What I Would Do Differently in My Military Career If I Was Starting Over

I had a great military career.  I’ve traveled the world, led Soldiers in combat and become a better person, patriot and leader because of my military service.  Even though I don’t have any major regrets per se, if I was to do it all over again, I definitely would have done things differently.  In the paragraphs below I want to share what I would do differently if I was to start over again in the military.

# 1 I Would Have Went to College First

I enlisted right before high school graduation and then went to college for one semester.  After that semester I went to basic training.  Upon graduating from basic training I returned home and decided I wanted to go Active Duty.  While on Active Duty I earned my Associate’s Degree at night.  After getting my two year degree I was selected for the Green to Gold Program, where I attended SUNY Potsdam and Clarkson ROTC for three semesters.

Knowing what I know now, I would have went to an expensive and fun college first.  I would have taken out college loans and lived the “college experience” for four years.  After graduating college, I would enlist with the college loan repayment plan for a few years and then switch to Officer/Warrant Officer (more on that later).

what i would do differently in my military career

Looking back here’s what I would have done differently in my military career.

# 2 I Would Have Joined the Marines Instead of the Army

As I get older, I appreciate the United States Marine Corps more and more.  As a young guy, I thought they were all a bunch of meat heads.  But knowing what I know now, what I admire most about the USMC is their self respect and pride in service.  That’s something that is definitely lacking in the Army.  I’ve never met a Marine that looked weak, made the uniform look bad, or didn’t have self-respect.  All of those things are very common in today’s Army.

# 3 I Would Have Served as a NCO First, Then Officer

I’m proud to have served as an enlisted Soldier before I became a commissioned officer.  But if I had to do it all over again, I would have waited a few more years and earned my NCO stripes first.  This extra few years of experience would have helped with my maturity and leadership skills.

# 4 I Would Have Chosen a Combat Arms Branch

As an enlisted man I was an Administrative Specialist (71L) and as an Officer I was a logistician (92A, 91A and 90A).  While I enjoyed those officer jobs, if I was to do it all over again, I definitely would have served in a combat arms role instead.  I have so much respect for the infantrymen, tankers and artillery guys that I feel like I really missed out by serving in a combat service support role.

# 5 I Would Have Been a Warrant Officer

I enjoyed my time as an officer, but I never really felt like I fit in.  I am good at leading troops and getting the job done, but I am definitely a hands on guy.  I always admired the Warrant Officers, the respect they were given and the way they treated each other.  I truly regret not going the Warrant Officer route.

Final Thoughts

Thanks for reading my biggest regrets during my military career.  Please know that I don’t regret the career path I chose.  These are simply things that I would do differently, knowing what I know now.

What are some things you would do differently in your career, knowing what you know now? Post your comments and questions below. Thank you.

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15 thoughts on “What I Would Do Differently in My Military Career If I Was Starting Over”

  1. Don’t we all have a list of things that we wish we had done differently (or at least we think about it)? It is interesting that you list the college issue first, and that you got so many comments about it. Having gone to college right out of high school (and having graduated early, at that), I am always interested in hearing the perspective of people who put it off a few years. I know that I was too immature for the experience, and would not encourage my own children to go to college before eighteen (or later).

    I am interesting in learning more about the college loan repayment plan. That sounds great.

  2. I am not surprised to read that you would have joined the Marines instead of the Army, for exactly the reasons you noted. I am, however, a bit surprised at some of the others, particularly going to college before you joined. I agree with Candace that the potential for not doing as well is higher when you go to college straight out of high school. Life still is fun, and the seriousness of the future doesn’t strike some as soon as it should. Working and going to school requires that you take ownership of your future quickly, a characterstic of budding leadership. You wrote another article about not having regrets or looking back, and I really agree with this, because you would not be who you are today. Would you really want to change that?

    1. This is just hindsight. I am happy and proud of my experiences and agree with you that it made me who I am today. That being said, it would be neat do know how things would have turned out if I had chosen a different path.

  3. If I was rejoining the military all over again, I would have spent 2-4 years as an enlisted Soldier before I became an officer. I was commissioned through ROTC and even though I was successful as a LT, it would have been very valuable to have some experience being a soldiers first, before I was responsible for leading Soldiers.

  4. It’s really cool of you to share your personal opinion on this matter. A lot of people thinking about enlisting don’t know entirely what to expect and they could definitely benefit from your honest response. Some vets of the Marine Corps. told me and a friend to join the Air Force. They seemed to like the way that branch treated it’s members. Can anyone confirm or deny that?

  5. Having done #1, I can say it was a great option. The Army was the only service that offered the AC SLRP; otherwise I would have picked the Air Force. With that said, if I knew then what I know now, I would have went to ROTC in while in college and enlisted in the NG&R as a part time job. I’d be much farther along in rank 2 years from retirement. Instead, I took the SLRP, then went Green to Gold and received a Masters Degree with GRFD (Guaranteed Reserve Forces Duty), climbed the civilian career ladder with a few bad years in the NG&R to prove it. :-) I now have 7 more years before attaining 20 good years. No regrets, just stating what I’d do differently if I could go back in time. I agree with #5.

    1. Very interesting, Eric. It sounds like everything worked out for you pretty well in you career. And it’s interesting to hear what you would do differently in your military career knowing what you know now. Good luck!

  6. I’m actually really interested that you wish you would have attended college first. So many of my friends have joined the armed forces simply because they couldn’t afford college and the military was a stepping stone towards better education and a better job later on. That being said, nothing can replace the fun and crazy times I had attending my four years at CMU.

    1. I would simply join college first to live it up for four years. Then I would have enlisted in the military under the college loan repayment program. Once my loans were paid off, I would switch over to Warrant Officer. Of course, that’s what I would do if I was to do my military career over again. My route was a little bit different.

  7. I agree in almost everything. I agree in being an NCO prior to commission and not just a prior-service -enlisted. No shame on being an E-4, but having those stripes does makes a difference. I was a SSG when I got my commission, and it helped me as a professional plus I got better treatment from the troops and other officers.
    I have to agree with the honor and pride that carries being a Marine, but the Army does provides opportunities not provided to other service members, just by the fact that we are bigger than the other branches. I wanted to join the Air Force, but ended up in the Army (the recruiters were not in their office). Twenty years later, when the Air Force was kicking out Lieutenants and Captains, I got my commission as an officer.
    At the end of the day, one must be satisfied with one’s achievements. If we had a crystal ball, we probably will go an buy the winning lottery number, just to end up with a broken marriage, all sorts of crooks and thieves chasing one, and probably ending up drunk and broke in the streets, if not dead.

    1. Thanks for the reply CPT Nieves.

      You are right, we must be satisfied with our achievements in life, and in the military. I am very satisfied with my Army career. I did more than I ever thought I would. It was fun, challenging and rewarding. These are simply things I would have done if I would have had a crystal ball.

      You are also right about the Army providing more opportunities than other branches because of its size. That’s one thing I always told my Soldiers. In the Army, the options are endless. If you are squared away and really want to do something, the sky is the limit!

      Thanks for the comment.

      Chuck

  8. Hi Chuck!
    To address your points:
    #1 I think completing college while in the Guard, while wasn’t easy for me (and especially wasn’t easy for my amazing husband!), made me better appreciate the struggle and do better in school as a result. I enjoyed going to drill, it got me out of school zone for a little while, and set me up for better days during the next several weeks. I am not sure if I would have appreciated it as much if I did college and then went on active duty. Though, I did have a blast all through college, and made some of the typical mistakes (got a few bad grades on my transcripts!)

    #2 When I was a senior in high school, I got voted by the faculty as getting some Marine Student Athlete award. It was actually my first coin! I thought the Marines were the way to go, unfortunately a bad recruiter ruined it for me. They basically told me I was stupid for going to college and should just join the military. While I think civil service of some kind should be mandatory when young, I thought that was a very narrowminded way to approach someone like me who was going to college. I did give the Marines another chance, but the Army was the first to answer my inquiry, so I went for it.

    #3 I am happy to have served as an NCO first, I think it made ME better. However, if I tell you about the best officers that I have worked with, none of them were prior service! I usually preach to Soldiers that prior service is the way to go, I think that we can relate better; but I think there are some people who are born leaders and don’t need to be prior service or an NCO before they take on the challenges of becoming an officer.

    #4 My husband and his comrades have the most special bond, one that I will never have, even with people I deployed with. I think there is something to the combat arms branches, particularly the infantry. These men have truly been to hell and back together and lived to tell the tale. Ones that have been tested in combat seem to have developed the strongest bonds.

    #5 I sometimes think about this. I can wheel and deal with the best of them, but the politics already tire me. I think because I worked at state HQ for 4 years while enlisted, I got used to what the politics are like at the state level. Warrants have the best of both worlds, and I think they are universally respected by superiors and subordinates alike, as long as they stay motivated and focused. I hope this program works out for my husband!

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