There are a number of reasons why a teen might consider joining the military.
*It’s a good way to learn a skill if you don’t have any idea what you want to do, especially if you know you aren’t ready for college.
*You want to have a career of significance and service to your country.
*You want to develop discipline both physically and mentally.
*You need help paying for college.
It turns out there is another reason to add to this list most teens might not think of:
*Early Retirement. Really?
Doug Norman retired from the U.S. Navy in his 40’s and is financially independent. Now, to be honest I had to look that up. What does it mean to be financially independent? Basically it means that you don’t have to work for basic necessities because you have enough accumulated wealth (savings, investments, etc.) that you can pay your bills without working. That sounds amazing to me!
I met Doug several years back at FinCon and knew that he had written a book The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement. I also got to spend some time with him in San Diego at the 2016 FinCon because he organized a surf outing for those who wanted to join.
It was so much fun learning to surf. When I decided that I really wanted to know more about the benefits to teens having a military career, I knew exactly who to contact.
Doug joined the Navy right out of college as a submariner. He loved his job and did two submarine tours. He spent the rest of his 20 year career at training commands.
Although he highly recommends the Navy he did concede that other military branches have their good points as well. He specifically mentioned the Air Force because they have such a reputation for treating their people well and providing the the best quality of life.
Regardless of the branch one of the biggest benefits for teenagers who enlist is the G.I. Bill.
The G.I. Bill pays for school on your own time while serving or after you leave the military. It provides for 36 months of tuition plus a housing allowance. With just four years of service you can to to school for free. It doesn’t have to be a four year degree either. You can go and get certifications in things like welding or electrical.
Another benefit to taking the military route is maturing faster as an individual, learning discipline and working with a team, as well time management and leadership skills.
However, most of us have heard about the terrible pay the military offers. Doug cleared that up for me. Although an E-1 (the lowest rank) might only earn about $18,000 a year, that does not include all of the other benefits you receive. In addition to your pay you get food, housing and uniforms. This brings the pay up to almost $30,000 a year. Not nearly as bad as people make it seem.
Promotions and pay raises happen fairly quickly and you can be an E-3 or E-4 within three years if you work hard. By year six or seven you could be an E-5 or E-6 and then the pay is getting closer to $60,000 a year.
Of course, college graduates earn a higher rate of pay and after about six years they could be earning about $80,000 a year in total compensation. Not bad at all! You can see the 2017 military pay chart on Doug’s website The Military Guide.
You must have 20 years of service for retirement benefits to kick in immediately and although Doug would never recommend that you stay in a career you hate, it can be pretty great if you stick around for the full twenty.
Another option to complete the 20 years is to continue serving in the reserves. It’s two weeks a year and one weekend a month. Continuing in this way allows you to still get the 20 years and be eligible for retirement at age 60.
Obviously there are drawbacks to making the military your career choice. Combat mortality is the biggest thing most of us think of but Doug reminded me that many jobs (military and otherwise) are dangerous on a daily basis. One mistake could lead to a serious injury when you are working around heavy equipment. It can also require long hours with no overtime and be stressful.
Like any job enlisting in the military has a list of pros and cons. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but I had no idea that with careful planning a teen could not only have a fulfilling career and get college paid for, but also look forward to being financially independent by age 40!