Saturday, March 14, 2009


So a friend of mine sent this to me today.

"By the way-- something you might be able to help me with: I'm going to talk to an Air Force recruiter maybe next week. A family friend who was in it back in the dark ages thought it might be worth me looking in to. I've never thought of myself as that kind of person (whatever that kind of person is) but what the heck! I'm not doing anything else and am suffering from a severe lack of a direction.

Any thoughts?

It's funny how I get all these questions still even though it's been a while since I was recruiting. I figured I would share my response here since maybe somebody else can find it useful.

"I didn't intend to go on and on like this but it just kind of happened. I feel it needs a Table of Contents.

"Any thoughts?" Understatement of the year.

Well first off understand that I am biased being in the Army and all and I was a recruiter for four years. Second, that being said I learned a lot about both services during those four years. Third, I assume you are talking about seeing a recruiter under the premise of becoming an officer as apposed to an enlisted person since you have a degree.

On the down side, from what I have heard from AF recruiters the Air Force is very degree specific when it comes to the officers. If you're going to be an engineer officer they want you to have a degree in engineering, contracting officer a degree in contracting, etc. Now all that could have changed in the last couple of years since I got out of recruiting. On the up side, CERTAIN officer career fields are about the only area in which the AF can actually guarantee anything. Most people who join the AF, either as an officer or an enlisted person, sign their contract not knowing what they will be doing or when they will be leaving. With some very specific career fields that's not the case.

To go in as an officer in the AF you take a special test in addition to the ASVAB (the test everyone takes to join anything.) That is something to keep in mind because a dubious recruiter could be trying to get you to join as an enlisted person while telling you the officer thing comes later (I've seen it happen). One thing to keep in mind is that your average recruiter will not lie to you but will also not tell you something unless you specifically ask about it. Picture it as if you were buying a car. The dealer is not going to tell you something like maintenance costs but if you asked would probably be fairly honest about it. AF recruiters are not under the same kind of pressure that us Army recruiters are. Some are under quotas but a lot are not. A dubious one would more likely be looking for kudos as apposed to trying to scrape by.

One thing about the AF is that since they don't have much in the way of quotas means that they will not turn a blind eye to the tiniest little disqualification. I offer a couple of anecdotes to explain; I ran into a kid pushing grocery carts at WalMart and started talking to him. Over the course of the conversation I learned that he had been disqualified by the AF. He told the AF recruiter that he had a bought of Bronchitis when he was 7 or 8 and the doc gave him an inhaler that he used for about a week. The AF recruiter turned in those med documents to MEPS (the processing station that all services use.) I worked with that kid for around two years and was never able to get him in the Army because of that one week of inhaler use for Bronchitis.

Another guy I had wanted to join and again had been disqualified by the AF. His mom was kind of a vicarious hypochondriac. Every time he coughed or fell down as a kid she rushed him off to the ER. There was the craziest stuff in his med records. Once his mom thought he had a seizure because she caught him day dreaming. Once she thought he had a brain tumor because she thought his head was too big. His med records were three inches thick. The AF recruiter turned every page of that into MEPS. He didn't have a quota so there was no reason for him to filter through it or take the chance that years later that kid brings it up to try and get kicked out or something. The recruiter knew full well that MEPS would take one look at it and disqualify the guy and once MEPS has it it's there FOREVER. I eventually got that kid in but it took many doctor visits, which he paid for, to get each and every one of those issues in his med records resolved. It was a nightmare.

The point in all this is that an AF recruiter's number 1 priority is to cover his own rear end while at the same time making it look like he's working. While an AF recruiter may not have a quota he will get beat up if he's not processing anyone. So he sends someone down to MEPS fully knowing that he will be disqualified but since he processed someone the monkey is off of his back. If you walked in with a wooden leg he would submit those med docs knowing full well you would be disqualified and once you are disqualified it never ever goes away without mountains of other medical documents.

If you had said you were seeing an Army recruiter I would say tell him/her absolutely everything and let him/her decide what goes to MEPS and what doesn't. Because an Army recruiter's main goal above all else is to get you in and he/she will take risks to do that. Being that it's AF I would say be very careful what you tell an AF recruiter. It all sounds somewhat devious but the standards (especially medical) are so insanely strict that the tiniest minuscule thing can keep you from joining. If I had gone my entire tour of recruiting and never told anyone to shut up about something stupid like being stung by a bee once and itching a little I would have put about three people in the Army in the whole four years. An AF recruiter can get away with that as long as he keeps sending people down to MEPS to get disqualified. Once you tell the recruiter you can't un-tell him.

The thing to remember is that all of my experience is a couple of years old so it's only current and accurate as of then. Things can change quickly. For all I know the AF could have some great program that will let you go from high school dropout to brain surgeon in three weeks. Who knows. The only way to really find out is to talk to a recruiter. There are a couple of things to keep in mind though.

1. The military is not a jobs program. The purpose of the military is to fight wars. It doesn't matter what branch of the service, it doesn't matter your rank, it doesn't matter what your job is, it doesn't matter if you're active or reserve, it doesn't matter what your recruiter says, these days anybody in the military stands a very good chance of going to war and it's not always hanging out on a secure base. I have had Marines, Sailors and Airmen out here on patrols with me. Also, regardless of what your actual job title is you can be doing just about anything regardless of service, rank etc. We had a Navy officer who by training is a radar technician and here is doing building engineer work. Go figure.

2. Any vet you talk to can only tell you about their experience. If he was an underwater basket weaver back in '72 then that's what he can be considered an expert on. Nothing else. If he says "you should join as a ditch digging supervisor in the Coast Guard Auxiliary and don't let that recruiter tell you otherwise" don't listen to him. He doesn't know beans about what you can or can't do in any branch of the military. He only knows what being an underwater basket weaver was like back in '72. One of the things that used to drive me nuts was when some kid said his old 'Nam era uncle says he should get a bonus or he's not joining. It was next to impossible to convince that kid that he didn't qualify for a bonus and no amount of threatening to "walk off the lot" was ever going to change that. Old vet relatives rarely know what they are talking about. The one exception is recruiters. We make a living off of knowing all about the competition's programs. That knowledge has a shelf life though. The longer it's been since recruiting the less accurate the info will be. I've been out of it for 1 1/2 years or so. So take it all with a grain of salt.

3. Every recruiter has a priority and your best interest, while they may be a factor, are never it. His number one priority will always either be to get you in or to look like he's trying to get you in. Every action he takes will be towards those ends. That doesn't mean you won't benefit from them as well. For instance, at the end of an appointment a recruiter will almost always try to get you to take the ASVAB. He will tell you that by taking it you will be able to see what you can qualify for and that by agreeing to take the ASVAB you are not committing to anything. All of that is true but his reason for trying to get you to take the test is so that his bosses see that he is moving someone through the process and they will stay off of his back. He may even be quite pushy. The point in all this is if you see a benefit to yourself in something incremental like taking the test then go ahead and do it. Otherwise don't let them pressure you into something.

4. The AF has all the people they want. They have the freedom to pick and choose. They could very well tell you to piss off for no reason at all. If they do take you it will most definitely be on their terms ie, when they want you doing what they want you to do. Any effort they are willing to put into you such as running a waiver or putting up with any indecisiveness will be minimal. It may not sound fair but that's just the way it is. They too are not in it to be a jobs program. Like any other business it's about supply and demand and right now supply is high (you) and demand is low (them). The Coast Guard is in that same boat (no pun intended). The Coast Guard had one recruiter for the whole state I recruited in. I met the guy once and he wouldn't even sit down and talk to someone unless they signed something for him saying that if they were found to be qualified then they would join. He wouldn't even tell them about the Coast Guard unless they agreed to join ahead of time.

5. There is no harm in checking out the other services. The AF has a stigma of being the smartest and the best taken care of and I can tell you that 99% of that is crap. Their minimum ASVAB score fluctuates just like the Army's but it's usually only a couple of points higher than ours. Most people (in my experience) join the AF not because they're smarter but because they're scared of the stigma the Army or Marines have of being harder. Making decisions because you're scared is rarely a good thing. Making decisions because of the facts and by comparing risk vs reward is almost always a good thing. There are almost a million and a half people in the Army right now and about 200,000 in the Marines. If that many people can do it it can't be that hard. When I joined I went to a strip mall that had every service in it. I started at the AF one and worked my way down to the Navy office. They all tried to get me to commit to joining right then and there but I didn't let them. I continued to talk to each one of them until I had enough info to make a decision. Some were more pushy than others. When I told the Marine recruiter that I was joining the Army he said he didn't think I had what it took to join the Marines anyway. I came to find out later that that's called the challenge close and it's the staple of Marine recruiting. It's just as much BS as the AF's "were smarter than everyone else" line. Take it all with a whole shaker of salt.

6. Do not rule out the enlisted side. People say that as an officer you get treated better and the pay is better but in my own experience you couldn't pay me enough money to be an officer. As an officer the vast majority of your career will be spent working staff positions regardless of what your actual career field is. An officer generally only spends a total of about three to four years out of a 20 year career actually commanding soldiers, the rest is spent in staff. As an enlisted person it's about the opposite. The whole staff thing suits some people but it definitely isn't for me. My job now is kind of half staffish and that half drives me up a wall. You can go from enlisted to officer fairly easily if you already have a degree. It's near impossible to go from officer to enlisted. Also for enlisted people (at least in the Army) you get to choose your job before you sign as opposed to officers who just request a career field but ultimately get what the Army needs instead. For the AF enlisted people request jobs but they're not guaranteed.

7. Regardless of what anyone says until you put pen to paper and raise your right hand at MEPS in front of a bunch of flags then you have not joined anything. Some recruiters (in my experience usually Marines) have been know to do a little ceremony thing in their office to make a kid think he has joined before he actually has. Also, no matter what anyone says even after you have done the real swearing in ceremony you can still back out and nothing bad will happen to you. You do two swearing in ceremonies. The first one is at MEPS after your physical. The second one is on the day you leave for training. At any time before that second one you can back out. You won't go to jail, you won't be banned from joining you won't be unable to get student loans, the only negative thing that can happen is that some services (usually the AF) will be less likely to deal with you again if you backed out once. Especially if they had to but some work into you the first time around (waivers, indecisiveness, etc)."

Well folks that was my two bits. I'm sure somebody somewhere will be offended by my take on the Air Force and the Marines but it's the truth as I saw it so I don't really care if you're offended.


Peabody said...

I think this is great advice. Of course, I share your bias (I, too, was an Army recruiter for four years, and while it seems like it was just a few years ago, I shudder when I realize that it's been 20 - seriously, that freaks me out), but I think all of your points were right on the money.

In fact, #5 is so on the money, that I'm going to save it.

bigD said...

Your thoughts on this subject seemed right on the money to me, with very little bias against other branches. This whole recruiting thing sounds like the same kind of pressure people get from sales people in car dealerships! If you are not prepared when you go in there, it feels like the sharks are circling and there is no escape. In this case however, the stakes are much higher. So BUYER BEWARE! It's all about the sales pitch. Thanks for being honest about how some people do this job. Maybe you should write a guide about joining the military...things to avoid when meeting with your recruiter, insider tips etc. You have a wealth of knowledge that could be helpful to so many young people and their families. You could also hire yourself out as a consultant/advisor, if only someone would pay you for this information??