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?
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).
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The President, Secretary of Defense and other senior executive officials are advised by a seven-member Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is headed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking officer in the United States military and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The rest of the body is composed of the heads of each of the DoD's service branches (the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force) as well as the Chief of the National Guard Bureau. Although commanding one of the five military branches, the Commandant of the Coast Guard is not a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Despite being composed of the highest-ranking officers in each of the respective branches, the Joint Chiefs of Staff does not possess operational command authority. Rather, the Goldwater-Nichols Act charges them only with advisory power.
Examinees also receive a score on what is called the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). AFQT scores are computed using the Standard Scores from four ASVAB subtests: Arithmetic Reasoning (AR), Mathematics Knowledge (MK), Paragraph Comprehension (PC), and Word Knowledge (WK). AFQT scores are reported as percentiles between 1-99. An AFQT percentile score indicates the percentage of examinees in a reference group that scored at or below that particular score. For current AFQT scores, the reference group is a sample of 18 to 23 year old youth who took the ASVAB as part of a national norming study conducted in 1997. Thus, an AFQT score of 90 indicates that the examinee scored as well as or better than 90% of the nationally-representative sample of 18 to 23 year old youth. An AFQT score of 50 indicates that the examinee scored as well as or better than 50% of the nationally-representative sample.