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Here’s what happens after basic training

For any military branch.
Shannon Corbeil Avatar
Photo by Robin Hicks

If you’ve contemplated joining the military — or maybe you’re already in the process of enlisting — then you’ve got two primary tasks in front of you: prepare for Basic Training and research what happens after you’ve survived finished. No matter which branch of the military you join, there are three major milestones after Basic: graduation, specialty/assignment training, and reporting to your first duty station. 

Keep in mind this is referring to enlisting in the military. Basic Training for officers is different than for enlisted personnel because officers are also required to complete an undergraduate degree and officer training before they are commissioned into active duty. Basic Training occurs during that training period, depending on the commissioning program (Reserved Officer Training Corps, attending a military academy, or Officer Training/Candidate School).

Because it can vary so much based on your branch, AAFMAA (American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association) has created a comprehensive guide that goes branch by branch and describes what the general path ahead looks like for each. 

The AAFMAA guide addresses different things you might not have considered:

Graduation

Each military branch has its own meaningful graduation ceremony to showcase your transformation into a Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, or Guardian. Families are invited to attend and bear witness as you swear your oath to the Constitution of the United States and the lawful orders of your Chain of Command. 

Leave

Once you are in the military, your freedom becomes somewhat constricted. You will be assigned a duty station — you may be able to request where you go but you also may not — and then you are required to remain within a radius of that duty station at all times, even on weekends and holidays.

The exception to this is if you have approved leave. Each branch will earn leave differently during Basic Training, so refer to the guide for specifics, but here’s how it will work in general. You will earn paid time off (leave) at the rate of 2.5 days a month. You can save up that leave and request time off — that’s critical: the leave must be approved before you depart or you will be considered AWOL (absent without leave). 

Whether you will be able to take leave right after Basic varies depending on your branch and your leadership, so you should give yourself realistic expectations about when you will see your friends and family again once you set out for Basic Training. 

Training

Basic Training really is just that: basic training. It goes over military discipline, procedures, history, and rank. It focuses on physical readiness and, depending on your branch, might get into entry-level weaponry. After Basic, graduates will go on to more in-depth training for their mission sets. 

This training can last from weeks to months (or up to two years for certain Navy specialties) depending on your job. You may also have restricted privileges (such as cell phone use) that will develop as you continue to advance in your training. This could be occupational training, such as intelligence school, or it could be combat training, such as the Marine Corps Infantry Training Battalion (ITB), which develops Marines into skilled riflemen, machine gunners, mortarmen, infantry assaultmen and anti-tank missilemen.

First duty station

Once you have completed your technical training, you will report to your first duty station. The appointments for these locations might be weighted based on your preference or ranking in your training (yes, you compete against your fellow recruits during Basic Training and on active duty) or it might be entirely up to your chain of command or a computer system. If you’ve had your heart set on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, well, maybe you’ll get there and maybe you won’t. Remember that excelling in your objectives and reaching higher class rankings and performance reviews can help you achieve your goals. 

There is often time for a short trip between your occupational training and reporting for your first duty station. It can be a great time to visit home and see your family and friends. Leave expenses are your responsibility but your PCS (Permanent Change of Station) will be paid for by the military — including transporting your approved personal belongings, your travel, and even transporting your vehicle. 

Active Duty benefits

Once you work for the military, you will be entitled to a paycheck based on your rank and time in service. While it isn’t uncommon for recent graduates to blow their newfound flux of income on cars or gaming systems, it’s much more prudent to begin to strengthen your financial well-being. AAFMAA’s BeyondBasic® life insurance is designed for active-duty servicemembers who are just completing Basic Training. AAFMAA Membership means exclusive access to a wealth of personal finance support, secure Digital Vault document storage, survivor assistance services, and access to a low-interest CAP Loan.

It’s never too early to start preparing for your future — from deciding which branch works best for you and your goals, to getting in physical and mental shape in order to meet the demands of the military, to preparing yourself to adjust to military life. There are a lot of sacrifices that come with military service but there are also many benefits you can capitalize on. AAFMAA can help break them down for you and guide you step by step along the way

Shannon Corbeil is an actor, writer, and host with a masters degree in Strategic Intelligence. A prior U.S. Air Force Intelligence Officer, she now specializes in writing about military history and trivia, veterans issues, and the entertainment industry. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.

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