Last Updated: 10 December, 2014

1.0     IntroductionUS Recruiting Station

This article will provide an overview of the structure of the US military and organisational changes in terms of manpower. The article will then provide a general outline of the recruitment and selection process (i.e. how to join the Armed Forces of the United States) by looking at areas such as eligibility, tests and interviews. Finally, the article will provide some useful links and references.

For an outline of the US military recruitment and selection process for both enlisted (Other Ranks in the UK vernacular) and officers see below:

  1. US Enlisted Recruitment and Selection Process.
  2. US Army Officer Recruitment and Selection Process
  3. US Navy Officer Recruitment and Selection Process
  4. US Marine Corps Officer Recruitment and Selection Process
  5. US Air Force Officer Recruitment and Selection Process
  6. US Coast Guard Officer Recruitment and Selection Process

2.0     Structure of the US Military

The US military is comprised of 12 military services (or Service branches), five Regular (known as Active Duty) and seven part-time duty (consisting of 5 Reserve and 2 Guard branches). The Joint Chiefs is not classed as a military service, but does have specific, legally underpinned, functions. Each Service branch varies greatly in service commitment, location and how its members contribute to the overall mission, though all branches are on the same rank-based pay scale. The military Services include:

  1. Executive:
    1. The Joint Chiefs: planning; advice; policy formulation; and national military strategy.
  2. Regular (Active Duty) Personnel:
    1. The United States Army (US Army).
    2. The United States Navy (USN).
    3. The United States Marine Corps (USMC).
    4. The United States Air Force (USAF).
    5. The United States Coast Guard (USCG); within the UK the CG is an entirely civilian organisation dedicated to search & rescue, in contrast the USCG is a military service within the armed forces of the United States.
  3. The United States Reserve:
    1. Army Reserve.
    2. Navy Reserve.
    3. Marine Corps Reserve.
    4. Air Force Reserve.
    5. Coast Guard Reserve.
  4. The United States National Guard:
    1. Army National Guard.
    2. Air National Guard.

Each of the Service branches is made up of both Commissioned Officers and Enlisted personnel, known as soldiers (Army), ratings (USN/USCG), marines (USMC) or airmen/airwomen (USAF).

Between the US President, as Commander-in-Chief, and the Service branches is the Department of Defence (DOD) which is the USAs oldest and largest government agency. As of November 2014, the agency has over 1.4 million active duty Service personnel in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. In addition, there are over 1.1 million in the National Guard and Reserve forces; and over 718,000 civilian personnel (DOD, 2014a).

The reader can find an organisational plan of the DOD here: Organisation of the Department of Defense (2012-03).

It should be noted that all Regular and Reserve personnel in the US Army, USMC, USN and USAF fall under the jurisdiction of the DOD. The USCG reports to the Department of Homeland Security during peacetime and to the DOD (by way of the USN) during wartime. National Guard units fall under the jurisdiction of both the governor of their state and the US President.

2.1     Regular (Active Duty) Personnel

As the most time-intensive service commitment, Active Duty is similar to working at a full-time civilian job. Regular service members are full-time members of the Military, living on base or in military housing. After attending Phase 1 Basic Training (or boot camp for all you Americans!), personnel will be stationed at a base, either domestically or overseas. Postings (or active duty terms) typically last two to six years and deployments can last up to a year; although the length may vary depending on a unit’s specific mission.

2.2     Reserve Personnel

As the newest type of service, the Reserve was created during the 20th century to provide and maintain trained units within the US while Regular service personnel are deployed. Each Regular Service branch of the US military has a Reserve component under their command, which is available for deployment in times of war or national emergency.

As Reservists are part-time service personnel, this allows them time to pursue a civilian career or college education while simultaneously serving within the military. Members of the Reserve attend Phase 1 basic training and are required to participate in training drills one weekend a month as well as a 2-week programme each year. Some Regular service personnel switch to the Reserve to complete their service commitment.

2.3     National Guard

The National Guard consists of the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. The Guard’s main focus is on homeland security and humanitarian relief. In addition to training drills one weekend a month and two full weeks per year, National Guard units assist communities in their state during emergencies like storms, floods, fires and other natural disasters.

The two Guard branches are unique in that they are primarily controlled at a state level, comprised of 54 separate organisations: one for each of the fifty states, US-owned territories and the District of Columbia. Each group goes by its state name (for example, the New York National Guard) and reports to that state’s governor. This organisation goes back to the founding of the Guard, which began as the militias created by each state during the Revolutionary era.

During times of conflict, the US President can federalise the National Guard and its service personnel can be deployed overseas. National Guard service personnel deployed overseas may see combat, but are also assigned non-combat humanitarian tasks such as building schools and hospitals, training local peacekeepers and other community-building.

3.0     Organisational Change

Every four years the DOD conducts a Defence Review, with the latest one being published in 2014: Quadrennial Defense Review 2014, with the broad purpose of identifying challenges and opportunities in the years ahead and subsequently adapting military capability to meet these.

Just like the UK military, the US military is facing financial constraints and reductions in manpower, which is exacerbated by the ever looming threat of sequestration-level cuts (DOD, 2014b).

4.0     Manpower Requirements

The DOD calculates the numbers that need to be enlisted to maintain each of the Services manning levels. The DOD takes account of changing unit establishments, wastage caused by service personnel leaving the service at the end of their engagements, and those who might choose to leave before their engagements come to an end (PVR or Premature Voluntary Release). The number required in each trade in each Service is assessed and figures are published at periodic intervals so that adjustments may be made during the year.

Traditionally, the Armed Forces have had varying success in meeting these recruiting targets. This shortfall in recruiting tends to be worse for the Army and for particular trades within the other Services.

With this in mind, the full time trained strength (i.e. active duty) of the US military was 1,338,487 at 30 September 2014 (DMDC, 2014), of which: 235,000 were officers; 1,090,759 were enlisted personnel; and 12,728 were cadets/midshipmen. The percentage of women in the US Regular Forces was 15.13% in September 2014.

5.0     A General Outline of the Recruitment and Selection Process

Within the UK individuals tend to be attracted to individual Service branches rather than the military per se; within the US this is usually the other way round. Each Service has their own identity, ethos, core values and standards and this is reflected in the way that each Service branch conducts separate recruitment and marketing campaigns.

Selection is conducted separately for officers and enlisted personnel, but the selection processes are similar in nature. All of the Service branches utilise the Military Entrance Procession Station (MEPS) for the selection of enlisted personnel. The MEPS is a joint Service organisation which determines an individual’s physical qualifications, aptitude and moral standards as set by each Service branch. There are MEPS locations all over the country.

Although the selection procedures for officers and enlisted personnel are different, all include interviews, aptitude and ability testing and some personality measures. There is a filtering system that will select people at the initial application stage, while others will be invited to attend an assessment centre which can last up to two days.

As well as technical ability, individuals will be assessed on their general qualities to be a member of the US military. In addition, preliminary medical examinations will also be carried out including checks on weight, eyesight and hearing, and individuals will need to pass a physical fitness assessment.

5.1     Recruit Attraction Methods

The US military utilises a number of marketing channels in order to engage with domestic and international populations and these include:

  • High street stalls;
  • Trade shows and other events;
  • School and university visits;
  • Commercial recruitment fairs;
  • Own websites;
  • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, WordPress);
  • Newspapers;
  • Television;
  • Billboards and posters;
  • Cadet and other youth organisations; and
  • Friends and family of current and ex-military personnel.

5.2     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:

  • Age: Every job/role in the US military has a minimum and maximum age limit. 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.
  • Fitness Standards: individuals should be in good physical condition, of appropriate weight and able to pass a standard physical screening prior to entry.
  • Medical: there are various criteria including height, weight, eyesight, and checks medical conditions and any ongoing illnesses.
  • Education: A high school diploma is most desirable and individuals with a (General Education Development (GED) certificate can enlist but some Services may limit opportunities. It is very difficult to be considered a serious candidate without either a high school diploma or accepted alternative credential.
  • Nationality & Residency: 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.
  • Criminal Convictions: some kinds of offences and sentences can bar recruits from joining or re-joining.
  • Tattoos & Piercings: these are dependent on location and nature and will usually need to be declared and shown during a medical examination.

5.3     When Can an Individual Join?

If an individual is under 18 years of age, they will need consent from their parent or guardian before they can progress their application at the Recruiting Office.

If an individual is currently under a care order then the US military will have to seek permission of the local authority in order for an individual to join.

5.4     Get Fit To Join

Due to the nature of military training and operations it is critical that individuals get in the best possible shape in order to help them excel during pre-joining fitness tests, initial (basic) training and throughout their military career.

All of the Service branches have put together training programmes designed to help individuals get their fitness levels to what they should be and increase their chance of success.

6.0     Recruiting Organisations

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).

7.0     Barriers to Joining

A number of barriers to joining the military have been identified and include:

  • Misconceptions about the qualifications needed;
  • A lack of awareness of career options available;
  • Uncertainty about the type of training provided;
  • Concerns about military discipline and having to follow orders;
  • Being killed or injured; and/or
  • Disruption to family life and the belief that individuals are cut off from civilian life.

8.0     Useful Links

Listed are some links which the reader may find useful:

9.0     References

DMDC (Defence Manpower Data Centre) (2014) DoD Personnel, Workforce Reports & Publications. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 24 November, 2014].

DOD (Department of Defence) (2014a) Department of Defense. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 24 November, 2014].

DOD (Department of Defence) (2014b) Quadrennial Defence Review 2014. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 24 November, 2014].