Joining the Air Force: Overview

Air Force ROTC Pathways to Blue
U.S. Air Force Maj. Thomas Martin, 37th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, briefs Air Force ROTC cadets on a T-6 Texan II static display during the fifth annual Pathways to Blue on Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, April 5, 2019. (Kemberly Groue/U.S. Air Force)

Thinking of joining the Air Force? Want to know what it takes and what types of jobs in the Air Force are available? Get the lowdown in this fact sheet.

Air Force Basics

The Air Force has more than 312,000 total airmen as of July 2015.

Directory of Air Force bases -- Get a feel for the Air Force community with this directory of Air Force bases around the country.

Air Force Unit pages on -- Interested in a particular unit? Check out pages maintained by Air Force veterans.

The latest news on the military, including the Air Force -- All the latest headlines about life in the Air Force and the military.

Air Force equipment guide -- From the F-16 Fighting Falcon to the C-130 Hercules, get the details on the equipment used by the Air Force.

Joining the Air Force

Airmen can serve as a full-time, active-duty service member or as a member of the Air Force Reserve.

Active duty is similar to working at a full-time civilian job. You will have your own military occupational specialty (MOS), and you will fill a specific role within your unit. Your length of service may range from 2-6 years. Active-duty members fall into two general categories: enlisted personnel and officers.

Enlisted airmen

Enlisted airmen are the backbone of the Air Force, with each member having his or her own specialized training and filling a role within his or her unit. Officers are the Air Force's leaders. They guide enlisted airmen during missions and provide the know-how and expertise to get the job done. Active-duty service terms typically last 2-6 years.

Military officer programs

There are four paths to becoming an Air Force officer.

Air Force ROTC -- The Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) allows students to enroll in elective leadership and military courses at colleges and universities. For more details, see the ROTC section in this article.

Direct Commission -- Direct commission provides leaders in professional fields, such as law, medicine and religion, the opportunity to become Air Force officers. At completion of an officer training program, they are commissioned at a rank determined by their career branch.

Officer Candidate School -- Officer Candidate School allows college graduates to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to be commissioned as Air Force officers. Through classroom instruction and training exercises, candidates learn to become leaders.

U.S. Air Force Academy -- The United States Air Force Academy is the youngest of all U.S. military academies, with its first graduating class leaving in 1959. Cadets are immersed in military customs and traditions while working toward a college degree. At graduation, cadets are commissioned as Air Force second lieutenants.

Serving in the Air Force Reserve is similar to working a part-time job. You can live where you want, focus on your civilian career and stay close to your family. You also will have access to many of the benefits of active-duty airmen, but your time spent on duty is decreased greatly. In the Reserve, you will spend one weekend a month in training and two weeks a year attending a field training exercise (FTX). Airmen in the Air Force Reserve may be called to active duty to provide their expertise. Your service in the Air Force Reserve may range from 3-6 years, depending on your Air Force Reserve job.

Air Force Careers

Air Force jobs -- Search the Air Force's database of available careers for enlisted, officer and Reserve members.

Special careers in the Air Force

Below is official information about specialized careers in the Air Force.

Air Force regional band

Air Force chaplain officer

Air Force attorney (JAG Corps)

Air Force health care

Special Operations weather team


Cryptologic language analyst

Airborne mission systems operator

Joining the ROTC

The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) is an elective for undergraduate and graduate students that provides leadership training. Available at more than 1,100 colleges and universities nationwide, it offers merit-based scholarships that can pay up to the full cost of tuition and open educational opportunities.

High school students

If you're a high school junior or senior and are interested in enrolling in Air Force ROTC, you can find more information here.

College students

If you're a college student and interested in enrolling in Air Force ROTC, start by talking to the Air Force ROTC enrollment officer on your campus about taking the Air Force ROTC basic elective course and about the incentives available, including opportunities to compete for two-, three- or four-year merit-based scholarships.

Junior college and graduate students

If you have two years remaining in junior college or graduate school, you are eligible to enroll in Air Force ROTC. Talk to the Air Force ROTC enrollment officer on your campus.

Ready to Join the Air Force?

We can put you in touch with recruiters from the different military branches. Learn about the benefits of serving your country, paying for school, military career paths, and more: sign up now and hear from a recruiter near you.

Show Full Article