Military matters: Are you willing and able?

Only about 1 percent of Americans are currently serving in our military. The brave men and women who protect our country and our freedoms are quickly becoming a rare breed, with young people increasingly less willing to volunteer.

Millennials are far less likely than their predecessors, generation X and baby boomers, to serve in the military. A poll from the Harvard Institute of Politics found that 60 percent of millennials, roughly defined as people born from the 1980s to early 2000s, support the use of ground troops to combat terrorism. However, only 16 percent said that they would be willing to enlist in the military.

This is a depressing statistic. Though the majority of us support the use of the military in the protection of our nation and interests, we are not willing to contribute.

In addition to protecting the United States from threats both foreign and domestic, the military provides humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, works to avoid conflicts, promotes peace and develops new and revolutionary technologies.

Without our military, our country and lives as we know it would not exist. It is important for those willing and able to continue the legacy of military service of previous generations.

As young, college-educated people, it is never too early or too late to consider enlisting. When we think of potential recruits, we generally think of 18- and 19-year-olds fresh out of high school, who serve four to six years and then return to the civilian world to get a college education. However, those who graduate college first and then enlist in any branch of the military have a unique advantage.

Recruits holding a bachelor level degree can become officers after successful completion of training and officer candidate school.

The officer candidate process is often highly competitive and rigorous, requiring good physical and mental health, high levels of fitness and sharp attention to detail. Those who successfully complete officer candidate school graduate as second lieutenants, or ensigns in the Navy and Coast Guard, and begin their service in leadership positions in their chosen fields.

By becoming an officer in the military, recent college graduates are often given more responsibility than their entry-level civilian counter-parts.

Those with professional and graduate degrees, such as medicine or law, can also qualify for a direct commission as an officer in the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Army. Direct commissioned officers attend a shorter training instead of officer candidate school, receive specialized military education in their fields and can qualify for loan repayment assistance.

As for women, the number of female officers and enlisted members has grown substantially over the last few decades. However, only one in five service members are women.

As of January 2016, all military roles are open to qualified women. Potential female recruits should not be deterred, as the military is now more gender equal than ever.

Apart from the reward of service, all branches of the military provide young college graduates benefits that often don’t exist in many entry-level civilian positions. Base pay for newly minted officers is competitive, but benefits also includes housing and food allowances, access to military commissaries with lower-cost goods, full medical coverage and life insurance.

Veterans and their dependents also have access to the GI Bill, to help cover tuition and fees for further education.

However, the military is not for everyone and any potential recruit should seriously consider all the options before making a major lifestyle change.

In addition to strict health, fitness and character requirements, all branches of the armed forces require service over self. Individualism and independence are not valued in the military.

Recruits must be willing to follow orders unquestionably, work as a team, and put the needs of their country ahead of their own. Patriotism is an important aspect of military service.

Personal freedoms can also be limited by military service. The way an officer or enlisted member of the armed forces acts, even in their free time, reflects directly on their branch and is therefore held at a higher standard than civilians.

Morgan Meadows

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it is a crime for a service member to use “contemptuous words” against the president, Congress and other military personnel.

But for those who are willing and able to serve, for few years or an entire career, the military is an honorable way to jumpstart work experience and serve our country.

Morgan Meadows is a Sierra Nevada
College senior.