With very few exceptions, becoming a non-commissioned officer (NCO) or petty officer in the U.S. Armed Forces is accomplished by progression through the lower enlisted ranks. However, unlike promotion through the lower enlisted tier, promotion to NCO is generally competitive. NCO ranks begin at E-4 or E-5, depending upon service and are generally attained between three and six years of service. Junior NCOs function as first-line supervisors and squad leaders, training the junior enlisted in their duties and guiding their career advancement.
Under the Montgomery GI Bill, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard (and their Reserves and the National Guard) provide a cash education incentive to encourage you to join and serve a tour of duty. The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) provides up to 36 months of education benefits to eligible veterans for college, business, technical or vocational courses, correspondence courses, apprenticeship/job training and flight training. MGIB benefits may be used while on active duty or after a fully honorable discharge from active duty.
The military organization is characterized by a strict hierarchy divided by military rank, with ranks normally grouped (in descending order of authority) as officers (e.g. Colonel), non-commissioned officers (e.g. Sergeant), and personnel at the lowest rank (e.g. Private Soldier). While senior officers make strategic decisions, subordinated military personnel (soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen) fulfil them. Although rank titles vary by military branch and country, the rank hierarchy is common to all state armed forces worldwide.
In addition to the MGIB, there may be additional funds available from the College Fund and Veterans' Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) "kicker". If you are receiving Tuition Assistance (TA) from your branch of service, you may be eligible to use MGIB to supplement or "top up" your tuition assistance. Benefits end 10 years from the date of your last discharge or release from active duty. You may be able to transfer your MGIB entitlement to basic educational assistance to one or more of your dependents, including your spouse and/or children. To apply, file VA Form 22-1990, Application for Education Benefits. For more information, call 1-888-GIBILL-1 (1-888-442-4551) or visit the GI Bill Education Benefits web site.
Just as the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security, are in charge of the entire military establishment, maintaining civilian control of the military, so too are each of the Defense Department's constitutive military departments headed by civilians. The four DoD branches are organized into three departments, each with civilian heads. The Department of the Army is headed by the Secretary of the Army, the Department of the Navy is headed by the Secretary of the Navy and the Department of the Air Force is headed by the Secretary of the Air Force. The Marine Corps is organized under the Department of the Navy, however it is still considered a separate and equal service. The Coast Guard is under the Department of Homeland Security and receives its operational orders from the Secretary of Homeland Security. However, the Coast Guard may be transferred to the Department of the Navy by the President or Congress during a time of war, thereby placing it within the DoD.
Prospective service members are often recruited from high school or college, the target age ranges being 18–35 in the Army, 18–28 in the Marine Corps, 18–34 in the Navy, 18–39 in the Air Force and 18–27 (up to age 32 if qualified for attending guaranteed "A" school) in the Coast Guard. With the permission of a parent or guardian, applicants can enlist at age 17 and participate in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP), in which the applicant is given the opportunity to participate in locally sponsored military activities, which can range from sports to competitions led by recruiters or other military liaisons (each recruiting station's DEP varies).
The AFQT (Armed Forces Qualifying Test) score is arguably the most important ASVAB score because it determines whether you’re eligible to join the military branch of your choice. Although the AFQT is often called the “overall ASVAB score,” that’s not quite correct, because it’s derived from only four subtests: Verbal Expression (VE), which is computed from the Paragraph Comprehension (PC) and Word Knowledge (WK) subtests, Arithmetic Reasoning (AR), and Math Knowledge (MK).