Highly Specialized Military CareersUpdated: March 16, 2021
Many consider joining the military; a certain percentage of those thinking about joining the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, or Marine Corps might be tempted to rule out the option because they feel there’s no place for highly specialized skills such as computer programming, foreign language ability, or even creative work such as being a member of a band or a writer. But the United States military has career fields in all the highly skilled areas mentioned above and much more. If you are looking for a not-so-typical military career option, keep reading.
Highly Skilled Career Fields In The Military
There are two notions people have about military service that can lead to poorly-informed choices about one of the most important decisions a potential recruit can make – her career field. The first notion is that all the highly skilled job opportunities in uniform belong to officers and not enlisted members. This is NOT TRUE.
While it is definitely true that officers get different training and responsibilities, and it is also true that an enlisted person can never be a practicing doctor in uniform, there are many highly skilled areas enlisted people work in.
What kind of skills can enlisted people learn in uniform?
- Foreign languages
- Computer programming
- Computer security
- Network administration
- Public affairs
- Civil engineering
- Weather forecasting
- Air traffic control
- Entomology and pest control
- Electrical engineering/repair
The list above is only a very small sampling.
Officer Or Enlisted?
The choice to enter the military as an officer or an enlisted member boils down to whether the new recruit has a bachelor’s degree or not. Those with a four-year college degree have the option to try entering military service as an officer.
Those without a four-year degree will only be allowed to enter the enlisted ranks, but it should be known that any enlisted member who completes a four-year degree while in uniform may be eligible to apply for programs to let them enter officer training.
Officers do have more highly skilled job options open to them, but enlisted members should not assume they do not.
Best Advice For Highly Skilled Career Field Seekers? Prepare For The ASVAB
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is the military’s initial screening for highly skilled candidates. Some career fields are NOT open to those with ASVAB scores that do not qualify for those jobs, so it is crucial to get as high a score on the ASVAB as possible in all areas, but especially those required by the career field or MOS.
ASVAB study guides, online quizzes and tutorials, and other helpful prep will be an important part of your homework leading up to ASVAB testing day.
How To Talk To Your Military Recruiter About The Job You Might Want
All recruiters have a set of goals and quotas (self-imposed or otherwise) they need to meet. Some career fields need more troops than others, so you will likely get a sales pitch for this month’s currently under-staffed positions.
But the recruiter’s needs are not the recruit’s needs; don’t be steered into a career field you don’t really want through the hard sell. Ask the recruiter about the specific areas you want to explore and ask specifically what it will take to enter the service with that job, when possible.
It’s not always possible. But in many cases, it IS, and all new recruits should be persistent in trying to learn about and get the career they truly want. Sometimes a career field doesn’t have an immediate opening due to staffing issues but may have projected vacancies later in the year.
Ask your recruiter about the possibility of delayed enlistment to get you into the job you want even it if is not available right this second.
What Is Delayed Enlistment?
Delayed enlistment, also known as the Delayed Entry Program or DEP for short, is something all branches of the military can use in the recruiting process to help those who need additional time to successfully qualify for military service. One of the most popular uses of DEP is when a recruit is ready, willing, and able to join the military but is not a high school graduate yet or of legal age to join.
With a parent’s consent, potential recruits of a certain age (the actual age may vary depending on state law, current military policies, or other factors) may enter into DEP with the understanding that if the recruit changes her mind, withdrawing from the program without penalty is an option.
What some potential recruits don’t know is that withdrawing from a military program is basically penalty-free even if you are in the middle of basic training. That is important to keep in mind if you don’t get the job you want, enter basic training anyway, and later have a change of mind.
But DEP has other uses including to help those who want to enter a highly skilled military career field. Consider what the Air Force official recruiting site has to say:
“The Delayed Entry Program (DEP) allows you to complete your application to the Air Force and reserve your Air Force job before an assignment is available. While you wait for your job assignment, you will stay in touch weekly with your recruiter to verify that you are doing what it takes to remain qualified.”
What To Tell Your Recruiter You Want Regarding Delayed Enlistment
You and the recruiter will need to have a conversation about the skilled career field you want and find out if there are any openings available. If the recruiter tells you there are no openings, explain that you want to examine your option for delayed enlistment until a job opening in that career field is available.
DEP may or may not be an option depending on how long the branch of military service projects there will be no vacancies in those careers. It’s a very good idea to examine two or three fallback career field options just in case. Depending on the job, you may find there are similar opportunities in other places.
One example? Some want a life in the military that involves working on and with certain types of military hardware such as aircraft, submarines, nuclear facilities, etc. Some want to be crew chiefs, others want to be maintainers, still others might want to work in computer security.
But what if there are no current openings in computer or cybersecurity? Many recruits don’t realize that military police organizations like the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) have computer security-related jobs such as computer forensics and data protection.
And all military agencies need tech support and IT services including cybersecurity. You may not get a job working directly for Army Cyber Command, but there are many different kinds of IT-related jobs in the military that do many of the same things.
Having some fallback options can help and exploring each branch of the military’s official site for a list of career fields can help. The Air Force alone has 200 career fields, and you’ll find plenty to consider.
Don’t Browse Career Fields For The First Time At The Recruiter’s Office
The recruiter is not your enemy, but the recruiting goals of the branch of military service you are entering will help dictate the sales pitch you get; if you are trying to get into a crowded military career field, the recruiter will likely give a sales pitch for their currently short-staffed jobs.
That’s why it is best to do much of your research on the kinds of military jobs available on your own – go into your meeting with the recruiter knowing what you might like to do. If you have your heart set on doing a certain kind of work, under no circumstances should you allow yourself to be sent into basic training as an “open general” trainee with no career field or MOS assigned to you.
Some Recruits Choose To Take Their Chances With Military Job Assignments In Hopes Of Cross-Training Later
What happens when you can’t get into the job you want even with the Delayed Enlistment Option? Some military jobs can be phased out or merged with others; whatever the reason if you cannot get the specialty you want, you may need to consider entering a different job with an eye on doing something called cross-training.
What Is Cross-Training?
Cross training is when a military member passes basic training and advanced training, gets into their very first job in the military, and puts in a minimum required amount of time before requesting to enter a new career field.
This sounds like something any recruit could do in order to get the job they really want, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Some military jobs are labeled as “critically manned”, meaning there is difficulty staffing such jobs to their required capacity.
In such cases, the military member may be unable to cross train due to the restriction placed on that short-staffed job. Before you choose to take a job you’re not truly interested in doing with a plan to cross train, make certain that career field has no such restrictions.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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