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As of March 2012, there are just over 1.4 million military personnel reported by the U.S. government. Over one million of them are general enlisted personnel.

General enlistees are often recruited right out of high school or in their early twenties as an alternative to going into a university. The offer can be very attractive for many individuals with the promise of decent wages, job training, and financial aid for further education. Some recruits gladly go into service with patriotic and heritage mentalities, but there are many others who stumble their way into it.

In many ways, the military looks good. Like a batch of cookies fresh out of the oven, tempting even though you know there could be repercussions.

The military offers lodging, great benefits and practical training thus creating an appealing alternative to high priced education and minimum wage jobs. The cherry on top of the military’s already enticing offerings is the promise of adventure and experience. The compilation of practicality, immediacy and hands on training are enough to make many young adults think twice about dismissing the U.S. military as an option.

I know I have thought about it.

A few years ago I found out that my closest friend and another good friend had both decided to enlist in different branches of the reserves. In 2010 my younger friend KW, decided to follow his father’s boot prints and enlist straight out of high school into the U.S. Marine Corps as a reservist, despite a great deal of family friction around his decision. Two months after his return from basic training I found out that LM, my best friend from my own graduating class, had chosen the U.S. Air Force Reserves. It came as no surprise when KW announced the dates of his basic training, but LM’s decision was definitely a shock.

Although I understood the attraction, I was highly interested in their rational. Over the years I have become increasingly interested in how their opinions and ideals have changed from their initial notions about reservist life to the realities they face as a result of that decision. After speaking with them on various occasions it has become clear that the military is not exactly the easy fix it is presented to be.

The boys both chose the Reserves in hopes of getting “the best of both,” military training and perks with the ability to maintain a civilian life and career. Both KW and LM came from families with military background, yet neither family pressured them to follow suite. Although the boys each had individual reason, one major factor in their decision making was a common “need for direction.”

When asked why they chose the military over going straight to college both said it seemed like the only thing to do.

This is not an uncommon response. Over my school career I have met and interacted with many Reservists, Veterans, and Active Duty personnel many of them had a similar response. Some claim that they did not perform well or enjoy school therefore the military seemed perfect. Others reference their financial status at the time of enlistment as a prime motivation. Of the dozens of people I have met over the years very few of them ever claimed Patriotism to be the primary inspiration.

KW’s and LM’s stories represent a common theme, which is why I feel compelled to share their stories.