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The military is not for everyone and it requires dedication and a willingness to put the needs of the Air Force and the United States before your own on a regular basis. This page will try to point out a few challenges you can expect to face during your time in the military.
Basic Military Training
BMT is a big hurdle for a lot of people to face and turns a lot of people away before they even think about joining the military. People don’t want to get yelled at, don’t want to go through the physical and mental challenges of basic training, etc. BMT is definitely a challenge for a lot of people, but some actually enjoy it and either way, completing it is an incredible feeling of accomplishment. Plus, you have to consider that it is only eight weeks out of a possible 30 year career. Millions of people have gone before you and completed it successfully, it can be done!
Some people may be turned off by the military attitude, especially how it is portrayed in movies and TV shows. I can say that day-to-day life in the Air Force is much more like a regular civilian job than many people expect, especially compared to the other branches of the military in many cases. It is true that you have to respect your superior’s rank and do everything that the officers appointed over you tell you to do, but in general they would not ask you to do something they would not do themselves and they will not be constantly telling you to do push-ups or disciplining you like they do in the movies.
Depending on your job, you may have to work long hours, and you will not be paid overtime for working 80 hours a week as opposed to 40. Some jobs in the AF have regular office hours Monday – Friday, 7:30am to 4:30pm. These are usually support jobs like personnel or finance or various medical jobs. Others that are more on the operational side of the Air Force may require 24-hour operations which means you could be working 12 or 24 hour shifts or eight hour shifts 6 days a week, etc. You can also expect to work swing or night shifts, sometimes in a rotating schedule between days and nights so that you’re always in a state of flux with your sleep schedule. In deployed locations the hours are especially long, and you could be on duty 12 hours a day, six days a week or more.
The monthly salary for enlisted members starting out is low compared to even entry-level civilian jobs in many cases. However, you have to also consider all of the other benefits of military service such as free healthcare and free lodging, which can take away half or more of a civilian pay check easily. Also, there is a very clear career progression in the military, and in a few years you can be promoted a couple of ranks and earning a much more comfortable pay check. Regardless, you should do some budgeting and determine if you can afford to live off of an Air Force salary before deciding to join, especially if you already have a family.
For some people moving a lot and seeing the world is one of the main reasons for joining the military. For others it can be a hassle and a big challenge. In the Air Force you can expect to PCS (Permanent Change of Station) about every three to five years. The time of course depends on your job, the bases you have available to you and the needs of the Air Force. In some cases you may PCS after two years, in others you could be on a base for 10 or more years. For a family this can be a big challenge as the spouse has to find a new job at each new base and the kids have to switch schools, etc. Moving expenses are covered by the military, so at least you don’t have to worry about paying for all of the expensive moves.
With the long hours and regular travel depending on your job, being in the military can be hard on families. The AF member will miss birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions, etc. You can always take leave for these events if you wish, but depending on your job it may not be as flexible as a civilian job to do that.
Deployments / Danger
Most AF members will deploy at some point, whether to Iraq or Afghanistan or some other country. Some jobs will deploy more often than others (such as Security Forces and Loadmasters) and be in more danger than others, but any job can be deployed. Sometimes you’ll be able to volunteer for these deployments, other times you’ll be “voluntold” and will not have any say in the matter. Deployments are stressful for both the deployed individual as well as their families back home.
Expected to be a “whole person”
The Air Force expects you to be and judges you on your yearly report based on the “whole person concept” as they call it. Basically this means that they want you to be good at your job, be in shape, improve yourself by taking college classes, be involved in sports on base, be involved in other activities on base, volunteer around the community, etc etc. Basically they want you to be involved in a lot of things outside of work for no extra pay. This sounds nice at first but after you’ve already worked 60+ hours for a week, the last thing you’ll probably want to do is go volunteer your valuable free time just to get another “bullet” for your yearly review report.
When starting your career your focus will be on learning your job and completing your CDCs or Career Development Courses which are basically a review of what you learned in tech school. After you get that done though, you can expect to be strongly encouraged or voluntold to accept additional duties in addition to your actual job. This is things like being a Self-aid Buddy Care instructor, being in charge of COMSEC or OPSEC (communication security or operational security), being in charge of the snack bar, etc. Sometimes these additional duties can take up more time than your actual job and you can expect to come in at times on your days off to work on them, especially when the time comes around for your base to be inspected. There is no additional pay for these extra tasks, and they get piled on some people so much that they can barely do their actual job.
You are your rank
In the military you will be treated according to your rank in many situations, not on your personal maturity, experience or intelligence. This is especially frustrating if you enter the military at an older age than normal, as there will be people younger than you that outrank you and are your supervisor or boss. For instance I came in at 25 and had already had many civilian jobs, including jobs where I was the manager of a store and had run my own business. Airmen are given the least desirable tasks and have little responsibility or authority to make any decisions or have any input in anything. This is a good thing for some people, but for others it is a large source of frustration.