worn during any type of physical training exercises.
All servicemembers are provided an initial issue of required uniforms upon enlistment. Some servicemembers are also given an annual clothing allowance to buy or replace uniforms.
Being part of the Military doesn’t mean giving up a social life. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. From recreational facilities on base and special entertainment to sports leagues and discounted leisure travel, military personnel often maintain very active social lives.
There are plenty of on-base entertainment resources available to servicemembers and their families: gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys, parks and more. In addition to facilities, the Military also works with Armed Forces Entertainment to bring exclusive entertainment shows. Today, Armed Forces Entertainment hosts more than 1,200 shows around the world each year at 270 military installations, featuring some of the most popular musicians, comedians, athletes and actors.
For servicemembers who like sports, the Military also has its own sports league: Armed Forces Sports.
The Armed Forces Sports Program includes 23 different sports categories open to all active-duty personnel and features nine national championships and 16 international championships.
The Military also offers discounted vacation opportunities to its servicemembers and their families. Each Service branch has a Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Department dedicated to helping personnel with travel, recreation and social activities. You can learn more by visiting each program’s site:
Whether a servicemember needs help with relocation, parenting, deployment, education, stress or any other aspect of military life, there are several support networks available to servicemembers and their families. In fact, servicemembers have more counseling and support options than ever before due to increased funding and online advancements. Many support websites can now be accessed by servicemembers from the comfort of home. See the following sites for more information: