Open letter to high school graduates — Part 3

David Epps

Summer looms, you are graduating from high school, and the beach beckons. But then, what?

Even though you are finishing at least 12 years of formal schooling, your life has barely begun. The next steps you take in the next few weeks may well determine your future for the next 60 years or so. Maybe you have decided that college is not for you and you don’t want to go to trade or technical school. Or maybe you just have no clue what you want to do. How about the military?

If you go into the military without a college degree, you are going to be an enlisted man or woman. You have at least six choices: the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Coast Guard, the Marine Corps, or one of the reserve branches, such as the National Guard.

Investigate each one separately, talk to recruiters of each, ask questions, and don’t sign anything until you are sure what you want to do. You will have to take a test, called the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). The ASVAB will determine what fields are open to you based on your scores. It’s sort of like the ACT, SAT, or some of the standardized tests you’ve had before.

There are benefits open to military service personnel and veterans. Be sure you understand these, and what it takes to get them, before you sign up. While it might not mean much now, that ability to get a home loan, college tuition, and even retirement benefits may come in handy when you get older.

But you also have to realize that you have to earn the right, through successful completion of recruit training, to be called a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine. You are entering the adult world and you have to stand on your own. There are no participation trophies but, if you make the grade, you will be well on your way to being a man or a woman.

You will earn your paycheck. Right now, the entry level pay for the lowest rank is right at $1,600.00 per month. And keep in mind that you will have almost no expenses. The military will house and feed you so a great deal of that check is yours to spend or, hopefully, save.

If you were to make the service a career and you make the grade of E-9 (a private is an E-1), your basic salary for 20 years or more would be about $6,000 per month, or $72,000 a year. And that doesn’t include other allotments for which you may be eligible. That beats the heck out of my first paycheck as a Marine private in 1970 which was $110. Per month!

And, depending on your ASVAB scores, there are literally hundreds of jobs in the military. Everyone is familiar with combat specialties. Combat specialty personnel train and work in combat units, such as the infantry, artillery, or Special Forces.

For example, infantry specialists conduct ground combat operations, armored vehicle specialists operate battle tanks, and seamanship specialists maintain ships. Combat specialty personnel may maneuver against enemy forces and fire artillery, guns, mortars, or missiles to neutralize them. They may also operate various types of combat vehicles, such as amphibious assault vehicles, tanks, or small boats.

Members of elite Special Forces teams (SEALs, Rangers, Marine Recon, Green Berets, Delta Force, USAF Special Operations, etc.) are trained to perform specialized missions anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice. Maybe that’s your thing.

But only about 150,000 people in the entire active military are in the combat specialty area. That leaves about a million and a half that have other jobs. The Marines, for example, who are always associated with combat, have about 180,000 personnel. Only about 40,000 are in fields that are combat specialties. That leaves some 140,000 who are not “combat Marines.”

Now, make no mistake. The military’s role is the defense of the nation and any person at any time can find themselves in a combat zone. This is “big boy stuff” and that needs to be realized.

However, out of my 1969 high school graduating class of about 400, during the Vietnam War, only one student, as far as I know, was killed in the war. There were more of my classmates who died of drug overdoses and suicide.

Having said all that, other jobs available include construction (bridge building, operating heavy equipment, water purification, electrical work, plumbing, etc.), There are also electronic and electrical equipment repair personnel, engineering, science, and technical personnel, healthcare personnel, machine operator and repair personnel, media and public affairs personnel, protective service personnel, vehicle and machinery mechanical personnel, aircraft mechanics, administrative personnel, automotive and heavy equipment mechanics, and the list, literally, goes on and on. And the military trains its people to do these jobs. If you qualify, the military may even send you to college.

Some jobs relate well to the civilian sector when the enlistment is over. I know two people who were trained by the military to be air traffic controllers. Many, if not most, law enforcement officers spent time in the military. Some people learned to be welders, HVAC specialists, and aviation electricians in the military. And a number of EMTs and paramedics got their start as medics/corpsmen in the military.

My own initial training was not very glamorous. I spent six months, 40 hours a week, learning to repair office machines at Ft. Lee, Va. When I got out, NCR Corporation was hiring people like me for over $13 an hour in a time when the minimum wage was $1.80 an hour.

I later had a secondary specialty as a Redeye Missile crew chief, but there aren’t many jobs in the legitimate civilian world for a guy who can shoot down helicopters and aircraft with a shoulder-launched weapon.

If you want to have a career in the military, it’s not an automatic thing that you can re-enlist over and over. If you enlist for, say, four years, and want to re-enlist for another four, you probably can do that if you’ve kept your nose clean and haven’t been a problem. But you have to continue to make progress and to make rank. The days when a person could be a private and serve 20 years are long gone.

Only about 1 percent of Americans are in the military at any given time. And only 7 percent of ALL Americans (and this goes all the way back to World War II) who are alive today are veterans. It’s a pretty exclusive club to which one can belong.

In my case, I didn’t take the $13 an hour job with NCR. I went back to college on the G.I. Bill and got a degree. Later, I bought my first house with a VA loan. To supplement my income, I took that $1.80 an hour job at a fast food restaurant secure in the knowledge that I didn’t have to live on it.

So, that’s a quickie crash course that I hope is helpful. If you want to know more about jobs in the military, go to Check back next week for yet another career path.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City ( He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee. He may contacted at]