This article provides an outline of the recruitment and selection process for individuals wishing to join the US military as enlisted personnel, i.e. not as officers.
Although the US military utilises a unified recruitment and selection process, the system is flexible enough to cater towards the needs of each individual military Service.
For background information on the US military recruitment and selection process as a whole look here. For individuals wishing to join the US military as Officers please click on one of the below links:
- US Army Officer Recruitment and Selection Overview.
- US Navy Officer Recruitment and Selection Overview.
- US Marine Corps Officer Recruitment and Selection Overview.
- US Air Force Officer Recruitment and Selection Overview.
- US Coast Guard Officer Recruitment and Selection Overview.
1.1 Who Does This Recruitment and Selection Process Apply To?
The recruitment and selection process described in this article applies to individuals who are interested in a career as an enlisted person in the following US military services:
- Regular (Active Duty) Personnel:
- The United States Army (US Army).
- The United States Navy (USN).
- The United States Marine Corps (USMC).
- The United States Air Force (USAF).
- The United States Coast Guard (USCG).
- The United States Reserve:
- Army Reserve.
- Navy Reserve.
- Marine Corps Reserve.
- Air Force Reserve.
- Coast Guard Reserve.
- The United States National Guard:
- Army National Guard.
- Air National Guard.
Please view Pocket Recruiter Guide 2013-14 for an overview of US Army general entry requirements, MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), and more.
1.2 Recruiting Hierarchy
Although the US military utilises a unified process for the recruitment and selection of enlisted personnel and a broadly similar process for the recruitment and selection of the various military services’ officers’, devising manning requirements and the subsequent recruiting process is the responsibility of the individual Services.
The organisations responsible for recruiting are:
- US Army Recruiting Command (USAREC);
- US Navy Recruiting Command (NRC);
- US Marine Corps Recruiting Command (MCRC);
- US Air Force Recruiting Service (AFRS); and
- US Coast Guard Recruiting Command (CGRC).
2.0 A General Outline of the Enlisted Recruitment and Selection Process
Figure 1 provides an outline of the current US military recruitment and selection process for enlisted personnel. Each stage of the enlisted recruitment and selection process is detailed in the following sections.
Figure 1: Outline of the US Enlisted Recruitment and Selection Process
Candidates have also undertaken OPAT (Section 5.3 below) in Stage 3 since 2016.
3.0 Stage 1: General Eligibility
There are a number of eligibility criteria that must be considered before making an application to join the US military and these vary across the Service branches due to the nature of the job/role an individual may wish to undertake. The general principles are outlined below.
3.1 Age Criteria
Every job/role in the US military has a minimum and maximum age limit (Table 1). The minimum age can differ between jobs/roles and is specified within each job description. However, the earliest application is at least 18 years old (17 years old with parental consent) when an individual applies, and under 35 years old when beginning basic training (although the maximum age is typically around 27 years of age). However, keep in mind that almost all male US Citizens and Permanent Resident Aliens living in the US, who are 18-25, are required to register with the Selective Service.
|Table 1: Age criteria by service|
|Regular (Active Duty)||17-35||17-29||17-34||17-27||17-27|
3.2 Physical Criteria
Due to the varying physical demands on service personnel in each Service branch, the physical criteria vary greatly. These differences can vary even within each branch of the Service. Generally speaking, potential service personnel should be in good physical condition, of appropriate weight and able to pass a standard physical screening prior to entry. For more specific information speak to a recruiter.
3.3 Educational Criteria
Success in any branch of the US military has its foundations in a good education, and a high school diploma is most desirable. Individuals with a General Education Development (GED) certificate can enlist, but some Services may limit opportunities.
It will be very difficult to be considered a serious candidate without either a high school diploma or accepted alternative credential.
3.4 Nationality & Residency Criteria
Individuals who are US citizens or Permanent Resident Aliens (people who have an INS I-151/I-551 ‘Green Card’) may join the US Military. Properly documented non-citizens may enlist. However, opportunities may be limited.
For enlistment purposes, the US includes Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.
Documents required include passport, Social Security card, birth certificate, driver’s license and educational qualifications.
3.5 Criminal Convictions Criteria
Some kinds of offences and sentences can bar recruits from joining or re-joining; typically 2nd and 3rd degree misdemeanours and/or felony convictions are disqualifying. For more specific information speak to a recruiter.
3.6 Tattoos & Piercings Criteria
These are dependent on location and nature and will usually need to be declared and shown during a medical examination or to a recruiter. During the selection process individuals should remove piercings and not wear clothing with obscene images.
4.0 Stage 2: Meet with a Recruiter
After an individual confirms that they meet the general eligibility for service with the US military they will be able to meet with a recruiter.
When an individual meets with a recruiter, the recruiter will be able help the individual fill out their application and conduct an initial screening. Individuals will need to provide their recruiter with the following if they are applying as an enlisted candidate:
- Medical records;
- Birth certificate;
- Social Security card;
- Citizenship certificate (if applicable);
- High school diploma;
- Complete list of places the individual has worked;
- Four character references;
- List of all the places the individual has visited outside of the US;
- List of all the places the individual has lived; and/or
- Any information involving the police and drug use.
5.0 Stage 3: Military Entrance Processing Station
Stage 3 of the process is the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). The MEPS is where enlisted applicants for military service go to complete the enlistment process. Candidates officially complete the process of joining the Military once they meet all of the requirements at the MEPS. This process may take up to two days.
Therefore, the primary role of the MEPS is to determine (under military regulations, policies and federal law) whether or not an individual is qualified to serve in the United States Armed Forces, and if so, what jobs they may qualify for under individual Service regulations. The recruiter will do some MEPS pre-screening, and once that clears, an appointment with a local MEPS can be made.
There are 65 MEPS located across the US and Puerto Rico. Individuals who must travel a distance will receive free accommodation at a nearby hotel, and meals and transportation are also provided at no cost.
Nicknamed “Freedom’s Front Door”, MEPS are staffed with military and civilian professionals who are trained to carefully screen each individual to ensure they meet the physical, academic and moral standards set by each Service. To do so, each individual must go through the following six steps.
The Department of Defence (DOD) is currently (as of January 2020) conducting a three-year pilot study using a talent management tool known as the Tailored Adaptive Personality Assessment System (TAPAS). You can read more about TAPAS and the pilot study here.
5.1 Step 1: Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is a multiple-choice exam that helps determine the careers for which an individual is best suited. The ASVAB may be given in a computerised version (CAT-AVSAB) at the MEPS or in a paper version at various satellite locations known as Military Entrance Test (MET) sites – often located in Federal government office buildings, National Guard armouries or Reserve centres – around the country or at high schools and colleges. If an individual does not live near a MEPS centre, the ASVAB can be administered at a MET site.
The AVSAB is typically offered to US high school students when they are in the 10th, 11th and 12th grade, though anyone eligible for enlistment may take it. There has never been a requirement that a test-taker with a qualifying score enlist in the military, and the test may simply determine personal aptitude for a particular career. If a recruit has already taken the test, they should inform their recruiter to see if their results are still valid (usually two years).
The ASVAB, administered by the US Military Entrance Processing Command, takes approximately three hours to complete and measures an individual’s knowledge and ability in a number of different areas; it is not an IQ test. Before individuals begin the test they have a chance to answer some practice questions and ask any questions about taking the test. The current iteration of the ASVAB test covers nine areas:
- General Science (GS): 25 questions measuring knowledge of life science, earth and space science, and physical science.
- Arithmetic Reasoning (AR): 30 questions measuring ability to solve basic arithmetic word problems.
- Word Knowledge WK): 35 questions measuring ability to understand the meaning of words through synonyms.
- Paragraph Comprehension (PC): 15 questions measuring ability to obtain information from written material.
- Mathematics Knowledge (MK): 25 questions measuring knowledge of mathematical concepts and applications.
- Electronics Information (EI): 20 questions measuring knowledge of electrical current, circuits, devices, and electronic systems.
- Auto and Shop Information (AS): 25 questions measuring knowledge of automotive maintenance and repair, and wood and metal shop practices.
- Mechanical Comprehension (MC): 25 questions measuring knowledge of the principles of mechanical devices, structural support, and properties of materials.
- Assembling Objects (AO): 25 questions measuring ability with spatial relationships.
- Verbal Expression (VE): WK + PC = VE.
- Naval applicants must also complete a Coding Speeding (CS)
- Naval and Marine applicants must also complete a Numerical Operations (NO)
I understand the CS and NO subtests are going to be (or have been) phased out.
ASVAB scores are used primarily to determine enlistment eligibility, assign applicants to military jobs, and aid students in career exploration. Each Service uses a custom combination of ASVAB results to produce scores related to different career fields. No one passes or fails the ASVAB! Scores will be provided to individuals on a report called the ASVAB Student Results Sheet, with additional information to help individuals understand their score.
Four of the ASVAB subtests are combined to form the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). It measures general cognitive ability and is composed of verbal and mathematics subtests (AR + MK + (2x VE)). It is the most important ASVAB score, because it determines if an individual can enlist in the Services (Table 2).
|Table 2: Minimum AFQT score for enlistment by Service|
|Service||Tier I||Tier II|
|≥ High School Diploma||= GED|
|USCG||45||50 (with 15 college credits)|
|Army National Guard||31||31|
|Air National Guard||31||31|
In addition to the ASVABs AFQT, each Service has MOS scores. Combinations of scores from the above tests are used to determine qualification for a MOS. These combinations are called ‘aptitude area scores’, ‘composite scores’, or ‘line scores’. Each of the Services has its own aptitude area scores and sets its own minimum composite scores for each MOS (Table 3).
|Table 3: MOS by composite scores|
|MOS Title||Army/Army National Guard||USN/USCG||USAF/Air National Guard||USMC|
|Clerical (CL), Administrative (ADM), Administrative (A), Clerical (CL)||VE+AR+MK||VE+MK||VE+NO+CS||VE+AR+MK|
|Combat Operations (CO)||VE+AS+MC||N/A||–||–|
|Basic Electricity & Electronics (BEE)||–||AR+GS+2*MK||–||–|
|Mechanical Maintenance (MEC)||–||AR+AI+SI+MC||–||NO+AS+MC+EI|
|Mechanical Maintenance 2 (MEC2)||–||AO+AR+MC||–||–|
|Operations Specialist (OPS)||–||WK, PC, AR, MK, AO||–||–|
|Hospital Corpsman (HM)||–||GS+MK+VE||–||–|
|Field Artillery (FA)||AR+MK+MC||–||–||–|
|General Maintenance (GM)||GS+AS+MK+EI||–||–||–|
|General Technical (GT)||VE+AR||VE+AR||–||VE+AR|
|Mechanical Maintenance (MM)||AS+MC+EI||–||–||–|
|Operators & Food (OF)||VE+AS+MC||–||–||–|
|Surveillance & Communications (SC)||VE+AR+AS+MC||–||–||–|
|Skilled Technical (ST)||VE+GS+MC+MK||–||–||VE+GS+MC+MK|
|Special Forces & Special Operations Forces||GT≥107 CO≥98||GS+MC+EI≥165 or VE+MK+MC+CS≥220 (minimum for BUD/S)||–||GT=105|
A fact sheet for the ASVAB can be found here: ASVAB Fact Sheet.
5.2 Step 2: Pass the Physical Examination
The physical examination is a regular medical exam, similar to what an individual would receive at a family doctor. The physical examination will include:
- Height and weight measurements;
- Hearing and vision examinations;
- Urine and blood tests;
- Drug and alcohol tests;
- Muscle group and joint manoeuvres (in under clothing);
- Medical conditions and any ongoing illnesses;
- Interview; and
- Specialised test (if required): e.g. pregnancy test for women, body fat percentage test for those who are overweight, and/or tests relating to any unusual medical history.
Medical technicians will give individuals instructions on how to complete a questionnaire on their medical history before the physical examination begins. Individuals may find it helpful to talk with their parents about any childhood diseases or medical problems they may have experienced before going to the MEPS.
Individuals should bring their glasses or wear contacts, and bring along an eyeglass or contact lens case and solution.
A recruiter should discuss physical criteria with recruits beforehand.
5.3 Step 3: Occupational Physical Assessment Test
All candidates have had to undertake the occupational physical assessment test (OPAT) since 2016, and you can read about what it involves here.
5.4 Step 4: Meet with a Counsellor and Determine a Career
At this point, a Service Enlistment Counsellor meets with each recruit to find the right job specialty (known as Military Occupational Specialty or MOS). A number of different factors contribute to career selection:
- Needs of the Service;
- Job availability;
- ASVAB score;
- Physical requirements (for example, a recruit needs normal colour vision for some careers); and
- Recruit preference.
The Service Enlistment Counsellor will also go over the enlistment agreement with the recruit; and it is important to understand this fully before signing! When a recruit signs this agreement, they are making a serious commitment to the US military.
5.5 Step 5: Background Screening
Also at this time, recruits are fingerprinted for their files (FBI check), which are required for background checks (e.g. credit check) and security clearances.
At any time during the selection process information may reveal an individual to be unsuitable for US military service due to excessive debt, medical disqualifications, criminal history or other pertinent reasons.
5.6 Step 6: Take the Oath of Enlistment
After a final interview and pre-enlistment briefing, individuals will take the oath of enlistment. In this statement, the recruit vows to defend the US Constitution and obey the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Family members are invited to watch and take photos.
I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
6.0 Stage 4: After the MEPS
The new recruit now does one of two things depending on the terms of their enlistment:
- Direct Ship: the recruit reports to Basic Training between two days and two months after completing the MEPS process (it varies based on job assignment and branch.) A recruiter will provide instructions on transportation to Phase 1 Basic Training at this time.
- Delayed Entry Programme (DEP): the recruit commits to Phase 1 Basic Training at a time in the future, generally within one year. This is especially popular with recruits who enlist before completing high school. Recruits enrolled in DEP may return to their homes until the time comes to report for training.
7.0 Useful Links
Listed are some links which the reader may find useful:
- US Joint Chiefs of Staff: http://www.jcs.mil/Home.aspx
- US Department of Defence Careers Website: https://dod.usajobs.gov/
- Defence Manpower Data Centre (DMDC): https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/appj/dwp/index.jsp
- Careers in the US Military: http://www.careersinthemilitary.com
- Website about joining the US Military: http://todaysmilitary.com/
- US Army Recruiting Command (USAREC): http://www.usarec.army.mil/
- US Navy Recruiting Command (NRC): http://www.cnrc.navy.mil/
- US Marine Corps Recruiting Command (MCRC): http://www.mcrc.marines.mil/
- US Air Force Recruiting Service (AFRS): http://www.rs.af.mil/
- US Coast Guard Recruiting Command (CGRC): http://www.gocoastguard.com/
- Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Programme Official Site: http://asvabprogram.com/ or http://official-asvab.com/
- United States Military Entrance Processing Command Official Site: http://www.mepcom.army.mil/
- Selective Service System: http://www.sss.gov/default.htm
- Defence Reviews: http://www.defense.gov/defensereviews/
- US Immigration and Nationalisation Service (INS) Official Site: http://www.uscis.gov
- General Education Development (GED) Certificate Programme: http://www.gedtestingservice.com/ged-testing-service
- US Army: http://www.goarmy.com/
- US Navy: http://www.navy.com/navy/joining/
- US Marine Corps: http://www.marines.com/eligibility?WT.mc_id=TODAYSMILELIGIBILITY
- US Coast Guard: http://www.gocoastguard.com/apply-now
- US Air Force: http://www.airforce.com/joining-the-air-force/enlisted-overview/
- Two UK-orientated pieces that may be of interest:
- A very thorough document ‘Informed Choice? Armed Forces Recruitment Practice in the United Kingdom’ written by David Gee in 2007 and available from: http://www.informedchoice.org.uk/informedchoice/informedchoiceweb.pdf.