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MEPS stands for Military Entrance Processing Station and is the location where you will take your ASVAB test, have your physical examination and get on the bus to ship off to basic training.
The MEPS is also the first time you will experience the famous military saying of “hurry up and wait”. You can expect to do a lot of waiting at MEPS, followed by being rushed into various rooms to accomplish required steps of the process, then sent back out to sit in a waiting room for hours at a time. Get used to this process, it is a regular part of the military through basic training and even throughout your entire career. Bring a book or magazine to read during your downtime.
A few general tips and rules for MEPS:
- Wear conservative, comfortable clothing. No offensive writing on t-shirts, no sagging pants, no open-toed shoes, tank tops, halter tops, bare midriffs. Make sure you wear underwear.
- Don’t wear earrings or other jewelry as it will simply get in the way during tests and the physical exam
- Hats are not to be worn inside the MEPS building, so it’s easier to not bring one at all.
- Don’t use profanity or be overly loud or obnoxious in the MEPS building. You are not in the military yet, but you will be surrounded by military personnel & they may have little tolerance for this type of behavior.
- If you bring a cellphone, it will be turned in at the front desk or stored with your other belongings in a locker.
- Bathe the night before, you will be in close proximity to other people all day as well as having a very thorough exam by the doctor & it’s better for everyone if you are clean.
- If you wear glasses or contacts, bring them with you
- Remember to bring all required paperwork with you. If you forget something like your Social Security card, you will be sent home and will have to come back at another time.
- Ask questions if you need to during the process. You’ll look less stupid by asking a question than you will by doing something wrong.
Most people will go to MEPS twice, once for an initial examination to make sure you qualify for military service and again when you ship out to basic training. I happened to go three times since I took the ASVAB separately from the medical screening and everyone will have a slightly different situation that may require different visits to MEPS.
During your initial talks with a recruiter he or she will help you fill out DD Form 2807-2 which is a medical pre-screening questionnaire. This will ask your medical history and any current conditions and will be sent to the MEPS doctors to make sure you don’t have any obvious disqualifying ailments so that you don’t waste a trip to MEPS for something that will automatically disqualify you from service.
Depending on your situation, the MEPS you go to, and how far you live away from the MEPS, you may spend two days at MEPS. Many people will take the ASVAB on their first day, stay in a hotel (on the government’s dime) overnight and go back to MEPS in the morning to take the physical portion.
The ASVAB or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is an academic test meant to gauge your ability to learn a new profession. The higher you score, the more jobs will be available for you to choose with your recruiter or at basic training if you go in with an open selection on your contract.
Many people will take this test in their Junior year of high school, but won’t take it seriously as it isn’t a required test and they don’t get a grade on it. If you were one of the people that didn’t take it seriously and got a poor score, I highly recommend taking it again at MEPS after you study and prepare for it. Many people coming into the military still don’t take it seriously, but I personally think it is one of the most important tests you can take. The minimum ASVAB score to enlist in the Air Force is 36, which means that you scored higher than 36 percent of the people that have taken the test. The maximum score on the ASVAB is 99. While getting a 36 will qualify you for entry into the Air Force, you will have a very small selection of jobs that you qualify for, some of which are not the most enjoyable jobs available. By studying and trying your best on the ASVAB you open up many more job options, some of which may be more enjoyable to you as well as more marketable in the civilian world after you get out of the military. I know many people that after coming into the Air Force with a low ASVAB score in a job they hate, retook the test again after already being in the Air Force so that they could retrain into a more desirable job. Try to ace the test from the beginning so you don’t end up in that situation.
I won’t go into detail on the ASVAB and how to study for it here, as there are many better resources available online already. For a few good resources see the links below.
I recommend purchasing one of the ASVAB study guides, as they have information on how to take the test, what the test covers, as well as multiple practice tests to help you prepare.
Taking the test
Taking the ASVAB is like taking many other tests you have taken in school. The test is computerized so you’ll be in a room full of computers with other recruits. You’ll be given a pencil and piece of paper to use as scratch paper for the math portions, but all of the questions will be presented on the screen and you’ll enter the answer by choosing from multiple choice answers.
Because the test is electronic you should receive your scores immediately, though depending on the MEPS that you go to they may hold on to your results or send them straight to your recruiter. I was given my results in a sealed envelope immediately after taking the test and didn’t open it until I was back with my recruiter.
Make sure you are well-rested before taking the test, you don’t want your results to suffer because you were up partying the night before. Like I said, it’s an important test and you should take it seriously.
The Medical Examination
The medical examination is a series of tests and evaluations to make sure that you are medically and physically qualified for military service. The test will usually take an entire day, and you will stay in a hotel the night before because you will have to show up at the MEPS station very early in the morning. I seem to remember leaving the hotel about 5:30am, and getting up at 4 something. While in the hotel you will likely have a roommate, and there are various rules you have to agree to when checking in at the hotel, such as a curfew, dress code, etc.
MEPS will take your blood and run a series of tests for various diseases and also a urine sample to test for drugs. Females will also be tested for pregnancy. There will be a person monitoring you very closely when giving the urine sample, so if you have a shy bladder you may want to drink some extra water so you’ll be prepared to go when it’s time. It is not like urine tests you may have taken in the civilian world where you are given a cup and can go into a bathroom and close the door to fill the cup. But, it’s still a lot more privacy than they give you at basic training, so it’s good practice.
You will also have a hearing and eyesight test at some point during the day, including depth perception check for the vision exam. The eyesight test is a standard test of reading off a row of letters while looking through various lenses, as well as a test to see if you have color vision. The depth perception test is difficult for some people to pass even if they normally have perfect depth perception. You’ll be looking into a machine staring at rows of circles, one of which will appear closer than the others. It can be tricky to distinguish which one is closer at times, but sometimes wiggling your head around a little will help, or letting your eyes become unfocused.
For the hearing test you will be put into a tiny soundproof room with other recruits and will wear headphones that will play very faint beeping noises. Every time you hear a beeping noise you will push a button. Even the loudest beeps can be quite faint sounding, so make sure you don’t go to any rock concerts the night before or listen to your iPod with the volume cranked up on the way to MEPS or it may temporarily affect your hearing.
Failing these tests will not automatically disqualify you from military service, but it may disqualify you from some jobs if you don’t have color vision, depth perception or require corrective lenses.
During the physical exam your height and weight will be taken to make sure that you meet the AF requirements for body weight. To see your max body weight based on your height, review the following chart. If you are over the weight limit for your height they will take a body fat measurement instead and males need to be under 20% body fat while females need to be under 28%.
During this exam you will also strip down to your underwear and perform a series of ridiculous looking exercises while the doctor watches, looking for signs of physical impairments that would keep you from performing your duties once enlisted. This will be things like waving your arms in circles, walking on your heels, and doing the “duck walk” where you attempt to walk across the room and back in a squat without your knees or hands touching the ground. For the full list of exercises, see this page on the About.com MEPS page.
Since these exercises are performed in your underwear and you’ll be doing it as a group, use that information to guide your judgement in underwear choice for your trips to MEPS. Guys, you may want to consider boxers or boxer briefs, and girls may want to wear a sports bra and cotton boy shorts or bikini cut panties, not a thong or fancy lingerie. But above all, wear some form of underwear or you will be sent home and have to make another trip to MEPS with the proper attire.
You’ll also have go into a private room with the doctor for the awkward part of the examination where guys will have to turn their head and cough and bend over and spread their cheeks. For me it was just a visual exam but for others I’ve heard the doctor actually checked the prostate, and you can find out more about what that involves here. From what I’ve read at other sites like this one, females will be put on an exam table with their feet in the stirrups for a quick gynecological exam. These exams are quick and painless for both males and females, and the doctor has processed thousands of people through the MEPS, so they really have seen it all. Nothing to be embarrassed about.
You’ll also perform a strength test, which is simply demonstrating your ability to lift a certain amount of weight over your head. The more you can lift, the more jobs you will qualify for, but even the heaviest weight should be easy for most people, so it is not at all like a PT test.
Picking a job
After all of your medical screening you’ll talk to an Air Force job counselor to pick your job or open area. I highly recommend that you research what kinds of jobs the Air Force offers before you go to MEPS so that you will not be rushed when put on the spot to pick one and end up with a job that you hate for the next four to six years.
This page on about.com has a list of what kinds of jobs the Air Force offers. It is a little out of date and usually only shows the “official” description of the jobs which can be very vague and hard to understand, but it is better than nothing. The official Air Force web site also has a list and description of various career fields.
Once you find a job that you are interested in, I recommend using Google or another search engine and searching for the AFSC code (a five-digit code for that career field. For instance, 1C6X1 for Space Systems Operations) for that job to find more information about it that people may have posted on forums, their blogs, etc.
Depending on the needs of the Air Force as well as your qualifications, you may not be guaranteed a particular job before you go to basic training and will instead have to pick an open category. What this means is that you are not guaranteed a particular job but are instead guaranteed a particular category such as open electronics or open mechanical. If you pick open electronics you will be guaranteed a job that falls within the electronics category, but you will not know exactly what it is until you are almost done with basic training. Open general is the most broad category and includes everything from Security Forces (cops) to intel to medical jobs and public affairs.
When actually picking a job you will need to pick four to five individual jobs as well as an open category, and you will then be told what you qualify for and if you will be guaranteed a job or if you’ll have to go in with one of the open categories on your contract. Even if you go in with an open category, keep in mind which jobs you want, so that picking them at basic training will be quicker and easier.