What is the military? In simple terms, the U.S. Armed Forces are made up of the five armed service branches: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy. There are three general categories of military people: active duty (full-time soldiers and sailors), reserve & guard forces (usually work a civilian job, but can be called to full-time military duty), and veterans and retirees (past members of the military). And of course there are the millions of family members and friends of military members, past and present. But you're here to learn more about the military. There is much to learn! So first the basics. Exactly who is in charge?
Battlefield commission: under certain conditions, enlisted personnel who have skills that separate them from their peers can become officers by direct commissioning of a commander so authorized to grant them. This type of commission is rarely granted and is reserved only for the most exceptional enlisted personnel; it is done on an ad hoc basis, typically only in wartime. No direct battlefield commissions have been awarded since the Vietnam War. The Navy and Air Force do not employ this commissioning path.
Each branch of the service operates its own Service Academy as a four-year institution of higher education. All students receive a full scholarship with a small monthly stipend. Upon graduation, you're commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps or as an ensign in the Navy or Coast Guard. Appointment to a service academy is extremely competitive. For more information, call 1-800-822-8762 (US Military Academy in West Point, New York), 1-800-638-9156 (US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland), 1-800-443-9266 (US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado), 1-800-883-8724 (US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut), and 1-866-546-4778 (United States Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, New York).
Your ASVAB scores determine what jobs you will qualify for in the military. But before you embarrass yourself in front of active duty service members, know that a job in the Army and the Marine Corps is called an MOS, which is an acronym for Military Occupational Specialty. In the Air Force, jobs are called AFSC – Air Force Specialty Code. In the Navy they are known as an NEC - Navy Enlisted Classification and the Coast Guard, jobs are called ratings, or rate for short.