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You’ve been looking forward to this moment… a clean and fresh DD-214 Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty clutched in your hands, no sergeants to answer to, no uniform, no general orders to follow.
Everything is entirely up to you now.
Then it hits you: everything is up to you. And that includes deciding on a career and figuring out how to make the most of your military training and benefits to put food on the table.
You remember your recruiter had a lot of great ideas for things you could do after the service with all that experience and support. But you’re the one who is going to have to make it happen now.
Not to worry, though. There are hundreds of different careers that your qualifications, experience, and educational benefits can get you into after the service. But based on the kind of general experience you have, and some of the additional training opportunities that might have come your way, some of those careers just happen to be a better fit than others…
1. Law Enforcement
According to a 2020 Census Bureau study, just over 9 percent of Post 9/11 veterans are employed in law enforcement. It may be the least surprising statistic in the history of statistics. Military training checks all the boxes for police agencies:
If you held an MP or Criminal Investigations Division billet, all the better—you already got a lot of procedural and practical training in policing. An associate degree in criminal justice with your GI Bill® benefits may be all you need to get started in a law enforcement job that will fit you like a glove.
2. Information Technology
Military training backed up by extended GI Bill® benefits for STEM students make IT degrees a great choice for veterans. You can get an extra six months of schooling through the Edith Nourse Rogers Scholarship, perfect for finishing up those math-heavy CS courses. Or there is VET TEC, the Veteran Employment through Technology Education Courses program, which covers boot camps and other focused training classes—without tapping into your GI Bill® benefits.
Military computer training is extensive for IT specialists, lasting twenty weeks or more. And better yet, it covers the same popular operating systems and applications you’ll work with out in the civilian world.
Cybersecurity gets the same GI Bill® STEM advantages as IT and compsci. There are a lot of cybersecurity billets in every service, and when it comes to keeping operational security tight, no expense is spared in their training. This is a hot field in the civilian world too, with salaries in the hundreds of thousands being common.
You can also leverage your experience with U.S. Cyber Command through the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (NCAE-C), a partner program linked with a number of military-supportive universities. If you had the right stuff to guard the nation’s secrets, then chances are the private sector will hire you to protect theirs.
Healthcare staffing is at a premium in both the military and private sector today. You can get the best of both those worlds by leveraging generous nurse commissioning programs offered by the Army, Navy, or Air Force toward a nursing degree, or enlisting as a medic and using your GI Bill® benefits to become a nurse.
There are tons of options for additional training in the service, too. You can even get paid to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. With the extensive experience that comes in the military medical corps, you’ll be a shoo-in for any civilian nursing jobs you want.
Engineering is actually one of the oldest military specialties. The only degree originally offered at West Point was in engineering; the great canals, dams, and public works of the young nation were forged from the earth by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Today, both the Corps and more specialized military engineering specializations put thousands of soldiers to work building, fortifying, and planning in the same kinds of fields that are in-demand in the civilian world. Military engineers do everything from electrical wiring to helping design fighter jets. Many additional training classes in the service build you knowledge, and with heavy-duty math and science skills, you may be able to get college credits after discharge through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP).
6. Allied Health
It’s not just nursing that’s big in healthcare right now. All the various allied health professions, from x-ray techs to audiologists, are in high demand across the country.
The medical corps recruits and trains people into all these jobs. So you can get all the specialized technical training you need without spending a dime of your own money. And while you are in the service, you can actually get important industry certifications through COOL, Credentialing Opportunities On-Line. COOL will kick in up to $4,000 for training or testing fees for relevant certs.
And since more and more of these professions require college degrees in the civilian world, your GI Bill® benefits and a military-supportive university are all you need to polish off your qualifications and boost your paycheck prospects!
Okay, okay… you’ve watched too many episodes of JAG and here you are. It turns out that military lawyers and paralegals don’t actually spend all their time breaking up terrorist plots and investigating the murders of their co-workers.
What they do spend a lot of time doing is getting an invaluable legal education worth big bucks in the civilian world.
A number of programs exist to help pay for law school before you even join up or while you’re on active duty, like FLEP, the Funded Legal Education Program. The Army even has its own law school, where you can pick up an advanced degree. Paralegals can use COOL (Credentialing Opportunities Online) to get valuable specialty certifications.
And of course, all your standard GI Bill® benefits will get you a long way toward a degree as a veteran if you decide to wait.
A surprising number of military veterans go into teaching.
More than 100,000 public school teachers in 2019 were former service members according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
But it’s a great choice for vets. The military is all about teaching and learning. You get both sides of it in a typical career. So you come out the other side with some good ideas how to teach. And you have the kind of responsibility, moral rectitude, and can-do attitude that kids need to see in the front of classrooms.
Special programs like the Troops To Teachers offer benefits on top of your GI Bill® basics to get you into the schools that need you most. And you can enjoy a profession that comes with summers and federal holidays off… finally!
9. Human Resources
It’s easy to look at all the M1 tanks and F-35 fighters and nuclear submarines that the military fields today and lose sight of the most important thing that makes the American military the premier fighting force on the planet: the people.
Individual soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, guardians, and Coast Guardsmen are the secret to American military success. And every branch of the service has a huge number of billets dedicated to tracking, training, and supporting those staff. You can easily take one of those military jobs as a yeoman, personnel specialist, or HR specialist and turn it into a career doing the same thing at a civilian company or organization.
You’ll get your discharge with all the kinds of empathy, problem-solving, and people-handling skills that HR jobs require. And you’ll have the full range of GI Bill® benefits on tap to get a degree in the field to boost your job prospects and your salary level.
You can beef up your skills through additional training assignments or use active duty benefits like Military Tuition Assistance to get a head start on college, too.
10. Public Administration
It also turns out that a military career is a great way to prepare for other roles in organizing and managing agencies for the public good. Similar to HR but with a broader mission, public administration brings together all kinds of leadership, organizational, and analytical skills to manage government in the service of the citizenry.
Veterans are uniquely qualified for these roles since they have already proven they are willing to put their lives on the line in defense of democracy. Carrying out the will of the people is second nature for you—making sure it is done responsibly and effectively comes from the discipline and attention to detail you learned in the service.
But on top of those values, veterans bring practical experience to these jobs. Almost all roles in any service over the level of NCO comes with significant amounts of paper pushing. You already have experience balancing directives from your chain of command with the real-world capabilities and predilections of your unit. Those are the kinds of connections that public administrators are born to make.
Of course, like other roles in public service, you’ll need a college degree to go into public administration. But with generous veteran’s educational benefits, you’ll have what you need to earn one.
You’ll notice a theme with nearly all of our top ten professions: continuing service. It’s something you’ve already demonstrated is within your ability. If you are like most veterans, you’re proud of that service. And if you got a taste for more, you can also find big rewards in these professions while still giving back to your community and your country.