By the time the 2020 collegiate academic year ends, about three million American students will have earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Prior to COVID-19, many of those young people were poised to enter a bustling U.S. job market that in February 2020 had a 3.5 percent unemployment rate, the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. As we all know, that’s changed in just a few months.
Today, these graduates are facing a daunting job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had staggering jobless rate increases and the national unemployment rate rose to 14.7 percent or 38 million Americans unemployed. Of course, those numbers only include those Americans who have successfully filed for unemployment benefits, so the numbers could be higher, but the bottom line is that the coronavirus has caused the highest joblessness rate since the Great Depression in 1929.
I have listened for several weeks now to new college graduates who are asking aloud about their career options. Many have student loans and absolutely no job prospects because of our collapsing employment market, so as a military retiree I thought it would be good to try to be the connective tissue between those seeking work after college and those looking for recruits.
The good news is that Uncle Sam is hiring and it is looking for military officers. Currently, the U.S. military has a lot of career opportunities for college graduates who are flexible and might be seeking to use their degrees and acquire leadership skills along the way.
The Army, Army Reserve and the Army National Guard all have very good career options for men and women seeking to earn an officer commission. If you have a bachelor’s degree, there are multiple ways to become an officer.
The U.S. Army is full-on active duty. Meaning, you are signing up to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army and you will be an officer 24/7, 365 days a year. After your initial training, the Army will send you somewhere to live and work. This will provide you not only with a steady paycheck, healthcare, and other benefits (including 30 days of leave per year), but you will also gain experience in your field of study.
The Army’s officer candidate school (where civilians learn to become military officers) is at Fort Benning, Georgia. The course is 14-weeks long and once candidates complete OCS they are sent to their branch training school which is where new officers learn to do their military jobs. The locations of those courses will vary depending on the job you want to do. The length of training will vary as well.
Remember, the Army has hundreds of career options. Ask your officer recruiter about your particular field of study. If you studied something general like business, and you don’t think there are good options, think again. Believe it or not, military specialties like infantry, armor, and artillery, just to name a few, will give you a lot of complex leadership experience that will definitely prepare you for leadership roles in the civilian sector.
If you’re leaving college with a degree in a medical specialty you might be eligible for financial incentives including bonuses of up to $75,000.
The Army also has opportunities for direct officer appointments which means that you are given credit for your education and commissioned as an officer accordingly. The Army has direct commission programs for lawyers, chaplains, and medical personnel. Consult an officer recruiter for more information.
“Currently, the Army offers a bonus for reservists going to officer candidate school,” said Lisa Ferguson with U.S. Army Recruiting Command. “Applicants may qualify for up to $20,000 upon successful completion of OCS training and commissioning.”
For those of you that don’t know, the Army Reserve is one of the part-time military components. Meaning, once you are done with initial training, the expectation is that you usually perform one weekend of duty per month and a two-week annual training period. So, if you’re not really convinced that active duty is the move for you, then consider the Army Reserve. If they have the jobs you’re interested in nearby, you will get to serve in your community.
Pursuing this option will not only give you a full-time job for the next few months as you attend OCS and your occupational training, but it also puts $20,000 in your pocket in addition to the money you earn while on duty. This is a great option if you’re looking to expand your professional qualifications without fully committing to the active duty military.
Army National Guard
The Army National Guard is located in every state in the United States. Like the Army Reserve, they are a part-time military force, however, they fall under the control of the governor of each state. They are usually the ones called up during states of emergency like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and more recently the coronavirus.
There are various paths that lead to an officer commission in the National Guard. You can attend federal OCS for 14 weeks, as previously mentioned, and earn your second lieutenant bars. Upon completion, just like in the Army Reserve and in the U.S. Army, you will be sent to an officer basic course which will train you how to do your military job. Once that initial training is complete, you can return to the community where you live and assume your part-time job.
The Army Guard also has its own officer candidate school. The State OCS program, as it is known, requires you to attend a Regional Training Institute on the weekends. One weekend per month for 16 to 18 months, plus two two-week periods, you will become an officer candidate and work your way towards your officer commission. If this route is not for you, you can try the National Guard Bureau’s Accelerated OCS which varies by season and state. It is eight weeks long.
Currently the Army National Guard is offering a $10,000 officer accession bonus for newly commissioned officers who complete the Basic Officer Leaders Course.
U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force
The Air Force will send you to officer training school (OTS) if you have a four-year degree. It is a nine-and-a-half-week program designed to develop leadership skills.
“A career in the Air Force prepares Airmen for success,” Chrissy Cuttita with Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs said. “It gives her/him the education and leadership and technical skills necessary to succeed in a career in the Air Force and/or propel them toward success as a civilian later in life.”
According to Cuttita, the Air Force offers approximately 130 different career fields in areas such as engineering, communications, logistics, intelligence, healthcare, computer science, law, finance, space and more.
“Each have their own unique incentives,” Cuttita said. “For regular Air Force health professions, there are potential signing bonuses and/or loan repayment options depending on the specialty.” So check with your officer recruiter to learn about what incentives the Air Force has to offer.
“In addition to all of that, not unique to the Air Force, but public service in general, there is a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Act that college graduates joining the Air Force could take advantage of,” Cuttita said.
It is important to remember that you have to serve for 10 years in a public service role (military) and you have to make payments on your student loans during that period before you are eligible for payment relief. The service must be fulltime therefore, military reservists and National Guard personnel are not eligible unless they are working fulltime Active, Guard and Reserve (AGR status).
U.S. Air Force Reserve
As I mentioned previously, Reserve forces primarily serve in a part-time capacity in their communities. If you’re interested in part-time military service, the Air Force Reserve is another avenue. Visit this site and ensure the officer block is checked and see what type of officer positions and incentives are available to you.
If you qualify you will attend Air Force OTS and then your specialty professional school. Once initial training is complete, you enter the part-time military. Remember, the reserve is a federal part-time force and they have been mobilized for wars and natural disasters in the past. When that happens, you are on active duty for a period of time to be determined by the president.
The Air Force Reserve offers a variety of part-time job opportunities with full-time benefits including tuition assistance and low-cost health insurance. And, for specific part-time jobs, you may be eligible for a signing bonus of up to $20,000.
The Air Force Reserve also offers direct commissioning opportunities for select professions. See a recruiter for more details.
Air National Guard
If your plan was to fly for the airlines and the airlines aren’t hiring, not to worry. The Air National Guard has a variety of pilot positions available, including remotely piloted aircraft. No need to put your career plans on hold and joining the Air Guard will guarantee you a sign on bonus in some cases.
Got a business degree? They are looking for contracting officers. Computer science degree? They need cyberwarfare operations officers.
If you get accepted to become an Air National Guard officer you will attend the Academy of Military Science for six weeks in Alabama where you will learn how to be an officer. Then you will attend your occupational training. The Air National Guard, like the Army National Guard, is a community based, part-time military force that falls under a governor’s control, but they can also be federalized in time of war or national need at the direction of the president.
If you’ve never really thought about being a pilot but you think you have the aptitude and spirit of adventure, you should check it out. I knew a guy who was a police detective as a civilian who was a National Guard pilot and had a separate part-time military career. Similarly, I knew a dentist in the civilian sector who was an intelligence officer in the reserve. It’s a very unique side hustle.
No matter how you look at it, joining the Guard can help expand your professional experience, or bring you some new qualifications. At the very least, it can give you a pretty cool outlet to break up the monotony if you’re looking for something exciting to do in your life.
There are many Air National Guard specialties, including pilot positions, where candidates are being offered $20,000 bonuses. Check with your local Air National Guard recruiter for details.
U.S Navy and Navy Reserve
Future Navy officers receive their officer training in officer candidate school (OCS). OCS is a 12-week course that prepares college graduates to be commissioned as Navy line officers, specifically, submarine and surface warfare officers, as well as Navy aviators, flight officers, special warfare officers and special operations officers.
If you are interested in becoming a chaplain, engineer, attorney, scientist, management, public affairs officer and other types of professions, you will attend the officer development school which is a five-week course that trains newly commissioned officers to be staff officers.
If you are interested in joining the Navy Reserve, the part-time federal force of the U.S. Navy, you will attend direct commission officer school, a 12-day program that trains newly commissioned officers on military basics.
Active duty officers serve fulltime. Like the other services, this is fulltime work. You can be assigned shore duty or get placed on a ship. Reserve Officers serve part-time, two days a month and two weeks a year. The initial service requirement could be as few as three years. It depends on several factors, so it is best to talk to a Navy officer recruiter to help you figure that out.
The Navy offers $15,000 accession bonuses for officers selected to their nuclear propulsion training so if you’re a grad with academic credentials that might succeed in that field, give the Navy a call.
U.S. Marine Corps
Last but certainly not least is the Marine Corps. While their financial incentives for college grads are virtually non-existent, I truly respect them for their approach in finding their future leaders.
“We in the Marine Corps are keenly aware of the challenges being experienced by our fellow citizens across the nation and remain committed to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them as we continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic together,” Marine Capt. Charles Dowling with the U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Command headquarters said.
“To this end, Marine Corps Recruiting Command continues to seek out intelligent, tough, and resilient young men and women who desire to serve their nation as a member of its most elite and lethal fighting force,” Dowling said.
According to Dowling, recent college grads should contact their closest Marine Corps Officer Selection Officer (OSO) and inquire about commissioning opportunities in the Officer Candidate Course. But Dowling was sure to point out that the Marines seek to recruit officer candidates based on their innate intangible motivations: their desire to both serve and lead Marines, their desire to give back to their nation, and their desire to serve in a cause bigger than themselves.
“We do not use the offer of any financial incentive as a reason to become a Marine officer,” Dowling said. “In this vein, the Marine Corps does not currently have a college loan repayment program or offer any monetary bonus for any particular officer occupational field. The main ‘bonus’ the Marine Corps offers its potential officer applicants is, if found worthy, the opportunity to lead Marines in the world’s most elite and lethal fighting force.”
In my opinion, Capt. Dowling’s explanation is the very best reason to join the military as an officer. You shouldn’t be doing it for money, but the incentives are there for those who want them. Whether you have intrinsic or extrinsic motives, leading men and women in uniform is a noble and honorable career option.
Lastly, remember that deploying is a part of military service and you don’t get to pick and choose the fights of your nation. You are signing up to become an officer in the armed forces and ultimately that means leading men and women, sometimes into harm’s way, to fight against all enemies of the United States.
The military is a great place to start your professional life. Like anything, it is, what you make it.
NOTE: If any of you need help with this topic, please drop me a line by commenting on this blog. I am more than happy to help. If you're an officer recruiter and I missed something, likewise, let me know.