American’s join the army for a whole lot of different reasons. Some join to protect and serve their country, others do it out of a sense of honor, while still yet, many join the ranks because of pressure or a sense of time-honored tradition in their families.
But all of those reasons – despite all being relevant – don’t account for the most prevalent core motivation why service members join the armed forces. You might be shocked to find out what the number one motivation to join the army was according to a recent survey conducted by the Rand Corporation.
The survey titled “life as a private”, assessed the motivations and drives of 81 soldiers from multiple paygrades and the results are rather compelling.
Even though the majority of new recruits are satisfied with their Army experience when surveyed, many of them expressed that they wished their recruiters were more forthcoming about what to expect before they put pen to paper.
Most recruiters perform their duties ethically, but some end up using tactics that paint a very unrealistic picture of what it’s like to live a day-in-the-life as a soldier.
Considering that the majority of military recruitment is aimed at teenagers who might be more impressionable and prone to believing overly-inflated rhetoric, making sure that an accurate picture of what a prospective enlistee can expect by making such a huge commitment is of high importance to the Army – or at least it should be.
The research not-surprisingly found that many service members decided to join because of some influence by their family members. The majority of these soldiers expressed that they expected to spend there time in the army and would eventually leave to go pursue careers as civilians.
Military leaders have vocally warned that the military was becoming very much so a family business. Very few people have been entering the ranks that didn’t have a tradition of military service in their families.
In general, military recruitment has been declining for quite some time. If this trend continues, recruiting almost exclusively from military family members might be narrow the pool too greatly. You lose out on diversity of backgrounds, education, and life experiences when you are only drawing from one group of people.
The Army Is Trying To Keep Up With The Times
The same motivations that drove people to serve 20 years ago aren’t going to necessarily be what drives enlistment today. So taking a look at the data that surveys like the one conducted by the Rand Corp find is crucial for the Army to train its recruiters to avoid what the survey called ‘periodic reductions in recruit quality and number.’
The Rand Corp Survey
A team of highly-specialized researches conducted the survey in questions drawing upon the answers of 81 soldiers ranking from private to specialist across six different career fields – namely infantry, artillery, medical, armor, supply, and maintenance. These soldiers had all been assigned to their first duty assignments at 7 different bases.
70 of the interviewees were males and 11 were females. They were all between the age of 19 to 21. Among the subjects, 60 percent had graduated from high school and another third had at least some college education under their belts when they enlisted.
They were asked several questions about why they joined, what they had expected from joining the service, their satisfaction level thus far and when they planned to either leave the Army or make it their career.
The vast majority of participants in the survey pointed to other family member who had previous joined the army as a contributing factor to their decision to join as well. As expected, many also cited a call to serve and a conceptualization of honor and valor mixed in with a drive for adventure as additional selling points.
Of course, one of the primary considerations was monetary in nature. The potential benefits enjoyed by joining the army and receiving a steady paycheck significantly influenced most soldiers decision.
Reality Set In After Basic Training
After the participants had completed their Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training and moved on to their first units, the reality of military life began to set in.
A common complaint from new soldiers was their discontent with the bureaucracy at play in the interworkings of the Army. Frustration was expressed about not being able to perform the jobs that they had been trained for in the first place.
This frustration was often coupled with a sense of boredom, when participants described performing repetitious and menial tasks unrelated to their occupations. Some even expressed a desire for more opportunists to be deployed – or at the very least more time spent in the field training.
Why They Joined In The First Place Matters
Many soldiers leave what they feel like are dead-end jobs to join the military allured by the promise of benefits and a decent paycheck. They go thinking that they’ll trained for their specific careers and then get to use that training in the field.
It might seem counter-intuitive to some civilians, but people overwhelming join the Army with the hopes of being deployed to places like Kuwait and Afghanistan. To put it bluntly, soldiers often want to see action. They want to feel the intensity of battle, to feel the honor of defending their nation from global threats, to put to use their various skill sets in the way that recruiters had promised them that they would have the opportunity to in the first place.
One medic that participated in the survey made a startling admission about what his time in the Army so far was like. He described that his time was mainly spent cleaning trucks and shipping containers despite his extensive medical training. He had joined with the hope of being side by side with other soldiers providing for their medical needs and tending to their injuries, but after basic training, he discovered that besides cleaning vehicles, the majority of his time would be spent sitting around doing nothing.
Another participant who was an artilleryman echoed these sentiments. He said that he expected the tempo to always be fast-paced but most of his time was spent waiting for something to happen. He too was assigned to cleaning vehicles at the motor pool.
About one-third of new soldiers found that their assigned duties met or exceeded their expectations. The other two-thirds complained that they were disappointed that their assignments didn’t satisfy their desires to feel like their training was being used to its potential. Many expressed boredom and a desire to spend more time in the field while being annoyed about having to perform tasks that were unrelated to their expectations.
This all proves that the cliche of the embellishing recruiter is alive and well. Both recruiters and some recruitment material set expectations that are very difficult for all soldiers to find in their actual careers in the Army.
Some soldiers expressed surprise about the culture they faced within the Army that they hadn’t expected. One such participant expressed that he had expected the Army to be more laid back after he had completed basic training, but after arriving at his first assignment he found that it was more of the same – the only difference was that now he was surrounded by people with what he described as being ‘full of power in their head’.
Camaraderie As A Saving Grace
Even though many expressed negative views on some elements of Army life, the majority of participants in the survey viewed their careers in the Army in a generally favorable light and would recommend the experience to other young people who were in their shoes.
Most soldiers pointed to the friendships and sense of camaraderie that they felt in their units as being one of the most significant highlights of their Army experience.
There is a sense of family in the army. Everybody is on the team. The success of every unit is dependent on all of it’s individual components. There is a lot of checking in that happens. If someones having a rough time, they are generally speaking encouraged to express their struggles. For some soldiers, their experience in the Army is the first time they’ve felt these kinds of tight-knit bonds.
The Primary Reasons For Enlisting
The survey identified two different categories of motivations for joining the Army – occupational factors and institutional factors.
Institutional factors were things like feeling a call to serve – which happened to be the most common motivation on that side of the list – family history, honor and respect, and the idea of joining the Army being a childhood dream.
Occupational factors included motivations like getting benefits, having job stability, receiving job training, and being guaranteed a military career while serving. While it’s arguable that many of these motivators boil down to money and thus it could be argued that the number one reason why soldiers enlisted was for financial stability, the actual number one reason on the occupational side of things might surprise you.
34% percent of all soldiers said that they had joined the Army for the adventure and the opportunity to travel. One soldier expressed that notion perfectly when he said ” I’ve been in Kansas for the majority of my life. I figured, if I Joined, I’d have a greater chance to go out and visit new states and countries.”
Well, there you have it. It looks like the number one reason why soldiers enlist in the Army other than a call to serve is because of wanderlust.
That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. There is something so special about breaking free from your hometown and having the opportunity to explore the world around you – experiencing new cultures and meet interesting and stimulating new people.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Would you ever consider joining the Army if you haven’t already or do you think a life in the military isn’t really your cup of tea? Let us know what you think in the comments section.
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