A lot of young servicemen and women can use a leg up in their careers, and while I enjoyed my time in the combat arms, it’s not the best place for young people who need a leg up in the professional world, and who may not be able to afford college. If you’re junior enlisted, with little or no college under your belt, or if you’re a high school grad or soon to graduate from high school and you’re (wisely) taking the long view of the military, this article is for you. Here are some of the best military specialties for reenlistment bonuses, special pay and post-military employment opportunities. Best of all, you don’t need college to get in. You can enlist in these specialties either right out of high school, or compete for slots during your first enlistment, around the E-4 to E-5 level.
Navy Nuclear Technician
Navy “nuke techs” are specialists in operating the nuclear power plants on Navy nuclear-powered carriers and submarines. It’s a very demanding A-school, and Navy “nukes” can expect to spend over a year in training. By the time they’re done, they have a solid, marketable grasp of managing and maintaining a power supply for a small city.
Naturally, after they leave the Navy, their skills are in high demand by utility companies around the world. Which means the Navy needs to compete fiercely with private industry to retain their Navy nuke NCOs. The recent re-enlistment bonus for Navy nuclear technicians was $90,000 – on top of their regular military pay and allowances. Plus, these professionals get sea pay, submarine pay, and hazardous duty pay as appropriate right along with everyone else. And salaries when they leave the service easily top six figures.
Army Prime Power Production Specialist
As an Army prime power production specialist (MOS 21P), you’ll be responsible for helping to operate a power grid for entire military bases, FOBs and other military installations. Think “Navy nuke” but without the “nuke.” So you won’t have to worry about the nuclear reactor side of the equation – and you won’t have to worry about causing a meltdown incident. But you’ll be responsible for the output side of the equation, and for managing and maintaining the power grid of the equivalent of a small city. “21-Papas” soon become master electricians – and both prime power production and the Navy nuke profession lead to lots of job opportunities in the civilian world after completing an enlistment or two.
You normally have to reclassify into this MOS. It’s not something you enlist directly into. Rather, you’ll compete for available slots once you’ve been in a few years and you’re nearing the end of your first enlistment. You’ll also have to take a basic math skills test, so study up! Math is essential both for Navy nuclear technicians and Army prime power production specialist schools. It’s a shortage area in the Army right now, though, so if you’re qualified, chances are very good you’ll get snapped right up.
As a counterintelligence agent, you’ll ultimately be a credentialed law enforcement officer working to protect U.S. interests against subversion, sabotage and espionage. Foreign entities are always working to plant their own intelligence operatives, spies and saboteurs where they can get access to information or otherwise advance their own interests or damage ours. As a CI agent, you’ll become an expert in investigation – which puts you in terrific demand at federal and state law enforcement agencies as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency. What’s more, governments aren’t the only entities that are worried about spies. As sure as Kentucky Fried Chicken doesn’t want its 11 secret herbs and spices revealed to the world, corporations are also constantly on the lookout for corporate spies – both from competing companies and from foreign governments seeking to steal technology and trade secrets for their own advantage. In the civilian world, good security professionals with a counterintelligence background, some experience and a solid grasp of technology can command salaries approaching and poking into the six-figure range.
Expect a bit of a glut in the short run, in the civilian world, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and the military drawdown takes hold. But if you’re entering the field now, through the military, you have some years to build your skills in uniform and let that glut shake out. Meanwhile, you should enter the civilian work force with a top-secret clearance – which will go a long way to set you apart from the riff raff.
In the Army, you can generally transfer into this specialty after a couple of years active, though you can enlist directly into it in some Reserve or National Guard units. In the Marine Corps, you transfer to the 0211 specialty after making corporal. The Warrant Officer career field is particularly strong, and you can go for warrant officer after proving yourself as a non-commissioned officer earlier in your career.
All the services need functioning computer networks, and military operations rely more and more on information and audio-video technology. These skills translate directly to the civilian market, though the military doesn’t necessarily use the cutting-edge computer applications common in the corporate world. However, if you need a leg up in the world, all four military services will give you valuable training and practical experience in the basics of networking and computer maintenance repair – ranging from small office environments all the way to global enterprise networks.
In the Army, you’ll be enlisting into military occupational specialty 25B, information systems operator/analyst. In the Navy, you’ll be an IT Specialist. Earnings in the civilian sector are going to be highly variable. This field goes up and down with the economy, and with certain skill sets and certifications, and varies substantially depending on where you work. A lot of your marketability will depend on what current certifications you have, and you may need to put in a lot of your own time to maintain your certifications that are applicable to the civilian world. What are they going to be in six years, when you finish an enlistment? No idea. But the basics of networking and security are probably not going to change much, and you can get a good grasp of the basics while letting the military pay you for your trouble!
The key: Get out of the battalion and brigade “S-6” shops, where you’ll be little more than a babysitter troubleshooting printer problems, and look for opportunities to work on SIPR-net and other projects requiring a secret or top-secret clearance. Build a rolodex of contacts in the service and outside of it, and work hard on your own time staying current with technologies being used in the civilian sector in the Washington/Baltimore/DC corridor; Silicon Valley; San Francisco; Austin, Texas; Raleigh, North Carolina; Seattle, Washington; and the other technology hotspots.
Contributed by Jason Van Steenwyk