How to Enlist the Right Way
A primer on getting the most you can out of the US Armed Forces
Nota Bene: The manual portion of this essay will be continuously updated; enlistment opportunities change, new ways to connect with friendly OSMs emerge, and COVID-19 has reportedly messed up the Fedrec packet process.
It’s hard for a young person to imagine it now, but in 1980 no one really thought the Soviet Union would collapse. You know how people say ‘Third World’ today to refer to places like San Francisco? It used to be a designator of non-aligned countries in the Cold War (and tellingly, Singapore is a lot nicer than Detroit, it turns out), because the Soviet Empire was really like a second world. An alien civilization, the grim and Oriental despots with horses well watered in the Dnieper river, who would come swarming like the Mongols over the Fulda Gap to slaughter all of the beautiful babies of Western Europe.
To be sure, many doubted Communism’s strength (the USSR’s own propaganda evolved over time, from boasting about premier scientific leadership and industrial capacity, to attacking the West for consumerism in a way surprising for official atheists), and there were those who thought it would become even more corrupt, and there were of course defectors who would happily talk about its imminent demise à la Gordon Chang (more on that later), but if you claimed that in just over a decade, the Communist Party would be declared illegal and a couple years later, tanks would be firing into the former Supreme Soviet HQ building to put a stop to hardliner resistance, you would be considered a complete lunatic.
But it’s now February 1980, just over 41 years ago. (Before you hop in Indian Bronson’s time machine, do you know people who were alive 41 years ago? Maybe a few. The world can change forever and still be forgotten. Nuts, right?)
This past Christmas, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with hundreds of aircraft, thousands of tanks and armored troop carriers. Three army divisions, totaling over 30,000 men and many more in support flooded into the country by airlift and overland travel. They immediately take control of a splintered Afghan Communist party, with KGB and legendary Spetsnaz (observe the great feelings of inadequacy in America’s defense establishment) raiding Tajbeg Palace, murdering an uncooperative Hafizullah Amin, making Babrak Karmal leader of the country, barely bothering to conceal their actions to the world. It is a massive, forceful operation, executed swiftly and expertly.
Just months before, the US learned the Soviet Union had a combat brigade stationed in Cuba well after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, on the heels of SALT II being signed. That treaty of mutual agreement between the US and USSR to slightly reduce the number of life-on-earth-ending nuclear weapons was mooted as a result of the Soviet invasion. The Red Army is immense and deployed around the world. The KGB is powerful, fearsome, and everywhere.
All of it just stopped existing in 1991. The entire animating principle of securing the Soviet Union went away. It vanished and never came back. Everything that the men who were invading Afghanistan were fighting for, in the ideological/pretext sense, ceased to exist. Isn’t that kind of remarkable?
The Soviet Empire is over; you can read everything you want about it. We are in the old dead woman’s house, and nothing is safe. It is extensively published. Diplomatic cables? We have them. Contemporary newspapers? Man, that’s open source. Private letters and journals from Soviet ambassadors that generated the case for war at the highest levels of the Kremlin over the years leading up to the invasion? As Sarah Palin might say, “You Betcha”. Feast!
What you may notice, if you pore over formerly classified documents from diplomatic attaches, watch hours of newsreels, and explore the pop culture and historical reception of this exploded empire’s foreign misadventures and domestic politics (don’t worry, as a subscriber to this Substack, you need not be completely autistic and waste your time in minutiae), is that everything made sense to the Russians. It wasn’t like they all had the Red Star flash in their eyes and slowly turned southward in unison, but it figured, mostly.
Doesn’t this remind you just a little bit of your own civilization? It should.
Instead of scrutinizing the convoluted relationship of Hafizullah Amin and various other Soviet apparatchiks to the Kremlin, you might as well be reading about Alwan al-Janabi (“Curveball”) and the Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq WMD.
As late as the early 1980s, the Russian authorities can still ban musical groups from releasing albums or playing publicly if their blue jeans offend the whims of the Soviet State. As early as the late 1980s, the Soviet Union was captive to the ideological frame and aesthetic preferences of the Western Capitalist Pigs:
And by 1991 it was all gone. An observer might want to ask, what the ‘fsck’?
How does this happen? How do you go from massive military invasions to this:
Okay, okay, I’m really belaboring the point, but one can only hope that Senator Josh Hawley’s forthcoming cameo in the Laoxiangji Chicken spots is as hilariously undignified. So what gives? In short; The Soviet Union stopped being credible to the Soviets themselves. That is to say, whatever life was, from the mundane expectations of what is or isn’t okay in public to say about ‘political things’, to the grand narratives of delivering a robust Communist order for the USSR’s Afghan Comrades (one which could justify tooling around in a desert wasteland with your buddies in an armored vehicle, getting hit by IEDs, and gallantly firing back (search that link for ‘3732590’) until the contact is over, to be awarded a medal by your company commander, later traded around by militaria collectors)….stopped mattering to people. Everyone just stopped giving a shit.
What ever became of brave Private Imamberdiyev, who saved his friends’ lives and killed no fewer than three Mujahideen on September 15, 1983 in combat near Chagcharan? Perhaps he has a grandson who serves in Turkmenistan’s military, following in the footsteps of his old papa who would begrudgingly tell him about how he got his scars as a young man, long ago during ‘The War’.
If you start collecting 21st century militaria, from decorations and uniforms, to rifles and old casualty tags, you will soon see that, more or less, our modern wars are essentially fought for nothing. This isn’t especially easy to accept.
Instead of Private Imamberdiyev, we could speak of Private Turner, whose own citation, for his country’s star shaped medal, reads the same. Unlike our Soviet friend, Kyle was born during a time of electronic records. He is doing well, but long into his further service continued wearing his decorations, in memory of his friends who didn’t make it. More Americans should read citations for combat actions, and follow the stories of the young men and women we send into wars. The endings aren’t always so happy as Kyle’s, and they weren’t for his friends. Crucially, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the American invasion of Iraq (and GWOT) also read the same way.
Can you explain what the American people got out of the Revolutionary War? Out of the Civil War? From WW2? Of course you can. But Iraq? Syria? Nigeria?
Every American service member who has died in the Global War on Terror since Bin Laden’s well overdue and well deserved killing, has died for nothing.
I don’t say this lightly, and I don’t say it to defame the memory of the honored dead. This author’s own father and family served in the US military, his granduncle still holds the current record for the oldest man to complete the Air Assault course at Ft. Benning. But we have to be realistic about the Empire.
Recently at CPAC, Donald Trump Jr. struck out against the Military Industrial Complex, and got booed. Mike Pompeo bloviated about how tough and strong we are bombing Syria (waitaminute, didn’t Trump get elected when he was praising Assad for attacking ISIS?), and was cheered by the crowd:
This level of incoherence is typical of Trump, and furthermore, typical of American Empire. Are we world police? Is that good? What does it mean for America to engage in ‘global leadership’ without bombing someplace? Is Biden a bad guy for bombing Syria? Or are the adults-in-the-room back in town?
The internal contradictions of American martial patriotism (on some level, we are going around bombing places to free them, does that sound right?), most acutely obvious in its conservatives, are like mutational load accumulating in the organs of its bodies politic. There is the sleek, perfectly sculpted, noble Hollywood (often real, too, though) genotype of our national patriotism, and then the median American jingoist; corpulent, riddled with disease, and loud.
We want to be the first one; we want to help, we want to protect the country. We grew up on stories of Nathan Hale and Captain Davis of Acton, and GI Joe and Band of Brothers. But the reality is something more like U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies—New York Times.
If you intend to enlist in the military, you have to make sure you aren’t exposing yourself to risks that come without upside. One risk, one negative, of enlisting in the military, which will figure larger in your life as the pandemic wanes, is missing birthdays, weddings holidays, other big life events, or even convenient long weekends. This on top of being away from your family, including a spouse and a kid, if you are deployed. All command dependent. But compared to the rewards of a steady paycheck, the Tricare health plan, educational opportunities and other ancillary benefits, that might be worth it.
And you need to think about what your plan even is. Whatever the US Military is, whatever the US Government is, it isn’t looking out for America. It’s looking out for the US. These are not, actually, the same thing. For everyone buying into the Biden administration, who isn’t upset at all, one iota, America and the US are the same thing. If you’re reading this blog and are even slightly suspicious about the equivalence, I’ve got bad news, you can’t go back.
But if you still love America, and have an appropriate sense of fear about an uncontested Han Hegemony, can you leverage the Department of Defense to your advantage? Recall our earlier mention of Governor Palin.
Broadly speaking there are two paths in front of you; “Get in, Get out”, and “Lifer”. The first is doing a single enlistment contract, an “eight” year obligation (you can play with this and get ‘two-year’ contracts, where an additional two years are spent in the Reserves with weekend drill, the remaining four years inactive - but still technically on the hook). You get in, get the physical fitness, the small units tactics, the weapons training, the cool postings (You could live in Georgia for a bit, or you could even visit Georgia), the college money (or the sports car), and sweet, sweet government bennies.
The second path is staying in the Soviet Military so long you become like General Valery Gerasimov. It’s not strictly true, what we said about the Soviet Union’s military disappearing. In fact, it was purchased by the new regime.
Maybe it’s undignified for a military’s leadership complete with a nuclear arsenal, fighter jets, submarines, and spiffy uniforms to be led into a room and be offered money for supporting a new regime by a guy best known for, well:
But Yeltsin won the referendums and Gorbachev did Pizza Hut commercials. Even Steven. Someone like Valery Gerasimov saw all this unfold. So did someone like Putin. There’s absolutely nothing about the internal logic of the Soviet Union in terms of political self-justifications for rule that carries over to the Russian Federation—but Russians living in Russia have security concerns that are essentially the same, and guns (and ICBMs) work the same way no matter what you believe about collective farming or classless atheism.
The Lifer path is one that I can’t help you with, precisely. It’s one that very few senior members of the US Officer corps can, either. They all basically believe in “US = America”, and more or less buy into the same stuff Ash Carter under Obama’s tenure believed (you know, schoolmarm diversity hectoring), and the insurrectionists of January 6th have chilled the Joint Chiefs to their bones.
So, when you’re competing to get branched infantry or armor on the Order of Merit List, maybe keep your batshit insane political ideas to yourself, okay?
But you can get educated on the actual politics of the military if you pursue a commission (‘enlistment’ is something everyone does; if you’re a Lifer, you want to be a commissioned officer, not an enlisted man) and play that game.
Whichever path you choose, or decide on, you have to carry the mindset with you that the US as it exists simply isn’t going to exist forever. Remember Gordon Chang? Gordon is, repeatedly, hilariously wrong about the Chinese regime, the ‘Ceeceepee Chinese Gowmunist Pawrdy!’ which CPAC style conservatives breathlessly exclaim is planning to take over the world. It’s certainly possible the Chinese intend to take over the world and inflict the same policies they have to manage the Uyghur onto every last non-Han. Maybe. What’s less feasible is that their regime is going to crumble any time soon. By the laws of probability, it could—make no predictions of permanence in an essay recalling the Soviet Union—but the US hardly seems particularly healthy or capable of maintaining the post-Cold War political and martial global hegemony it enjoyed (and abused) through the 90s and mid 2000s.
These last twenty years, at least, have been a complete failure for America. The US is doing just fine and dandy; Raytheon, Boeing, etc. execs will tell you.
The Chinese are having teething problems with their J-20 stealth fighter. The US Air Force is poised to flush twenty years of R&D dedicated to the F-35 down the toilet, a program whose creative government accounting is something between twelve billion and one trillion wasted in spending or future earmarks. Who is going to win in a war over Taiwan? Wrong question.
Ask: Do you give a shit? ‘Pourquoi mourir pour Taïwan?’ Are the Australians and the Saudis going to fly fighter sorties over the South China Sea? Will the children of the Indian and German nations be brutalized in landing operations and Marine warfare in the littoral zone? You already know the answer. Robert Gates, that establishment mandarin of multiple administrations told us: No.
Do not ask what you can do for your Empire, ask what Uncle Sam can buy you. You are not a Soviet. The Kazakhs and Turkmen are not your countrymen. Imagine being a Russian with knowledge of 1991 traveling back in time to 198X and hearing young Russian soldiers in the Soviet military arguing about who was better, Andropov or Chernenko. Gerasimov wore a Soviet uniform because that’s what he had to wear. If you can figure out how to be an American patriot without being a tool of US Empire, you’ve got it made.
Maybe this regime will last another couple centuries. Maybe it will be totally spent by the time the Great Boomer Die-Off is complete (it will peak around 2044, approximately when the US transitions to being firmly minority-White).
Who will get the cushy logistics jobs? Who will still be fighting and dying in the artillery, armor, and line infantry jobs? Who will be getting blown out of the sky by Chinese SAM batteries and who will be buying the new Camaro?
Who should want to be a Lifer? Becoming part of the upper echelon corps means doing time in the units that actually fight and actually kill (in theory; it’s hard to even pretend a Stateside chaplaincy is going to be manning guns). But getting the supply chain and clerical training that makes you valuable to white collar jobs and a firmly middle-class life is not found in the infantry:
The ethics of it are debated while running on eggshells at America’s newspapers and the US Army War College. The whitepapers “How do we make more Black Lady Generals?” and “Hey how come all the Green Berets and SEALs are White Farmboys?” (I am taking poetic liberties) are available.
What isn’t debatable is that the military is an institution that you can get quite a lot stuff out of, has only a very tenuous relationship with making American life better, and can expose you to incredible risks to life and limb. Be careful!
This section will be periodically updated.
Open call for information: If you are in the service and see info. that is wrong, incomplete, or could be improved, tell me: Indian_Bronson@protonmail.com, subj. [Enlistment]. Do not include PII, else, direct me to what others have written in open forums. We are OpSec respecters.
Okay, this is the section that is an evolving source for best deals possible, for yourself and for your family, or how to best position yourself for longterm higher command in the US Military. Maybe US regime lasts forever. Maybe the Chinese go nuts and do more than just invade Taiwan. Either way, if you’re an American man you’ve gotta take care of your family first, definitely, and stop the Red (Yellow? jk jk pls no ban) Menace second, possibly.
ASVAB - this is the military’s SAT. On top of basic physical fitness conditioning (don’t join fat), you want to make sure no matter what you do, you score as high as possible on this. I don’t care if you’re smart. If you haven’t been taking tests under pressure and specifically familiarized yourself with the test’s quirks, you’re cheating yourself if you don’t prepare. Yeah, yeah, Indian guy telling you to study hard for a test. I know. But still, take it seriously and max it out.
You’ll actually take it online or at something called a MEPS (recruiting/intake station) when you get in touch with a recruiter, but you should be regularly capable of scoring high before you take their practice one, and the actual.
Which service to join?
In order of cushiness: Air Force, Navy, Army, Marines. (Sorry, the Coast Guard is under the DHS and no longer counts. But it reportedly fits kind of in between the Navy and Army, in terms of budget you can take for yourself.)
As you can guess, this is also the opposite order of selectivity. (Don’t worry, Marines themselves are aware of and embrace the lovable grunt happily eating crayons stereotype.) The thing is, you’re not in this to suffer for the US Govt and whatever it thinks Botswana should be pressured into accepting, in order to be part of the global community. You’re in this for money. There is an important thing to keep in mind however; the Army guarantees contracts. As in, if you pick an MOS and it isn’t available for whatever reason because of things outside your control, they will let you discharge. Pretty groovy.
The Air Force is selective to the point that sometimes their job fields become unavailable as the competition is so high. Their barracks are nicer and the girls are prettier (bawdy inter-service lore, but it has never been disputed).
The other services may or may not expose you to a higher chance of combat in the event of war with China - presumably, the Navy and air wings of the Air Force would be in direct combat, as would the Marines.
What kind of MOS should I look for?
Avoid combat arms. Don’t even think about ‘special operations’, unless you really intend on being a Lifer. Even then try to pick armor or artillery. This runs pretty contrary to the hot shit Sun & Steel attitude of the American right wing, but remember that no Americans are made safer by lighting up a hamlet of illiterate Afghans, or getting smoked by the Mainland Chinese in order to protect the Taiwanese Chinese from them (debatable, but I just don’t see it).
Opt for MOS’s with the best sign-up bonuses, the cushiest postings (you can look up where commands are located), and the greatest relationship to civilian careers. Here are some of the best paid enlisted MOSs. Remember, you want to MAX out that ASVAB. Here is the official info. about pay.
One field I feel comfortable recommending is Cyber: it has a direct commissioning program now, gets you a clearance and skills that directly translate to high-paying civilian jobs, and you will contribute at least to the Chinese not totally owning our shit, stealing our IP, spying on comms/secret projects, or fucking up our guys who are deployed. So you get to lend Uncle Sam a hand while you ransack his wallet. Plus, air-conditioned desk jobs.
There’s also medicine: https://www.usuhs.edu/ This is one of the best medical schools in the world, and the military, like the civilian healthcare world, has a ravenous appetite for physician’s assistants and nurses.
Finally, I think the most crucial ancillary skills for a civilian career are understanding support logistics, from supply chain to basic finance. These jobs are all over the military, which is a massive organization, far beyond the scale of any civilian employer, with jobs aplenty which translate well: learn how to do capital planning with million dollar budgets (or billion dollar budgets), ensconce yourself in the Diversity & Inclusion initiatives of Silicon Valley’s HR, I mean, “Talent and People” teams. Do you know what happens when you identify as a protected veteran in a job app to a FAANG company? They lose their shit because you just made their box-checking easier.
Where else can I learn about what’s available?
Hilariously, Reddit. The /r/nationalguard and /r/army subreddits have S-1 and S-3s and friendly OSMs posting about opportunities all the time. If you are young, don’t have that much tying you down, and want a guaranteed slot in an ARNG unit in Louisiana, you will find a guy that will take your phone call.
As more becomes available, as force priorities change, this portion of the document will become more involved and link out to more resources.