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Teila K. Day | all galleries >> Galleries >> Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines: U.S. Military pay, Enlisted vs. Officer > Shhhhh... a few things military recruiters won't typically tell you!
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Shhhhh... a few things military recruiters won't typically tell you!

First things first parents... if you son and or daughter is interested in the military, before they even SEE a recruiter, remind them that what they should be inquiring about FIRST are the OFFICER PROGRAMS that are available! DO NOT let a military recruiter start talking about enlisted jobs, when he or she hasn't breathed a word of OFFICER opportunities FIRST! Warn your kids that recruiters are programmed to talk about enlisted jobs. Young people enlist into the military every year without every knowing that they actually qualified (or could easily qualify) to go in as an officer, which is sad. The worse part is you still hear knuckle heads spewing "my recruiter screwed me".. when actually they screwed themselves by not doing basic homework before signing on the dotted line.

* Take 3 months and study for the ASVAB just so you know it cold. If you can ace it after studying for a day or weekend, then goodie-gum-drops! However *many* people seeking enlistment can't and that's why I say 3 months. (warm smile) Then take the exam and get a GT (general technical) score over 110 (not hard, but a lot of folks don't make it!). Study the parts of the ASVAB that matter! Math/Science and Reading/comprehension/word knowledge/vocabulary... the rest of the exam has absolutely NOTHING to do with your GT Score, and has relatively little bearing on getting the "BETTER" jobs when, and if, they are available at the time you want one. Another important score for the "good" jobs is the ST score (skilled technical). Example: Nuclear Medicine/Radiologic technician requires a ST score of 106 at the time of this writing, and a wheeled vehicle mechanic needs a Mechanical Maintenance (MM) score of 92 OR the combination of an 87 (MM) and an 85 (GT)... Not apples to apples right? Here's the catch, research all the enlisted-to-officer programs, and the *** Army jobs that higher median GT scores ***, and notice how many of those jobs or officer opportunities require a high minimum GT or ST score compared to any other type of ASVAB score. The GT score, then ST are generally the most important score(s) on the ASVAB if you want the ** better jobs or opportunities ** as defined by general consensus and common sense.

Testing to become a commissioned officer: Nutshell... virtually every standardized exam that you will take in the United States will have a math/science related section (even the LSAT.. the analytical "games" questions are easier to set-up if you have a great command of math). Study the SAT, ACT, (especially math/science and reading comprehension related sections) and dedicated AFOQT books whether you're wanting to be an officer or not; whether or not you want to go into the Air Force. Know any exam cold before you sit for it, and that includes flight aptitude tests, even if you're already a licensed pilot.

* When talking to a recruiter, YOU or your kid should be actually leading the recruiter, not the other way around. One of the first things you should ask is "Tell me EVERYTHING (especially bonuses) that my child qualifies for". Have a list of questions for the recruiter. Ask quality questions like: "What do I have to do, and or who do I need to talk to, become an officer in the army?" (or whatever branch you're interested in). If it winds up that you don't yet qualify for a commission as an officer, and decide on enlisting- Then you should ask questions like: "What do I need to come in as an E4, E3, or E2 instead of coming in as an E1?" Being an Eagle Scout (Boy Scouts) or having earned the Gold Award (Girl Scouts) used to automatically qualify you to come in as an E2. Have an undergraduate degree? You can come in as E4. Have 2 years of college, etc.? Then you qualify to come in as E3. The key is to read applicable regulations with your own two beady eyes, and do not automatically believe information spoon fed to you by a recruiter who works for the Army's best interest, not yours. Again - - benefits and requirements change so do your own research! What was true 5 years, 6 months, or even a week ago, doesn't mean that it's applicable today... but that should be common sense for most college minded individuals.

SMART COLLEGE GRADUATE: "...ummm hold up there Mr. Recruiter. You say if I have 4 yrs of college then I can come in as an E4? Three enlisted ranks higher than those coming in with no college?"

RECRUITER: "Yes!! isn't that great! You'll be a Sergeant in no time!"

SMART COLLEGE GRADUATE: "ok.. well as a college graduate, if I came in as an Officer, wouldn't I come in as a 2LT (Second Lieutenant)... or, eh.. the equivalent of 11 RANKS HIGHER than the rank of E4 you were trying to sell me just a moment ago?"
In 2016, that's a difference of $1,400-a-month in base pay alone! As a brand spanking new, wet behind the ears 2LT, wouldn't my base pay alone roughly be the same as an E5 (Sergeant), who's weathered 2 tours in Iraq, 1 tour in Afghanistan, 6mos in Qatar, and has **10 years** of military service? That's over $30,000 difference in pay in only 24 months. Looking at the pay chart, I see my first and subsequent enlisted raises equate to a mere few hundred dollars more per month, while If I go the officer route, my raises equate to roughly $1,000 or more money per month... So basically, using basic math, we're talking about a difference in pay so great that it equals being able to pay cash for Law School, Medical School, or college tuition for two kids at a state school without the need for grants or student loans... but you're trying to sell me on enlisting as an E4?" ** OBVIOUSLY ** law and med school are financially daunting - my point is that using straight-line math, one could save a lot via the officer route. No? Ok, chew on this reality-- more than just a few DUAL MILITARY (married) officers will use one spouse's pay to live off of, and the others to pay off student loans. More than a few have had a very low monetary hit when opting for med school. You can't come close to doing that in the same way on an enlisted pay check.

No doubt, some of you are wondering where the heck I'm coming up with "11 ranks higher". I know what you're thinking, but I'm ahead of you.. Let's count the ranks that you'd skip over by coming straight in as a commissioned officer (instead of enlisting as an E4 with a college degree).. ~~> " E5, E6, E7, E8, E9, WO1, CW2, CW3, CW4, CW5... 2LT". WO1 (Warrant Officer 1)-CW5 (Chief Warrant Officer 5) are the Warrant Officer ranks (which equate to highly specialized enlisted ranks, that have the same respect, customs and courtesies as officers. Many will tell you that a Warrant Officer counts as an "officer". Without going into too much detail, thats not true. If a Warrant Officer transfers into a job in the Officer ranks... he or she will generally never get Officer credit for being a Warrant Officer. * I think Warrant Officer (especially a Pilot) is one of the best positions in the military (Army/Navy/Marines). A warrant officer is a technical advisor and has a very narrow job scope. Unlike a Commissioned Officer, most Warrant Officers aren't in positions where they have to worry about the health, welfare, and providing leadership to enlisted troops. However, unlike "NON COMMISSIONED" Officers (fancy way of saying "enlisted personnel, pay grade E5 and higher"), the Warrant Officer doesn't have to worry about doing "blue collar" or "grunt work". The Warrant Officer basically only really has to worry about him or herself... which many times in the military is the best thing in the world! The Air Force doesn't have Warrants.

See what I'm getting at? I've been saying it for years, and you can quote me: "Education usually trumps experience.." <~~~~ say that to yourself over and over again for the rest of the day... re-read that quote 10 times.

* Usually, jobs that promote, the quickest, are the crummier jobs. In the Army, enlisted promotions are based on "promotions points" that are earned from several different areas such as: physical fitness, *college credit, military awards, and points earned at the promotion board. Promotions basically have nothing to do with whether or not you know how to do your job.. which becomes obvious once you're on active duty. You might be get promoted quicker because you might only have to earn 500pts to make the next rank as an infantry soldier. Your buddy might have to earn 770pts to get promoted to the same rank... he works in nuclear medicine...

Pay close attention, here's what often happens.. Your buddy, who like you, has been in the Army for five years.. but unlike you, had an associates degree when he came into the Army along with 3 semester hours in calculus, and 3 semester hours in physics and hell-bent on earning his degree. *He uses tuition assistance and his G.I. Bill to finish his undergraduate degree at night. He puts in an application packet for Commissioned Officer, and subsequently gets accepted to Officer Candidate School (OCS). Now he is paid as a 2nd Lt, with over 5 years of active federal service. *When your buddy gets his first promotion as an officer- he'll be making the monthly pay, equivalent of what you'd be making if you had (PAY - A- 'TENTION HERE ~~~~>>) ** 20 YEARS EXPERIENCE doing your job in the military !!!! ** <~~ you might want to really think hard about that last sentence... read it 10 times veerrry sllooowwwwlly and let it sink in! it 10 times veerrry sllooowwwwlly and let it sink in! it 10 times veerrry sllooowwwwlly and let it sink in! it 10 times veerrry sllooowwwwlly and let it sink in! Get the message? Smell the coffee? Seeing reality yet? Which would you rather do.. ** work your ass off for 20 years for an enlisted retirement that's so small that you still have to work, or have a retirement paycheck that is equal to (or more than) the active duty pay of *MOST* enlisted personnel serving right now in the military? Which route is better if you have a family? Which route is better if you want to live in a nicer area after retirement? Don't get sold down river.

... it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that one out.

* The Army has wonderful jobs that aren't typically mentioned at the recruiters office. Look at ALL JOBS the Army has to offer in the enlisted, warrant and commissioned officer ranks. The army even has jobs that most people in-the-army don't know about!

* Sometimes it matters "where" you sign up for the army (this has been changed). Recruiters in New Orleans won't have the same type of applicants as recruiters do in more affluent areas. Historically, standards have been somewhat lowered in the "hard to recruit" areas. If you can't get in at a recruiting station in Beverly Hills.. you might try New Orleans, Flint, Michigan or Gary, Indiana. You get the point (again this has been changed, but depending on the needs of the military, practically anything can happen when they need people to enlist or fill a particular MOS (job)).

Additionally, Recruiters often have a different set of standards that they can follow when it comes to putting people in the army. Example: Lets say that you didn't like your current army job, and wanted to try to switch jobs (called your "MOS".. Military Occupational Specialty). The job that you want might require you to have a 110 GT score, and if you have a 105 GT, then you're probably just out of luck. However, a Recruiter who is desperately trying to get people into the Army, often can get a person who doesn't quite have a high enough GT score into the job (of course this all depends on the Army's need, and rules Iike the needs of the Army, can and do change. What was true yesterday isn't necessarily true today.) But one thing that is staring you straight in the face. The MILITARY PAY CHART! Ok, still fuzzy-minded about all this reality that I'm throwing up into your face? Let me give you some "this is how the real-world-works" homework. See what jobs officers typically get when they retire and the median pay. Now see what kind of jobs enlisted people typically get when they retire and the median pay. That's your homework for this evening... and one of many wake up calls. Smart people know that being a commissioned officer pays, even if you're going to get out of the military and work for the government - your rank in the military will square with your government job ranking. I'll be blunt, you won't have to start at some rootie-pootie point on the pay chart when you start your GS Job. Wake up.

Ya smelling the coffee yet? If you've spent 20 years in the military, retired, and make considerably less than Jill Schmuckatelli who spent 4 years in the military or at some civilian nursing job to pay for her undergraduate degree, then got out of the military and went to PA (physician assistant school), then you're selling yourself (and family) short. My words are bullet proof. All you have to do is look at the pay chart, do some basic math, and think for yourself. All you have to do is look at industry and see who's being hired for what jobs.. and do the requisite basic math. All you have to do is step back and open your eyes and compare active duty enlisted lifestyle to active duty officer (having to specify "commissioned officer" as opposed to just "officer" is just ridiculous) lifestyle.

* Pick a job that you want and stick to it. If you want to be an air traffic controller (ATC), then don't let a recruiter talk you into another job (assuming you have good test scores). A job that isn't available when you talked to the Recruiter, might be available in an hour, or by the end of the day. Job specialty openings come and go CONTINUOUSLY all day long because people are getting in and out of the military daily, so the numbers are always in flux. Remember, the recruiter's job is to be an agent for a particular branch of the military. *There is NO such thing as "my recruiter screwed me". As an adult, it is YOUR job to read, understand, and make absolutely no assumptions as to what is said or written. If you don't get what you want in writing, then it's all YOUR fault! You're an adult, not a child. Take responsibility for your own actions! If a recruiter forgot to hand in paper work on time in order to get you a waiver for flight school, then that's the RECRUITER'S fault (as long as you reminded him several times as the deadline approached) and that recruiter would be put out of the military if I had my way. However, If the recruiter promised you jump school, special forces school, delta force, sniper school, air assault school, and Ranger training, and you didn't get one dog-gone thing in writing on your contract, then that is YOUR FAULT! .. and YOU and only YOU are to blame for YOU winding up as a cook on some army ship out in the Atlantic.

Contracts: When dealing with the military (or any business for that matter), my rule of thumb is "If you don't have it in writing, then it isn't so." Ever hear people say "my recruiter promised me that I would go to jump school, but then screwed me" .. Really? How many of THOSE people can show you where it says "Jump School" in their contract? Get the picture?

* When the recruiter says: "oh, you can apply to jump school, ranger school, sniper school, flight school, etc.. once you're in the army" Did the recruiter lie? No! You CAN apply to those schools, but there is no promise that you'll be accepted. Again, if you failed to get it in writing.. good luck! :) Heck, anyone can apply to NASA to be an astronaut, but the chance of most getting accepted is slim to none. An F-student *CAN* apply to HARVARD, YALE, COLUMBIA, BROWN, PRINCETON... etc., but will not likely come even remotely close to being accepted. But that's common sense right? See the connection? It gets a bit more detailed than that- but basically, if you want to go to a specific school, get it in your contract ** BEFORE ** you go into the military. Ok, many of you might want to re-read the part where I said "get it in your contract ** BEFORE ** you go into the military!

* Remember, the military is notorious for using certain words to make a job sound like something that it isn't. Working with the "Engineer" unit in the military does NOT come remotely close to making you any where near the equivalent of a licensed civilian Engineer! This is where your common sense has to kick in. Do you reasonably think that an enlisted job with the Engineers is going to require you to have taken University Physics I & II, Calculus I, II & III, fluid dynamics, materials and composites, and General Chemistry? Of course not. Out of all of the enlisted people you've ever known in your life, how many have earned a B or higher in even two of those courses in college? That should be a clue to you. The army requires you to have a high school diploma or GED. That alone should make a huge light bulb turn on in your head.. what often sounds cool, ISN'T something that you really want to waste your time doing! If you want to be an "engineer", take your behind to the university, get a B or higher in the requisite courses and become an engineer, so you can get paid like a real engineer.

* Do have a GT (General Technical) score of 110 or better on the ASVAB before you sign up. Any score less than 110 GT will often make you ineligible for the "good" army jobs, and the really GOOD military schools... practically speaking, don't even think of becoming an officer or having a really great enlisted job with less than a 110 GT score. ** Read my lips... not having a GT score of 110 will generally lock you out of MANY army opportunities and schools, that would've been available to you if you had only had a 110 GT score. Go to your local bookstore, get the study guide, and study up before taking the exam.. plain and simple.

* Select jobs that require a LICENSE or TECHNICAL CERTIFICATE in the civilian sector! Unless you're a college graduate, or a military brat that knows your way around the military and has a clue about how the real-world works; you'll be best served in the long run taking only military jobs that have direct counterparts in the civilian sector; be sure that the equivalent job in the civilian sector requires a LICENSE! Why?

NOTE: These scenarios DO NOT include officers who are most often able to get decent jobs based on their managerial experience gained as an "Officer".

EXAMPLE #1: Bucky is an Infantry Man in the U.S. Army; gets out of the army 5 years later and finds it almost impossible to land a job that pays more than $5 per hour ABOVE minimum wage. Hard times ahead.
[Common sense hint: guy has neither viable education that industry or businesses can use, nor a license]

EXAMPLE #2: Tommy is a large truck driver in the U.S. Army; gets out of the army 5 years later, and doesn't have a problem getting local trucking jobs that require a CDL (Commercial Drivers License) with a HAZMAT (hazardous material) endorsement. Even if the soldier has to take a civilian CDL course/exam and practical test, this soldier won't have a problem, and will earn enough to reasonably support a family, shortly after getting out of the army... of course that's if you think life as an over-the-road trucker is a good life. [insert sound of crickets here].
[Your common sense hint: commercial LICENSE required]

EXAMPLE #3: Jennifer is a practical nurse in the U.S. Army. She took the civilian LPN (License Practical Nurse) NCLEX exam while still in the army and passed with flying colours! The 5 years of experience on the job helped! She gets out of the army after 5 years, and within 2 weeks is working at a county hospital making $9 OVER minimum wage. She works most nights and weekends, while going to college to complete her Bachelors Degree in Nursing (BSN). After completion, she will make over $43,000 per year as an RN (Registered Nurse) in her locale. If she goes back into the army as an officer (with her 5 years of enlisted experience) how much will she make? *Refer to the pay charts; Find 01E on the left row, then find "over 4 years" on the top column.. where they intersect is her base pay, which doesn't include over $200 per month for food, nor typically over $600 per month for housing; both of which are tax free. [Guess what? ~~~~~ > Bachelors Degree AND nursing license required!] ... Basically, Jennifer will reap just over $40,000 during her first year as a 2LT, but in less than 2 years her pay goes up to slightly over $51,000! Thats more than a $10,000 raise just because of her years in service and her first automatic promotion from 2LT to 1LT! What was the result of her using EDUCATION over experience? She'll make nearly the same pay as an 0-2E (1st LT) as she would if she would've been an enlisted E-8 with ***** 18 years experience *****. Enough said. If you don't get it by now... you're just not going to get it ;)

*** When it comes to promotions, officers have higher percentage promotion rate to livable wages, unlike the enlisted ranks. *** Here's the real deal, ask about the percentage of 1st LT (pay grade 0-2) getting promoted to CPT (0-3), is 10x easier than most E-5 getting promoted to E-7. The government doesn't want people to look at the money disparity.

* IMPORTANT NOTE ~~> Jenifer will likely get a "prior experience credit" for working in the same field as an enlisted soldier. She would likely come in as a 1LT (O-2), and make $45,000 per year base pay + an est. $8,000 per annum (food & housing pay), for a total of $53,000 per annum on her first year on the job as an officer. :: NOTE :: In three years, she will have made Captain (O-3E on the pay charts) and will be making only $519 less (in 3 years), than the highest enlisted rank (E-9) makes after 26 YEARS OF SERVICE !!! Ok boys and girls.. read that last part sssllloooowwwlllyy. *After only 10 years of active federal service (only 3 of those years as a Commissioned Officer), she will make almost as much as an enlisted guy at the TOP of the enlisted pay scale who has been busting his ass in the enlisted ranks for OVER 26 YEARS !!! ... as a Captain (O-3E on the pay scale), she's basically still in the Junior Officer Ranks! A TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE OF HOW EDUCATION GENERALLY TRUMPS HARD WORK AND EXPERIENCE. [Your common sense hint: Education + license equates to better pay and quality of life, nearly every time.]

EXAMPLE #4: Jackie was trained as a F-15 jet engine mechanic and has been doing the job for nearly 10 years in the U.S. Air Force. Got out of the military while stationed at Langley A.F.B., Virginia.. She subsequently earned her Airframe and Power plant "ticket" from the regional airport in Norfolk, Virginia. She busted her hump studying at Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Virginia), and earned her Undergraduate Degree in Electrical Engineering. She takes a job working for Boeing in Saudi Arabia. Her total benefit package with Boeing (which includes a 3,600 sf house within an American "compound") is worth $78,000 per annum.. most of which is non-taxable by the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
*you guessed it... her 4-year degree was REQUIRED by Boeing, and her A&P License and prior experience was "preferred". She later found out that without her formal education, she would not have been hired- and without her experience and A&P license, she wouldn't have been competitive in the marketplace. Experience is worthwhile, but education trumps experience nearly 100% of the time. [Your common sense Hint: Education + license= better job]

Sure, many people with minimal formal education have found great jobs, but I'm betting that you, being the intelligent person that you are, can see the obvious trend. Jobs that require formal education past high school AND a LICENSE, are usually much better avenues to a more financially secure future than jobs without such requirements.

NOTE: We've received overwhelmingly positive emails on this piece, and we appreciate those of you who've taken time out to send us such lengthy notes! When you get that degree or commission, be sure to let us know! ** Be sure to read applicable Department of Defense (DoD) regulations (and tax code) that pertain to your questions as the military, like the tax code, is constantly changing.

*** LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS TOPIC (I've only scratched the surface here)


* THE PROMOTION STRUCTURE (some military jobs have more higher ranking positions to "get promoted" into... others have very few, thus have slower promotions! Know what jobs promote the fastest! Know what jobs are the "good jobs").


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