How to Avoid Roadblocks in the Enlistment Process

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U.S. Coast Guard master chief speaks with recruits
U.S. Coast Guard Master Chief Rob Berry, the command master chief petty officer, U.S. Coast Guard Training Center, in Cape May, N.J., talks with recruits at the USS Arizona Recruit Barracks galley at Recruit Training Command (RTC) in Great Lakes, Illinois, June 11, 2014. (Scott A. Thornbloom/U.S. Navy)

If you're interested in joining the military, there are some logical steps that you need to take. Official recruiting websites often suggest that your first step is to "talk to a recruiter."

But that's not quite right. If you want to make the best of your decision to serve in the military, there are several other steps you should take before you ever talk to a recruiter. If you do the following steps before going into a recruiter's office, you will avoid "military roadblocks" that may prevent you from entering the service.

If a failed recruit had done the research, he or she would have known the physical and mental preparation and medical and legal documents required prior to enlistment. These are not actually roadblocks. They are failures to research and prepare and, frankly, display a level of immaturity and overconfidence as a person is trying to enter into a profession that is not a kid's game.

Know What Each Branch Offers. There are literally hundreds of jobs in each of the military branches. Take your time and learn about the options.

Your first decision is what branch of service you want to join. Often, recruiters from different branches share an office, so you should at least know which one is your first choice. You should also research what jobs are available in each branch of service that interests you.

If you're interested in being a mechanic or want to work in information and technology systems, the type of training and job you are looking to do may be offered by every branch.

You should also know which military bases offer the job you want, since one of those is where you will likely live during training and have as your first duty station.

When I was considering the Army or Navy when I was a teen, I looked at where all their bases were located. Growing up in Florida, I noticed that Navy bases were in beach towns most of the time. That had a big impact on my decision.

Know Where Most People Fail. There's a short list of reasons why potential recruits fail to join the military. If you deal with the issues listed below, you can avoid many headaches. You will be required to have all of your paperwork -- from identification, birth certificate, medical records and other legal documents -- to get the process rolling with a recruiter.

Here are the main reasons why people fail or get delayed:

1. Medical Disqualification. See reasons that may disqualify you or require a medical waiver.

2. Legal Issues. If you have a criminal record, that will be investigated. If they are minor issues, sometimes a recruit can be granted a waiver.

3. Academic Issues. Not finishing high school or scoring poorly on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, will prevent you from serving or at least keep you from having access to the jobs you want.

4. Height and Weight Standards. Unfortunately, the number of Americans unable to serve because of failure to meet these standards has been increasing every decade. It's now the No. 1 reason why recruits are not allowed to join after their initial recruiting visit. Start working out so you can exceed these standards.

5. Physical Fitness Standards. Each branch requires a level of fitness from recruits. You should do your research and understand the events, exercises, scores and times you will need to be accepted.

6. Age Limit. You must be at least 17 (with a parent's approval) to join, but you are limited to the following maximum ages, depending on which branch of service you want to enter:

7. Citizenship. You can join with a green card, but you must be a citizen to qualify for jobs that require special clearances.

8. Other. Tattoos, piercings, a large amount of debt and failing a drug test at the Military Entrance Processing Station, or MEPS, are other issues that can prevent you from serving. Do your research if you have any of the other problems so you understand Department of Defense policies.

Study and Practice for the ASVAB Test. Get an ASVAB study guide and take a few practice tests. Understand what the tests, sub-test scores and the Armed Forces Qualification Test, or AFQT mean to your future. The AFQT score qualifies you for the military or causes you to be rejected. The ASVAB is scored in four areas: arithmetic reasoning, word knowledge, paragraph comprehension and mathematics knowledge. Study and learn how to take this test for best results.

Start Exercising. If you are anywhere near the minimum physical standards or fail the height, weight or body fat standards, you need to start exercising now.

Boot camp is not designed to get you in shape. You need to come into the military with some level of physical abilities. You do not have to be an athlete to pass these entrance fitness tests, but you do need to practice them and get in the habit of training and moving daily for best results.

It is true the recruiter will be able to help you with many of these issues. But it's better if you have prepared yourself for these typical hurdles and can avoid them being actual roadblocks that prevent you from joining the branch of service you want and getting the job you prefer.

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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