Ready to Serve

Millennial Service in the Military

By Matt Bieker

Military enlistment has always been a viable and stable career opportunity for young adults considering their futures. While motives for enlisting can vary from a sense of duty, family tradition, or even necessity, the opportunities for steady salary and education make a pragmatic case for military service. With the fallout of the Great Recession came an increase in millennial recruits who considered service to be their most reliable option for moving forward.

In 2010, Washoe County came in 91 out of the top 100 counties for contributing military recruits with 131 recruits—Clark County, for contrast, was not represented on the list. Sergeant First Class Elias Perez, station commander for the Nevada National Guard Station on East Plumb Lane, has found that one of the primary motivators for Washoe County millenials considering service is the cost of secondary education.

“People are looking for options,” Perez said. “Loans are getting harder to get, scholarships are not as available as they used to be … The Nevada National Guard, not just the Army National Guard but also the Air National Guard, one of the incentives for their members is tuition waived at any state school.”

Students who enlist to serve in the National Guard can have their tuitions waved as far as a Master’s Degree by serving for a minimum of one weekend a month for a year, plus two weeks in the summer for a total minimum of 39 days of service. Initial combat training and military job training can take between nine-and-a-half weeks and six months, however.

Perez explains “serving” for those 39 days simply means performing the job that you were trained for—military police duty, transportation or communication specialties for example. Some recruits choose to train in jobs that they would like to pursue in the civilian sector, and Perez states that some employers look favorably on hiring veterans specifically.

Serving in the National Guard is more heavily focused on community service and military preparedness rather than actual combat, and is considered part-time service. Full-time service and active duty requires a stricter, usually multi-year contract—but also comes with attractive benefits.

Aside from scholarships, subsidies, and healthcare, the Army estimates its total monetary compensation for an entry-level soldier to be around $99,000. Even base level salary for a Reserve soldier with less than two years of experience comes in at $3,216 according to the website. For a generation of workers having difficulty finding full-time jobs, it’s little wonder that many would consider military service as an attractive alternative.

The correlation between a brutal job-market and increased enlistment numbers might paint the picture of military service as a “back-up plan” for many. All branches of the military have met their recruiting goals for the first quarter of the 2014 fiscal year—as they have for the past several years. However, the military stresses meeting its educational standards are an important requirement for applicants. In 2010, 96.8 percent of accessions had attained at least a high school diploma—this qualifies them as “tier 1” recruits.

2010 also saw a sharp increase in so-called “high quality” recruits—recruits with at least a regular high school diploma and who have scored in the fiftieth Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) percentile. Nevada reported a high quality recruit percentage of 62.8.

The Rand Corporation recently released a study that found almost half of new Army recruits are choosing to enlist some time after high school graduation—as opposed to immediately after as was the case in 1992. These older recruits are more likely to score better on their AFQT’s and to be promoted at a quicker rate.

However, while some of these recruits chose to attend college or find jobs, about a third of interviewed recruits claimed they joined the military because there were “no jobs at home,” and about half believed that the jobs available were “dead-end jobs.”

Stable pay, housing and education have created a “second chance” for these millenials according to the Rand study. As of 2009, with 83 percent of recruits having a close family member in the military, service has almost become a family business for young Americans facing an uphill battle for employment.

Photo by Matt Bieker

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