I am from Brazil, a country that has not fought any war since WW2. If you join the army, go fight in Iraq and then return, what will the USA pay you? Is there a health plan for life, a pension, or nothing? Being a soldier is just a temporary job. You earn a good sum of money while you are a soldier, but nothing more than this.

  • I edited your original post to make it a little easier to understand. If you feel that any part should be changed back just let me know. Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 15:13
  • I made a second edit to remove the question as to why people would join the military. That portion was more likely to solicit opinion rather than provide actual answers. I think this new revision makes the question fit better into our guidelines Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 17:01
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    My english isn't good :( But you understand the question. Thanks for this fix.
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 18:03
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    Rodrigo, just for the record, Brazil did fight a war before the WWII: the Paraguayan War, from 1864 to 1870. If you'd like an online reference in Portuguese, there is a summary, published by the Brazilian army's documentation center. Also, you can find a more detailed account on any textbook on Brazilian history. Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 20:23
  • @OtavioMacedo I really know this. I am starting to read the book "Maldita Guerra", the best book about it :) I would say: the last war Brazil fight was WW2
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 21:04

5 Answers 5


Okay, there is a very real possibility this question will be closed, because it really doesn't fit our guidelines. I may try to edit it later to make it fit in better, but in the meantime, I wanted to provide my own response. Primarily, I believe most people in the US join the military out of a sense of patriotism more than anything else. There are some who do it because it has been done by many generations of family members before them, but generally I believe patriotism is the single most common factor.

Now then, as for the actual answer. The US military provides very good educational benefits which will beasically pay for a full college education for anyone who serves as an elnisted person for at least four years. This alone is a major incentive for a lot of young people. In addition to this, the military provides training in a variety of vocational skills that will allow others who do not want to go to college to gain practical experience that they can then leverage in seeking work in civilian life.

While it is true that you might find similar training in the civilian world, the harsh truth is that most companies that can provide this training won't provide it to young, inexperienced people straight out of high school. The military takes a chance on a lot of people who might otherwise never get that first opportunity. This ia another major incentive for joining.

In the past, during more peaceful times, this was an excellent opportunity for so many under-privileged youth. Now, however, they have to weight their decisions against the possibility that they may have to serve time in a combat zone. The risks are higher, but the benefits haven't improved considerably.

Also, even though military personnel receive an increase in pay while serving in a combat zone, this is not really all that great an increase. The general pay in the military is not that great to begin with. In spite of that, it does truly provide a lot of people who couldn't otherwise find jobs to get an opportunity to receive training and work experience that they can use for the rest of their lives.

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    -1. Patriotism is not the main reason for joining the US Army. Otherwise you would find more young people coming from the political elite (e.g. lawmakers) whereas there are virtually none (add to this some well known cases of dodging conscription). Another supporting evidence is the well known proportion of recruit from non WASP background (i.e. who have rather less reason to be "patriotic"). The hard truth is that if you put yourself in the firing line, there has to be some incentive. If the incentive is less than appealing for middle class, then only under-privileged youth will go for it. Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 9:46
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    +1 I know many people who joined solely for duty to their country. Sadly patriotism by the political elite does not extend to fighting in the military, which is once did, but is now used as a political litmus test. While it was a factor in the past there is less political will to fight for the country now a days as in the past. Now, as Steven notes, many of the benefits are more financial or educational.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 12:32
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    @Alain, you make an excellent point. I don't know exact numbers, but it's true that among the enlisted ranks, there is a much higher proportion of under-privileged youth joining because of the benefits in training and education they might not get elsewhere. However, among the officers, speaking primarily for academy graduates, they stated their primary reason for joining was actually a sense of patriotism. Most of the people accepted into military academies are offered scholarships elsewhere, but they choose to serve. Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 14:04
  • I don't have a reference but in addition to the bit of extra pay some zones are exempt from federal taxes. Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 19:51
  • @AlainPannetier, I don't know about lawmakers, but everyone I know who has joined the military has done it at least partly out of patriotism.
    – Joe
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 23:12

I'm adding some stuff I know about that I didn't see in the other answers.

IMHO, the best benifit is free medical care for life in the V.A. system. Most Americans either have to have a full-time (40+hour a week) job with a large company, or be really old or destitute to get paid medical coverage. Everybody else has to buy insurance themselves (and fully 1/4 of the country doesn't feel they can afford that, so they aren't covered at all).

If you join the military you get free medical care while you are enlisted, and then you have a chance at the V.A. system. This is a totally separate healthcare system only available to veterans. It has its plusses and minuses (cheif minus being its really hard to get into), but it is the USA's only totally socialized medical system (hospitals are government-owned, and medical personnel are government employees), so it doesn't suffer from the weirdly skewed visits-and-tests priorities the rest of the USA's medical system has.

Another not-insignificant consideration is that it amounts to a fairly reliable job, that doesn't require a college degree. There is a minimum physical and mental condition they require (adjusted by the vagarities of supply and demand), but otherwise pretty much anyone who wants can get themselves a "job" that way. For those without the money for college and living in communities without a lot of oppertunities for unskilled laborers, this is likely the best deal going. Children of the working poor are highly represented in the US enlisted ranks.

Note that it is in fact a fairly reliable job too. The US Army doesn't often have layoffs. When big wars wind down and they need less people, they just dial back enlistment a notch and the numbers will naturally drop down to the desired level after a while. Even without large wars to fight, the USA has commitments to defend countries all over the world (eg: South Korea), so there's plenty of need for soldiers in "peacetime".

Lastly, they do a lot of other little things. For instance there was a time when it was a quicker way to get US citizenship (yup, you don't have to be a citizen to join the Army!). I had some immigrant friends from Muslim countries who seriously considered this option.

Mostly its not enough IMHO for what we ask them to do for us, but it does seem to be enough to get recruits.


You can find US military pay and benefits information online. The pay, especially for enlisted personnel, is generally lower than comparable civilian jobs both inside and outside the government (officer pay is a bit more even). The benefits aren't bad but can be overly bureaucratic at times.

However, the reason people have volunteered since the draft ended in the early 1970's is either out of a sense of patriotism and/or to access the generous education and training benefits. This varies somewhat by the branch of service. In the Marines, most join for patriotic reasons coupled with risk taking adventure seeking (that was my reason for taking that direction). The Air Force, outside of flight training and a few other specialties, tend to attract those looking for education/training for an eventual civilian job.

  • Is there also the "if you enroll into the military, you gain citizenship", or I'm not recalling correctly?
    – o0'.
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 14:32
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    The Air Force and Marine can be a little more "soft" and less dangerous. But about the ordinary infantry soldier. You can have serious post-traumatic diseases. Is patriotism the answer? Only this... You can get education/training benefits in other less dangerous ways. In resume, if you go fight and go back, with no diseases, start a civilian life, the state will not pay anything more for your army time? Even a healthy care?
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 14:59
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    @Lohoris - Yes, I think this is still in effect. army.mil/article/25610/…
    – jfrankcarr
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 14:59
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    @Rodrigo, as a former Marine, I can assure you they are definitely NOT "soft"! The Marines are the most difficult branch of the US military. They are almost always the first to engage in combat, and they almost always serve the longest periods of time closest to the front lines. While Army infantry is often engaged in combat as well, on average they are not exposed to as much actual combat as a Marine. Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 15:07
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    @Rodrigo - Lol. If you are going to call a Marine "soft", make sure there's a nice-sized ocean between the two of you. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 20:45

America is a very unequal country. The Armed Forces is the "great democratizer," especially for people at the bottom.

American companies generally do a poor job of training their workers. The Armed Forces represent one of the exceptions to the rule. Poorly educated high school graduates come out of the Armed Forces well trained, with marketable skills.

With widespread mechanization, there are relatively few "heavy lifting" jobs for American people whose backs are stronger than their minds. The Armed Forces have a need for physical labor, and the pay for enlisted men and women is better than say, McDonalds. (It's the officers that are paid less than their civilian counterparts.)

Many of the people that join the Armed Forces are unpopular or ostracized in civilian life. The Armed Forces gives such people a sense of pride and belonging "Be all you can be." and "There's strong, and there's Army strong."

Promotions are easier to earn in the Armed Forces than in civilian life. (Except for "fast trackers" from "good schools.") Many people go further in the Armed Forces than they would in the corporate world, and then use their Armed Forces ranks to get good civilian jobs. It's unlikely that Dwight Eisenhower, the son of a mechanic who couldn't send him to college, would have become President of the United States apart from the Army. Colin Powell, a kid from the Bronx who "found himself" in the Army would never have become Secretary of State and a potential Presidential candidate without it. These are "extreme" examples, but illustrate the point.

American society is so violent that the Armed Forces aren't all that MORE dangerous. There's a saying that more Americans die on the highways every year than were killed in the Vietnam War. Casualties in the Persian Gulf War were low, so low that there probably would have been more deaths among the soldiers had they been involved in the only civilian pursuits they had available in the United States.

  • ,,, especially compared to amount of deaths during same time on the streets of Chicago
    – DVK
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 2:48
  • Are you really arguing that being a soldier is less dangerous that having a civilian job like a programmer or historian?
    – Russell
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 8:01
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    @Russell: I did say that OFFICERS were less well compensated than programmers or historians. But "enlisted men" are better paid than workers at McDonalds. And being in the Armed Forces is far safer than being a "gang member" who sells drugs. That's because there are few jobs for "ditch diggers," except in the Armed Forces.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 12:35
  • @TomAu, ah, I get it, for many people who would otherwise have to resort to illegal and dangerous forms of making a living, the Armed Forces is a safer alternative. Well, that has made me change my vote.
    – Russell
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 15:07
  • @Russell: Not only illegal, but even some legal occupations, coal miner, oil rig worker, prison guard, etc. comparably dangerous, less pay. Key phrase: "America is a very unequal country...for people at the bottom." You might also ask e.g. Colin Powell from the Bronx whether he regrets the time spent in the military.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 23:02

Let's speculate.

I think there are the following factors:

  • State propaganda, including the movies and computer games.

  • Very low casualties of American army in average modern war.

  • Very expensive education in the US which leaves only a few possibilities for the poor, especially those with below-average intellectual abilities.

  • Ability to escape local environment which may include very boring existence, inability to travel, unemployment, high crime rate and dangers associated with it.

  • Proof of their patriotism, especially, for non-whites, so that they could show it on occasion after the service so not to be harassed.

  • Also many people sign contracts with the military that they could be called in any time when necessary while continuing to live their usual lifestyles and earn some money for the contract. Many of them hope they will be never called, but this sometimes happens.

P.S. I am not American, this is just a look from out side.

  • Hum.. Very low casualties of American Army, are you sure? You have some statistic? What is the % of dead or injured people? When you say to escape to high crime rate, not make sense if you go to a war zone, this is not more safe :)
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 14:37
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    I meant there could be little difference. Anyway the war casualties affect only those in the front line which is a tiny minority of the whole US army.
    – Anixx
    Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 14:50
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    @Rodrigo: Yes, since Vietnam was over the US military has taken very light casualties in wartime. In the 1991 Gulf War, during the ground action US deaths were, if anything, a bit lower than you'd expect from a comparable group of civilians in the US. Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 2:21
  • @DavidThornley See How American Troops Cheat Death by James Dunnigan as a source. Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 13:51
  • @Anixx was good see your comment. I never thought about the low casualties. And understand what you say about escape hight crime rate.
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 20:42

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