Enlisted members make up most of the military workforce. They receive training in a job specialty and do most of the hands-on work. Usually, you’ll sign up for four years of active duty and two years inactive. After you’ve completed your active duty time, you can either extend your contract or re-enlist if you want to continue serving.
Officers make up a much smaller part of the workforce. To join as an officer, you typically must have a four-year college degree and complete an officer program. You compete for promotion to continue your career. Most officers are managers who plan and direct operations. Others are professionals like doctors and lawyers. Officers get paid more than enlisted members and enjoy certain other benefits.
You don’t have to join as an officer to become one though. You can join as an enlisted member and attend officer training later on.
ACTIVE DUTY (FULL TIME)
As the most time-intensive service commitment, Active Duty is similar to working at a full-time civilian job. Active-duty service members are full-time members of the Military, living on base or in military housing and immersed in military culture. After attending boot camp, they are stationed at a base either domestically or overseas. Active-duty terms typically last two to six years. The length of deployment varies depending on a unit’s specific mission.
RESERVE (PART TIME)
As the newest type of service, the Reserve was created in the twentieth century to provide and maintain trained units at home while active-duty service members are deployed. Each active-duty branch of the Military has a Reserve component under their command, which is available for active-duty deployment in times of war or national emergency.
Reservists are part-time service members, allowing them time to pursue a civilian career or college education while simultaneously serving their country. Members of the Reserve attend boot camp and are required to participate in training drills one weekend a month as well as a two-week program each year. Some active-duty service members switch to the Reserve to finish out their service commitment.
NATIONAL GUARD (PART TIME)
The National Guard consists of the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. The Guard’s main focus is on homeland security and humanitarian relief. In addition to training drills one weekend a month and two full weeks per year, National Guard units assist communities in their state during emergencies like storms, floods, fires and other natural disasters.
The two Guard branches are unique in that they are primarily controlled at a state level, comprised of 54 separate organizations: one for each of the 50 states, U.S.-owned territories and the District of Columbia. Each group goes by its state name (for example, the New York National Guard) and reports to that state’s governor. This organization goes back to the founding of the Guard, which began as the militias created by each state during the Revolutionary era.
During times of conflict, the president can federalize the National Guard and its service members can be deployed overseas. National Guard service members deployed overseas may see combat, but are also assigned noncombat humanitarian tasks, such as building schools and hospitals, training local peacekeepers and other community-building projects.