Civilian to Military: Assisting Clients Seeking a Military Option

By Ted Hagert

During the recent economic downturn, business has significantly increased in military recruiting offices. Individuals who once thought such a career wasn't reasonable have turned to the military for employment. For counselors unfamiliar with the military, helping their clients explore military careers may be challenging.    

Here's a plan of action:

  • Stay in the box! The military is simply another employerof particular occupations.
    • Assess skills and interests
    • Identify values and acceptable work environments
    • Identify barriers to military service
    • Determine qualification requirements
  • Get out of the box!A military career may be frightening to some.
    • Involve family and friends
    • Learn about occupations in each branch of the military
    • Involve military recruiters

Stay in the Box!
Using quality assessments, begin by helping clients identify their skills and interests. Encourage clients to explore the Military Careers Handbook (DD Form 1304-5MC, October 2007) which provides detailed information and interest codes for 23 military job families and over 2,000 enlisted job specialties.

Clients with a high school diploma may consider enlisted occupations. If they are interested in pursuing a career as an officer, they can compete for college scholarships at an Academy or through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Clients attaining higher ASVAB scores are eligible for more enlisted occupations while those attaining higher SAT or ACT scores have a better chance of competing for scholarships. In both cases, individuals compete for opportunity

Next, identify values and ideal work environments. Upon entry, enlisted military occupations do not pay high salaries. If income is a strong value, military service will not provide immediate gratification. Military work environments can vary from U.S. military installations to deployed submarines. Temporary assignments could take place in remote locations in austere working conditions. Individuals must consider the possible work environments of each Service.

Most importantly, find out early on if the client is likely to qualify for military service. During a speech I attended on September 15th, 2009 by Lt General Freakley, the Commanding General of U.S. Army Accessions Command, he noted that just 3 of 10 people of military age are capable of qualifying for military service today.

There are three primary qualifications; academic, physical, and moral.

  1. Academic standards: Potential applicants are screened using the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), which is a combined sub-set of scores from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). More information on this assessment is available at www.official-asvab.com. Qualifications for specific jobs are based on combinations of ASVAB sub-test scores. Counselors should work with clients to ensure they learn about all of the occupational areas for which they qualify. Recruiters can provide information on branch-specific requirements.
  2. Physical standards: A full physical is required to ensure qualification for military service. In today's society, obesity disqualifies many potential applicants. Conditions such as asthma, ADD, or broken bones may also disqualify. Military recruiters can provide specific information on disqualifiers.
  3. Moral standards: Unlike the days when ships added crew by visiting port call jails, today's applicant must meet stringent behavioral criteria for service entry. Felony convictions, drug use, or other issues may disqualify a client from service.

Get out of the Box! 
The idea of military service can evoke fear (of injury, loss of life, separation); therefore, it may be helpful for clients to involve their family and friends in discussions about military careers. Additionally, service in the military may be something to which a counselor is personally opposed. As guidance professionals, our ethical responsibility is to help clients achieve their personal goals. As such, we need to make the extra effort to assist them in making informed decisions.

It may be helpful for clients to talk with retired service members. Clients can contact their local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) or American Legion offices to discuss military careers with members. Some civilian career fields are currently populated with many former service members. For example, clients interested in pursuing a military law enforcement career could contact their local police and likely find a veteran on staff who would be willing to share information. Also, there are numerous resources available for researching generic and service-specific information:

Finally, after helping clients develop a good picture of their dream job, it's time for them to discuss their career opportunities with military recruiters. Anticipate that opportunities in each service may vary widely. Also, remember that recruiters only place people into vacancies!  Unless there's a training seat available in a specific military technical school, a military guidance counselor cannot place your client into that career field.   

The next time you ask a client, "What color is your parachute?" he or she may tell you it's Army green or Navy blue! As guidance professionals, we can take on the Coast Guard's motto - "semper paratus" - and be "always prepared" to help them explore any type of career.

Ted Hagert Ted Hagert, MS, is the national program manager of the ASVAB Career Exploration Program at the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command in North Chicago, Illinois. Prior to federal civilian service, Ted served in the U.S. Navy as a Korean Cryptolinguist for nearly 23 years, retiring as a Master Chief Petty Officer. Ted holds a MS from Troy University and is a certified GCDF. He can be reached at theodore.hagert@mepcom.army.mil.


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