Military Tips

If you are in the military, there are some experiences you can't avoid. This section has tips for handling some of the most challenging parts of military life such as basic training and frequent relocation.

Recruitment

Meeting a recruiter is a big step and you may feel intimated but it’s important to try to stay relaxed. The recruiters are there to help you and not scare you away. If you think your nerves are going to be a problem, try bringing a close friend or family member there for support and comfort. During the meeting, double-check all the information and don’t be afraid to take notes or ask questions. Questions to ask a recruiter include:

  • How does your service branch differ from the others regarding benefits, pay and job opportunities?

  • Do I qualify for any enlistment bonuses or programs?

  • What physical condition is required to enlist and be successful in basic training?

  • Do I get paid for training?

  • What is the delayed entry program?

If you can go into the meeting prepared, you’ll be able to get more out of it. It’s important to have the proper documents ready to go as well so the recruitment process goes a lot smoother and quicker. Here’s a list of the documents you will need:

  • Driver’s License

  • Social Security Card

  • Birth Certificate

  • Resume

  • School Transcripts, School diplomas and/or degrees (not copies)

  • Contact information of people you have known for up to 10 years

  • Medical records for significant conditions you have had recently

  • Addresses of all the places you have lived over the 7 to 10 years

  • Location and contact information for all the places you have been employed over the past 5 to 10 years

  • Locations and dates of any time you have traveled outside the U.S. over the past 10 years

  • Awards and achievements and proof thereof

  • Passport, Green card (if applicable)

  • Marriage license or divorce papers (if applicable)

  • Credit records, legal records (if needed)

  • Recommendations (Officer applicants only)

Basic Training

Basic training may be one the toughest experiences of your life, but there's simply no way to avoid it if you wish to serve in the United States' military. It is designed to weed out recruits who do not have the strength or the will to serve their country in the armed forces, as well as to prepare soldiers for combat. Your training can last anywhere from 22 days to 9 weeks, depending upon which branch of the service you joined. During basic training, you should expect:

  1. Stress: everything is going to be a big deal to your drill sergeant and everyone around is going to be stressed. Don’t make it personal. While being able to learn from what you are told, also be able to let it roll of your back. You will become too stressed if you take everything personal.

  2. Expect Sleep Deprivation: your days will be planned down to the minute, with little time for sleep or rest. If you are not a morning person, try getting up very early for a few weeks before basic training to get your body used to a new sleep cycle.

  3. Expect to Fail: no matter how hard you try or how well you do, you are going to fail. When a fellow recruit fails, you fail. Do not get angry when others fail. There will be a time when you fail also. Both times, you are responsible.

  4. Expect to Get Sick: you will be going through physical, mental, and emotional stress and the lack of sleep will cause your immune system to break down. Whether a cold or the flu it is more than likely that you will become sick in basic training.

  5. Expect Homesickness: suspecting that you like your family and friends, you will miss loved ones at home. While there is no real fix for this, pre-address and stamp letters before going to basic. In the small amount of time you have to write letters to loved ones you do not want to use it addressing the envelope. Encourage correspondence from home also.

  6. Expect to be Yelled At: if you are late, expect to be yelled at. If someone else is late, expect to be yelled at. If you mess up, expect to be yelled at. If you breathe too loudly, expect to be yelled at. If your hair is the drill sergeant’s least favorite color, expect to be yelled at. You get the point.

  7. Expect Push-ups: for every situation you are yelled at, it is equally as likely you will be doing push-ups.

  8. Expect Three Square Meals: American’s have dutifully perfected the art of snacking. Snacking is not a habit anymore, but an addiction. In basic training, there is no snacking. There are three meals everyday. Besides water, that is it. That might sounds like a piece of cake, but it is more difficult than you think. If your drill sergeant finds a candy bar, refer to number seven, and expect push-ups

  9. Expect to be Deployed: despite what someone told you about certain enlisted jobs not being deployed, more than likely that’s not true. Deployment is what you are in training for.

  10. Expect Haircuts: women (and men) in Navy basic training are required to have hair that does not touch the collars of their uniforms.

Because of these added stresses, there are few things you can do to help prepare for what’s ahead such as: be mentally ready, set up ways to stay in touch with your loved ones, label your belongs, get a checking account, start waking up early, study beforehand, start getting into shape, know how to swim and if you smoke, chew or tend to snack a lot, quit before you get there. Doing any or all of these things will help you adjust to basic training and military life much easier.

Deployment

The first part of the deployment process is mobilization, which can be defined as the temporary relocation of military units or individual service members to an area of operations. There are four type of mobilizations that can be ordered:

  1. Selective Mobilization: the President is authorized to activate 200,000 reservists for up to nine months to respond to natural disasters and civilian disturbances that do not threaten national security, such as floods, tropical storms and riots.

  2. Presidential Reserve Call-Up (PRC): the President can mobilize up to 1 million Reservists in response to external threats to national security for up to 24 months

  3. Full Mobilization: Congress mobilizes all Reserves units to support a war or national emergency. Mobilization can last for the duration of the emergency plus six months.

  4. Total Mobilization: Congress activates all armed forces and can draft every able-bodied male between the ages of 17-45. Congress also takes over any national resource needed and can order the private industrial sector to work at full capacity. The industrial sector then manufactures extra equipment and goods to support a war or national emergency.

Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), Reservists are ensured their jobs will be waiting for them after they return from an active duty deployment.

Financial commitments still need to be kept if you or a loved one is deployed. In order to help make ends meet, the military offers the Family Separation Allowance to eligible service members with dependents who are not authorized to move to the permanent duty station at military expense, you are on duty and on-board a ship away from its home port for more than 30 continuous days or you are continuously on temporary duty away from the permanent duty station for more than 30 days and your dependents do not live at or near the temporary duty station. If one of those applies to you, the military will provide $250 each month to you. In order to get the Family Separation Allowance, you will need to complete a DD Form 1561 and submit it to your VA regional office.

The military also offers the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to those whom a deployment creates a financial burden. With SCRA, service members can break or suspended a vehicle or apartment lease, temporarily cap interest rates at 6% on eligible loan, credit card and other debts while deployed, delay some legal proceedings such as personal bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, paternity or child custody hearings and under certain circumstances, avoid eviction from leased housing.

It is also a good idea to have your legal affairs in order before a deployment occurs as a way to be prepared in case something does happen. Single service members should make sure to give power of attorney to a trust loved one. All service members should draw up a living will so their wishes can be carries out in case of death or serious injury. When service members are deployed, their dependents need to double-check that all of the information on their military ID cards is accurate to ensure they receive the proper benefits. Dependents of service members must renew their cards once every four years. If you card has expired or you don’t have a card, you need to complete DD Form 1172 to renew or apply for a military ID card.

How to Combat Stress

Everyone has experienced stress. It is the body and mind’s normal response to major life events. While stress is a normal part of life, there are different kinds of stress, levels of severity and ways to deal with it. Here are four deployment related stress disorders that you should be aware of:

  1. Combat/Operational Stress Reactions (COSRs): a short-term stress disorder that affects a soldier’s fighting efficiency and results from the stress of battle. Combat stress reaction is commonly known as shell shock. The symptoms include:

    • Depression

    • Difficulty performing routine tasks or prioritizing

    • Frequency in urination

    • Fatigue

    • Indecision

    • Insomnia

    • Lack of initiative

    • Loss of beliefs

    • Mistrust

    • Nausea and vomiting

    • Nightmares

    • Palpitations

    • Preoccupation with minor issues

    • Slower reaction time

    • Slowness in thoughts

    • Substance abuse

    • Shaking or tremors

  2. Adjustment Disorder: a reaction to an identifiable stressor that is not expected. The reaction occurs within three months of the event or change. Symptoms are usually resolved within 6 months and include:

    • Depressed mood

    • Anxiety

    • Mixed anxiety and depressed mood

    • Disturbance of conduct and emotions

    • Disturbance of conduct

    • Unspecified

  3. Acute Stress Disorder (ASD): a physical response to the exposure of an extreme traumatic event that occurs within a month of the experience. Symptoms usually last no longer than a month and include:

    • Re-experiencing the event through thoughts, images, dreams, flashbacks or reliving

    • Avoidance of activities, places, people, etc. that cause the recollection of the event

    • Increased anxiety, difficulty falling and staying asleep, inability to focus, easily startled, irritability, etc.

    • Dissociation: being unaware of your surroundings, feeling as if you are “outside your body”, feeling as if things are happening to you, feeling as if you cannot fell, feeling detached, not being able to remember important things about the traumatic event

  4. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): may develops after the exposure to an event where either fatal physical harm was threatened or took place. Symptoms can begin to show immediately following the traumatic event or show up months after and include:

    • Re-experiencing the event through thoughts, images, dreams, flashbacks or reliving

    • Avoidance of activities, places, people, etc. that cause the recollection of the event

    • Increased anxiety, difficulty falling and staying asleep, inability to focus, easily startled, irritability, etc.

    • Intense emotions such as horror, hopelessness and fear

  5. Some of the symptoms of COSR are the same as those for ASD and PTSD. However, there are usually fewer symptoms of COSR and they usually occur directly following the stressful event. Except for the exclusion of disassociation, the symptoms of disassociation, the symptoms of ASD and PTSD are very similar. However, when experiencing PTSD the symptoms last at the least a month and cause considerable difficulties in one’s ability to function. If you are experiencing any symptoms of a Deployment related stress disorder, speak to your health care provider or chaplain.

    Returning Home

    Reuniting with your family is a part of the deployment cycle and is filled with joy and stress all at the same time. Regardless of your number of deployments, the much anticipated reunion can bring a rush of emotions. Roles and rules at home have changed, the people you left behind aren’t the same and young children may be standoffish. It’s important to be aware of the five phases of a reunion:

    1. Pre-entry: the days immediately prior to the reunion are chaotic. Family members at home are preparing for their soldier’s return and the soldier is going through equipment accountability and maintenance. Both parties are anxious for the reunion and more than likely stressed.

    2. Reunion: this includes the initial meeting and the days following. This phase can seem like euphoric “cloud nine” experience. Problems should not be addressed at this time. This time is to appreciate positive changes in one another and to reconnect.

    3. Disruption: both the family and service members might have looked forward to a sense of normalcy in the household, when these expectations are not met problems will arise. During this phase expect jealousy, new routines, need for financial planning, unresolved issues to resurface, trust issues and a desire for independence.

    4. Communication: problems that arose within the third phase will be renegotiated during this phase. New routines, new financial plan, family roles, and decision making will take place at this time.

    5. Normalcy: the family accepts the new routines established in the fourth phase and returns to experiencing the normal ups and downs as a family. Expect establishment of the new routine and roles to take place during this phase and to become ultimately reconnected as a family.

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