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Ways to Start Your Military Career With the Air Force
Interested in aiming high in the United States Air Force? This branch of the armed forces offers two paths to join: You can enlist or take the officer route. Understanding the differences and the requirements for each helps you choose the best path based on your career aspirations.
The Air Force sets minimum requirements to join, regardless of your path. Some requirements are slightly different, depending on your path, but most apply to everyone, both enlisted personnel and officers.
Basic requirements include:
- Age range: 17 to 39 for enlisted; 18 to 39 for officers; 18 to 48 for health care, law and ministry
- Height and weight: Maintain weight based on your height as stipulated by the Air Force chart
- Health: Physically and mentally capable; preexisting conditions are evaluated before you're accepted
- Vision: No worse than a + or - 8.0 refraction level; stricter requirements apply to positions like pilots
- Citizenship: U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident with a green card or legal non-citizenship with visa for enlisted; native-born or naturalized U.S. citizen for officers
- Education: High school diploma or GED
- Marital status: No effect on eligibility; expect to be apart during training
- Body modifications: No offensive tattoos; no body markings on the head, neck, face, tongue, lips or scalp; ring tattoo on one hand is allowed, but no other hand tattoos
- Criminal record: Some violations may disqualify you
Applicants with kids may face some challenges. If you're married and have legal and physical custody of one or two children, you're fine. If you have three kids under the same conditions, you must complete a waiver. Four or more dependent children in your legal and physical custody disqualify you from joining. Single, divorced or separated parents with up to three children in their physical and legal custody need to complete a waiver.
As long as you meet the minimum requirements, it's relatively easy to follow the enlisted path into the Air Force. After joining, you'll take the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery test. The ASVAB tests you on math reasoning, work knowledge, paragraph comprehension and math knowledge. You need to score at least 36 AFQT if you're a high school graduate or 65 AFQT if you have a GED.
Your next step is to report to a Military Entrance Processing Station. The purpose of this stop is so military personnel can screen your physical state and moral standards to ensure they align with the requirements. You also work with a jobs counselor to narrow down the options for your career. When you pass all of the preliminary testing and requirements, you receive your official acceptance and become part of the Delayed Entry Program until you leave for Basic Military Training.
The Air Force offers four different paths into the officer track. The one you choose depends on your current status.
The first option is to go to Officer Training School after you finish your college degree. You'll take the Air Force Qualifying test, which is a lot like the SAT. You will undergo physical and moral evaluations at an MEPS just like enlisted members. Your application then goes to either the Officer Training School Selection Board or Air Force Recruiting Services for approval. You're headed to Officer Training School or Commissioned Officer Training once you get approved.
A second path is to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy. It's a prestigious school, plus, your tuition is fully paid. You also get free room and board and free medical care on top of a monthly cash stipend. But the application process is much more involved and competitive than the average college or other routes to officer status. Applicants have to be at least 17 but can't pass their 23rd birthday by July 1 of the same year of their starting the academy. You also need to be an unmarried U.S. citizen without dependents. Perhaps most challenging is finding a legally authorized nominating entity to provide a nomination.
If you're currently in college or starting soon, a third option is to join the Air Force ROTC. Over 1,100 college campuses offer the program. ROTC members get tuition assistance to cover school costs. You agree to serve for four years in exchange for getting college paid for by the Air Force. ROTC works on physical and mental aspects as well as leadership skills to prep you for being an officer.
A final pathway to becoming an officer is to enlist in the Air Force and work your way up to an officer position. You need a bachelor's degree and an approval or a recommendation from your unit commander to transition to officer. The Officer Training School Selection Board reviews your application. If approved, you enter Basic Officer Training.
Pros and Cons of Joining the Air Force
Looking at the pros and cons of joining the Air Force helps you decide if it's the best path for your goals. Consider your current circumstances and where you want to go when making your decision.
Pros of joining include:
- Tuition assistance
- Career training with varied career options
- Opportunities to see and live in new places
- Advancement opportunities
- Job security
- Military discounts
Some drawbacks of joining include:
- Being apart from family during training
- Strict requirements
- Weight and height requirements throughout service
- Commitment to minimum service time
- Dangerous work
- Potential for deployments
- Frequent moves
- May not have complete control over career and where you're stationed
If you decide the Air Force is right for you, your next step is deciding how to join. Whether you enlist or go the officer route, joining the Air Force requires you to meet a lot of standards. But it also puts you on the fast track toward gaining skills in your new career field.
Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.