On Starting a Military Career

By | December 27, 2020

[December 27, 2020]  Wilson, a good friend since before the First Grade, called to help him answer a question.  His son asked him about starting a military career, and Wilson wanted some advice.

What follows is a general outline of our discussion.  Many times, I had given advice on starting a military career to High School students but never have I written something for my leadership blog.

  1. Never be cynical or fatalistic about a career in the U.S. military. There are plenty of reasons to be suspicious; from political meddling, to societal experimentation with social fads, to a crushing bureaucracy.  There are more things to be optimistic about with such a career.  But also, remember the military is not a democracy.  You don’t get to vote on the mission.  You don’t get to choose your task.  You still must do the paperwork.  And, if you believe you cannot handle the dirty business of standing up to America’s enemies properly, then this is not the place for your career.
  2. Define what you mean ‘on starting a military career.’ What does it mean to you?  Does it mean to seek power and authority over others?  Are you seeking money, fame, or celebrity status?  To desire a military career, what you should be seeking is competence and excellence.  And, to pursue competence and excellence means that you have to know something.
  3. Learn everything you can possibly learn. To get into a military career requires you to educate yourself on your country’s history, of the military service you desire, of physical, mental, and moral conditioning.  It means getting prepared well before you pull the trigger on a decision.  That means working in jobs that require taking care of people or customers.  In that way, you can begin to understand what responsibility means.
  4. Develop your character. The military needs people who are competent, careful, truthful, courageous, and forthright to enter into the military sphere so that things don’t degenerate into chaos.  Learn to be independent, seek education (both formal and informal), follow the advice of legendary military men and women, discover and strengthen your weaknesses, and know that the path will be long and difficult.
  5. Be good, at least with people, because that is what the military needs. The military is all about people, understanding them, and being able to motivate and inspire.  To do this, you must be honest and articulate, you must be able to develop a vision, be a great networker, experienced, and philosophic.

I’ve seen many people who got into a military career for the wrong reasons.  They wanted power over others, the thrill of combat, or the social status of wearing the uniform.  To be a puppet of these symbols of the military is not useful in any way.  None of these will help you in your career; nothing.  If these are the reasons for getting into a military career, my advice is to stay away from it.

The military sometimes solves real-world geopolitical problems.  Your part in it will be a long-time coming.  So, also be patient if you want a career in the military.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

28 thoughts on “On Starting a Military Career

  1. J. J. Johnson

    This is where our military folks get a chance to shine. I wish that I had stayed in the Navy instead of getting out. Thank you , Gen. Satterfield for a peek into those things to consider when starting a military career.

    1. Red Haired Lady

      Yes, very useful. My uncle said the same thing. He was in the US Marine Corps in Korean War. Good man.

  2. Bryan Lee

    Nice layout and great advice, as well. Rarely do we get such a succient list of items for starting any kind of career, much less a military career. For those reading this article, be sure to go to today’s selection “Promises for the New Year 2021” and see how it lays out to achieve the goal of a proper career in the US military.

      1. Harry B. Donner

        Pay attention here, folks. This is some great advice. Take it from a man who was very successful, making it to the ranks of General Officer. These are rare people and they speak (or write) from a considerable amount of proven experience.

  3. Valkerie

    I recommend to all young folks to study the US military and learn what you can. Prepare yourself mentally and physically. It matters not what you eventually do but preparing for a military career will help prepare you for any career!

    1. Tony B. Custer

      I agree. If you can get ready for the military, you can get ready for just about any career.

    2. Deplorable John

      Yes, let’s stick with the subject here. The US military is a great career but above all, it’s about service to our nation. It is NOT a job in any other sense.

  4. Max Foster

    Best wishes to everyone for a Happy New Year. I hope that we all have a better year than 2020. It was sad due to the overreach of our governments in most of our cities and states. While the federal govt under President Trump did well, they were not perfect. No one predicted the ultimate numbers who would die – nobody did. Now that the vaccines are out, let’s all pray for a quick return to normal.

    1. Greg Heyman

      If only, if only. I hope so as well, Max. I’m not so hopeful if crazy Joe and Kamala get into office. They will take credit for anything that goes right and blame Trump for everything that goes wrong. Another example of their incompetence and politicization of everything.

  5. JT Patterson

    Agreed! I think in any career (where you plan to stay and mature) that you should do all the reasonable research possible and develop your sense of character before jumping on board. Don’t make a decision based on what your buddy did or what Uncle John did. Do it based upon what you really want and that requires a bit of introspection.

    1. Stacey Borden

      Yes, learn your weaknesses and strengths. If you don’t do so, you will pay a heavy price for the mistake.

    2. Willie Shrumburger

      The Army and Marines are what my dad, uncles, granddads, and other relatives went into. That is what influenced me to have a career in the military. It’s not just all about having the right character; that can be – to some degree – developed over time. IMHO anyway.

    3. Gil Johnson

      Good points all (esp. JT), but let us not forget that even if you join the military for the wrong reasons you still have an opportunity to fix your thinking later. I know because my uncle who was drafted and sent to Vietnam, eventually stayed in the Army and retired even when he said he hated the Army.

  6. Wilson Cox

    Once again, Gen. Satterfield, you do not disappoint. I liked the way you went through the mainstays of success in the military. I might add, in my opinion, your list probably would work for any career in any place.

  7. Yusaf from Texas

    Another article on being in the military. With each, I get to envision more and more about the ‘culture’ of the military and am learning also more about its different branches. Want to learn about a US Army career, go to their website – https://www.goarmy.com/careers-and-jobs/career-match.html. Just answer a few technical questions and your desires. Thank you, Gen. Satterfield, for this timely article.

    1. Rowen Tabernackle

      Interesting website. I went thru it and answered some of their questions. They said I should be a “Bridge Crewmember” or maybe a “Plumber”. Ghee, what a spread of ideas.

    2. Dale Paul Fox

      Ha Ha Ha…. Great comment BTW. Try giving different answers and they will always point to some career path.

      1. ZB22

        Yes, I answered “Protect and defend the nation in the field” and I’m into weapons. They said I should be an Infantry Officer ….. go figure. I think all the services try to attract us thru their ‘careers’ pages. See the US Navy here: Find Careers in the U.S. Navy | Navy.com

  8. Wendy Holmes

    Like any man (or woman) who desires a military career, one thing we should all remember and that is that the military gives you a chance to do something special, something no one organization can ever give (except may law enforcement). But it takes someone special and that person must always have the right “character” to succeed at it.

  9. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Once again, a wonderful article on the military from Gen. Satterfield. Thank you so very much. My son wants to join the U.S. Marines. I advised him to read your article and to study the history and culture of the USMC. Once he’d done that and still wanted a career, I would support him fully …. but only after he looked into it and answered these questions you posed.

      1. Re’fort MacMann

        Yes and Gen. Satterfield does it again with a spot on blog post.

  10. Army Captain

    Great article, Gen. Satterfield. Thanks. I hope you had a very Merry Christmas with your family. Even during these difficult time of govt lockdowns and political shenanigans, we should all still be grateful that our military remains strong and resolute.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Well said. I agree that our times are trying but that does not give a license to be either cynical or fatalistic, as Gen. S. would say. I believe that if you want a military career, you had better think about it a long time. 👍

    2. Dennis Mathes

      Agree with you Army Captain, and to have a career in the military you need to recognize that it will be a long and difficult journey. Giving up is not an option.


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