From Fort Stewart, GA — 09/16/2010
It's the Army. Aside from going off to war, being stationed at a far away base, and getting paid very little, you're going to be surrounded by people who frustrate you to no end. If you don't have mental toughness, don't even bother. The people who have the biggest problem with the Army are people who lack mental toughness, discipline, or who didn't think it through.
Being in the military, and especially the Army, you will be doing things you don't want to do. All the time. I was a Cavalry Scout, I did 13 months in Iraq and another 2 years at Fort Stewart in an Admin job and then in a Supply job. If you enlist, there's a very good chance you'll do nothing in your MOS. That's just how it works. And yes, you'll be surrounded by people your normally would never interact with. Your social support structures (friends, family) will not be around, and you'll have to make new friends with people you thought you'd never be able to stand. And yes, it seems like everybody in the Army is dumb.
Far too many people think the Army is just about shooting guns and doing push ups. The opposite is true. It's about being adaptable, and being able to take a beating with a smile. If you are mature, have a desire to succeed, and some discipline, then you'll go far. If you want to act like you're still in high school, are lazy, and think “I'm too smart for this” on a regular basis, then you'll crash and burn until you either leave or turn into the soldier they're looking for. I came in with a monumental chip on my shoulder. It hurt a lot, but once I dropped the attitude, all of the sudden the hardest job in the world became really, really easy.
Think of it this way. They control every aspect of your life. But that also means they've done all the thinking for you. Just show up at the right place, the right time, and wearing the right uniform, work hard, and you're golden. Don't try to make sense of it, don't try to outsmart the system. Just shut up and do what you're told, and you'll be great.
I know it sounds mostly negative at this point, and that's because the Army can really be a negative experience if you're not ready for it. But if you can take it, you can get a lot out of it. First off, they're willing to train you for just about anything. Most of the enlisted MOS's require no education beyond a high school degree, so if you've always wanted to be a cop or a mechanic, you can be an 18 year old cop or an 18 year old mechanic, which absolutely would never happen in the civilian world. If you work the system right, you can get out 4 years later in your early 20's and have marketable experience and certifications, something that your civilian counterparts won't have.
Additionally, the pay isn't terrible. As an E-4, I had my own house, and a brand new car sitting in the driveway, along with a slew of expensive hobbies. And all the while I was putting money away. If you're married, you either get a free house (on base) or you get a pay bump to cover your house. Your food is paid for, you and your family automatically have health insurance, and for $20 a month you can get $400k of life insurance. If you can make it work, college while you're in is free, and when you get out, the GI Bill is beautiful.
And really, the major point for me is the experience I got in the Army. I'm 24 years old now, I've been to war, and I've been in charge of myself and other people. Most of my friends from high school are struggling to make use of their degree, to get their first real job so they can eventually move out of their parent's house. I've done more in the past 4 years then I have in the 20 years prior, and in the end, that's why I have to recommend the Army to anybody who can deal with it.