Should You Join The Military?

Short Answer: Probably

Paul Henning
Nov 15, 2019 · 7 min read

In the United States it can be quite difficult for most people to pay for higher education or health insurance. This has created a huge road block for many millennials, trapping us in massive debt from degrees we may or may not have needed to compete for jobs that don’t offer benefits. You know the deal.

How do you get around this obstacle?

Fortunately, there is a way. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to make a sacrifice.

The US Military has five main branches: Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Each one has it’s own specific list of pros and cons, but they all end with paid higher education, health care for life, home loan assistance, and more.

Is it fair that in the ‘land of the free’ you have to potentially overlook your ethics for what many deem to be basic human rights? Probably not. If you want to level up in this country though, something has got to give.

I spent four years as a helicopter technician in the Navy and it changed my life. Though I have known people in all of the other branches, I cannot speak for their experiences. Some people carry their time proudly, others wish they had never been subjected to some hard times regardless of the rewards.

What It Will Cost You

Lifestyle Changes

Obviously you have to quit smoking weed, start working out and running, and leave whatever town you are in, just to get going. People will tell you it isn’t worth it, it will be horrible, four years is sooo long, and why don’t you just go back to school?

Some of the lifestyle changes you have to give up will actually be better for you in the short term, like getting your mile run time down, or not spending any more money on drugs. Some changes will directly affect your immediate life negatively. You might lose a romantic relationship, or upset your overprotective parents when you sign on the line. Some of your friends will think you are a sellout to whatever life you’re currently living.


Some of your colleagues (and supervisors) in the military will likely be overgrown boys with hyper masculinity issues that make dick jokes and drink too much and want to fight you if you talk down on Christianity or ask them not to throw trash into the ocean.

There is every level of harassment. Being abused or harassed (sexually or otherwise) is not guaranteed for every person as part of your contract, but for way too many it is real. Obviously, women have it the worst. I have heard that things have gotten better over the last decade since I got out, but of course it will not be gone.

If you join, do not become one of the many grab-assing (or worse) men that are bored, drunk, overworked, and under stimulated in healthy ways.

Some people worry about joining after age 20 or so because it is above average, but being older and having a foundation for who you are and what you will stand for is better than going in at 18 and letting the military’s ideals dictate what is normal for you. It also gives you a better chance at getting out when your contract is over and actually using the benefits that you joined for in the first place.

Interpersonal Stress

Since you can’t really get fired from the military, it breeds some of the worst coworkers and bosses you can imagine.

In a normal job if you complain every day about the work and have a poor level of performance, you will be told to just quit by your colleagues, or get fired by your boss. In the military, you still come to work, it just makes everything harder on everyone around you.

Not everyone hates life and is an awful coworker, of course, but many are. Be ready to be above the complaints and whines.

I would volunteer for any and every task that needed to be done and some of my shipmates hated me, it seemed, because they thought I was a kiss-ass or something. Really, I just had pride in my work and was more concerned about being a productive member of the team rather than not being perceived as a ‘yes man’ or ‘teacher’s pet’.

For me, reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle put my mind in the right place.

What You Will Hopefully Gain

Accountability To Your Potential

When I decided to join and signed up, I was a pizza delivery, stoner type that said things like, “Professor, I didn’t get a chance to finish my homework,” or “Well, I slept in and didn’t go to the gym, I guess I’ll just watch some movies instead.” I did not take ownership over my own life.

Less than a year later I found myself getting sprayed with salt water on the flight deck of a moving destroyer rocking back and forth at midnight in the middle of the ocean waiting for a helicopter to land. Senior Chief had yelled at me, “Henning, this bird is coming back with some electrical bullshit and you’re not going to bed until you fucking fix it!” I put my headlamp on.

How was I going to fix this helicopter? I barely had a few short months of training, nothing to prepare me for the reality of being a mechanic. Or so I thought.

Several hours later as the sun came up, my shipmate brought me a paper plate with boiled eggs on it. I was elbow deep in wires and tools while reading schematics from a laptop. I wiped the eggs on the railing of the ship to soak up some dried sea salt, and scarfed them down.

At lunch time someone brought me another plate, rice with hot sauce, followed by Senior Chief. I didn’t wait for him to speak first. “Senior Chief, I found the problem, just repairing this connector and the bird will be up in a few minutes.” He grunted and walked away.

An hour later, I drank a cup of coffee and watched the helicopter fly off over the horizon to continue its scouting of the Gulf of Aden. Senior Chief came out of the office and asked me what took so long. He walked right past me out of the hanger. It was a rhetorical question.

My thirteen hour shift had ended six hours before, and I had to be back at work in only five more, but my work for that day was done. I fixed the problem because I had to, I stretched my brain and body and didn’t stop until it was done. Only six more months at sea before we got to go home. My buddy patted me on the back.

Later in life when confronted with a goal behind an obstacle, like studying for a test in university, or hiking up a mountain with a wildland fire crew, I would draw on these times in the military and deny any excuses.

Not prepared for an exam? Stay up all night studying when others go to sleep, obviously. Worn out from carrying a pack and a chainsaw uphill all day? Find a deeper place to reach from inside and do not stop moving.

Senior Chief would say that if you don’t feel like you are over your head and about to drown then you aren’t trying hard enough with your short time on Earth. It is a blessing to have an obstacle, now figure out how to get over it. Imagine who you will be on the other side.

In the military if you make an excuse, someone calls you out on your fear. If you fall behind, you are called out on your laziness.

This accountability is essential for exploring your potential in life and if you don’t have it before the military, like I didn’t, it is a great place to get it.


You will immediately meet people from all over the country from places that you never thought about. My two best Navy buds were from Ohio. I came from a small border town in south Texas, what the heck was Ohio?

The opportunity to make life long friends is extremely high in the military. These peers are going through whatever you are, with just as little experience as you. You come up together in the system, and it can be an awesome thing when you both emerge on the other side. No one else for the rest of your life will relate to you on that level.

Financial Benefits

With the new GI Bill, they pay the university AND they pay your bank account separately so that you don’t have to work full time. It is an incredible resource that can be used on technical programs and other schools as well. I used mine, and between paying me, the university, and the technical school they gave over $100k.

Health care, however crappy it may be in some places, is mostly free for the rest of your life. In this country, that is a gold mine in itself.

There are many veteran home loan companies that will help you finance a home with $0.00 down. Yes, it can cost you almost nothing to get a house in your name and you can use these programs again and again, not just once.

Is it worth it? Take a risk and change your life? There is no doubt that parts of it will be unenjoyable and difficult, and not everyone’s background is conducive to such a major life shift, but the pro’s outweigh the con’s from where I am sitting.

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