Preparing for the Army by Succeeding in the Classroom
(A Guide for High School Juniors and Seniors) by Scott Ostrow for USMilitary.com Network
If you’re a high school senior or junior and you are thinking of joining, or have decided to join, the Army, it is just as important that you prepare yourself as it is for your friends who are preparing to apply for college. This short article will help you get on the right path to achieve your goals of getting into the Army and to prepare you for the day you finally go off to basic training.
When I wrote the first two editions of my book, Guide to Joining the Military (Peterson’s, 2013), I was still on active duty, and while I had a vast knowledge of recruiting my knowledge of secondary education (high school) was limited to my own four years and the high school experiences of my children. Since retiring from the military in 2005 I have spent my post-retirement days in a high school classroom. This new insight into the modern high school environment and the high school student psyche has allowed me to better understand the obstacles (some self-inflicted) that stand in the way of high school students, and recent graduates, success in joining the military, getting their desired Army job, and being prepared for basic training. This article is not meant to be a “laundry list” of what to do and what not to do, but merely a guide to help you on your path to success.
Several years ago, I asked a high school junior what her plans were after high school. Her answer was straight to the point; she was going to attend a four-year college. However, it was not just any college; she planned on attending Princeton University. That, of course, is a fantastic goal, however, after reviewing her grades, I knew that it was more of a dream than a goal. She had just not prepared herself for admission to Princeton; her grades were good, but not great, she also had not been an active participant in extracurricular activities, and her SAT scores were far from spectacular. In short, she needed to start preparing herself before she even entered high school; by her junior year, it was just too late and she would have to at least start college somewhere other than Princeton. In a similar way, waiting until the end of your senior year to prepare for military enlistment may mean that you will find yourself either unqualified or you will have to settle for whatever is offered.
I will discuss just three broad areas in this article that should get you, at least, started on the path to success. They are; Academics, Behavior, and Physical Fitness. All are important in reaching your goals.
Your number one job throughout your school “career” is doing the best you can do academically. You need to approach school as if it were your job. Many students look for that magic seventy-percent so they can pass their classes. I however, pose this question, “if you had a job and all you ever did was seventy-percent of your work week-after-week, how long do you think you’ll remain employed?” You need to approach academics as if it were your job and you are looking to keep getting promoted in that job.
Begin with a plan to study and stick with it. If this were a book, and not a short article, you would find at least one chapter on study skills. Find a book about study skills, join, or start, a study group, or find a teacher willing to help you learn study skills. Prepare for tests and, most importantly; read! Reading is the most effective way to increase your grades in all subjects, including math. It will also increase your vocabulary which will help with tests like the ACT, SAT, and even the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).
If you’ve taken the ASVAB and have scored high enough to qualify for the job(s) you want in the military, that’s great as you have made it over a big hurdle on your way to enlisting! If, on the other hand, you’ve not done as well as you’ve liked, or you have yet to take the ASVAB, it’s time to prepare.
Just as you’d prepare to take the SAT if you wanted to maximize your potential for college admission and scholarship opportunities, you’ll need to prepare for the ASVAB. There are a multitude of resources available for ASVAB preparation to include books, and online ASVAB study sites. Whatever methods you choose to use will do no good if you don’t approach it seriously and with determination. Some sections of the ASVAB will appear foreign to you, at first, but with practice you will continue to improve. Don’t skip, or spend less time on sections that you find “too hard.” Instead, you need to spend more time on those sections.
Remember, that you can’t enlist if you don’t graduate! Some students who enlist early and enter the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) find their military contracts cancelled because they failed to graduate on time. Therefore, maximizing your academic success is essential for success in starting your military journey.
After you qualify academically, the next hurdle to success is your behavior. I cannot emphasize this enough; your behavior, in and out of school, can bring your journey to a military career to a screeching halt. I like to use the phrase, “cooperate and graduate,” when I speak to my students about the best way to get through high school unscathed. Although you may feel entitled, or justified, in acting out in school, in the end the only loser is you.
I often use the example of getting pulled over for speeding (or any other traffic violation). On the rare occasion that I’ve been stopped by police, I realize one thing; the time to argue my case is not on the side of the road, it’s in the courtroom. No amount of arguing will stop the police officer from issuing me a ticket, however, my arguing may bring on a slew of other charges. I find that many students wind up in trouble in the classroom, not because of the initial violation, but from the argument and disrespect that follows.
I’m not asking you to take the blame for things that you haven’t done but I am asking that you go through the proper channels, telling your parents or a school administrator, if you feel that you were treated unfairly. This may be difficult given the peer pressure most teenagers endure; however, you need to set your goals and associate only with those who respect and support your goals. This advice goes for in-school, and out-of-school behavior.
Similarly to not graduating, getting into trouble with the law (especially when you are in the DEP) will probably result in your contract being cancelled, or losing the military job for which you enlisted, as many jobs require that you are eligible to get a security clearance. Therefore, it is important that you obey the law and stay out of trouble. Even minor traffic offenses may interfere with your enlistment especially if you receive a number of them or if they are unresolved prior to your departure date for basic training. Other encounters with the law to include underage drinking may be able to be waived, but there are no guarantees, so it is imperative that you stay out of trouble.
Besides being academically qualified (graduating from high school and meeting ASVAB requirements), and being morally qualified (meeting requirements dealing with law violations and drug use), everyone enlisting in the military must pass a thorough physical exam. However, being physically ready for basic training goes far beyond your initial physical exam. In fact, even those physically fit sometimes find it difficult to stay physically ready for basic training. In fact, there are two components in being physically prepared; exercising and being ready to meet the physical challenges of basic training, and, staying physically sound in order to leave for basic training.
While many planning to join the military are already physically fit, and may be, in fact, high school athletes, others are not and many may find it difficult to meet the military weight requirements. The time to try to get in shape, however, is not a month before leaving for basic training, the time is now! For those who cannot meet the military weight standards, your journey towards military enlistment will end almost before it even gets started, so preparing physically, by losing weight is a must.
The sad truth is that in many school districts throughout the country, physical education is not mandatory and many students may go through their entire high school years (and perhaps even middle school years) without any form of physical exercise. It is imperative that you get on some type of regular exercise routine, even beyond PE class. If you can, get involved in a sport, whether it’s school or outside of school. The most important thing is to start off slow; find a “fitness buddy,” ask a coach for advice, but get moving!
If you need to lose weight, getting exercise is a major step to weight loss, however, your diet is important too (that junk food diet just isn’t going to cut it). This article is not meant to be an exercise and diet guide, so get some expert advice, consult your doctor, read books, and check out some websites.
If you are already in shape (or once you reach your fitness goals) your next goal is to remain physically fit and while I would never advise you to quit playing sports, or quit exercising, or living an active life, I am advising you to be careful! But that goes beyond sports and exercising, it also includes avoiding doing “stupid” things like riding in the back of pick-ups (where you might fall out and hurt yourself) or horse-playing and wrestling with your buddies and getting your arm broken, or maybe thinking it would be a good idea to see if you could stop a fan blade with your hand. All of these things, and a myriad of others, have at the very least postponed, and in some cases altogether permanently stopped individuals from entering the military.
Once again, this short guide was not meant to be a complete roadmap to successfully preparing for military enlistment but, instead, just a starting point to get you thinking about how to better prepare yourself. Just as you would (hopefully) approach preparing to get into the college of your choice, you should take a proactive approach to preparing for getting into the military branch of your choice and being guaranteed the job of your choice. Good luck in your journey!