Changing Jobs in the Military: Is It Possible?

Airmen prepare an engine for shipment.

Every service member has a specific job, often called a military occupational specialty or rating, usually assigned very soon after enlistment or basic training. Each specialty includes specific duties you will be expected to perform to help your service branch protect the peace and fulfill its mission.

Specialties are assigned based on your personal talents and skills, available “billets” or job openings, and the overall mission needs of your service branch, both current and future.

Can I transfer to a new military MOS if I don’t like my current one?

Check out the different military jobs.

From armored tank drivers and infantry units to musicians and mechanics, the military offers professional opportunities for almost every career.

If you’d like to change specialties and try something new, there are steps you can take to find a new position as you continue your service. But be aware, a change in military specialty is not always possible or guaranteed.

The Army and Marine Corps calls this type of change a “reclassification” or “change of military operations specialty.” The Navy calls it a “cross-rate,” and in the Air Force it is “re-training.” But no matter what it’s called in your branch, be aware the military expects service members to stay in their first specialty for a while – usually several years. After all, it’s taken time and resources to train you – the military wants to see a return on its investment.

Occasionally, a branch may run a “mandatory reclassification” to maintain a balanced fighting force.

Increasing your chances of transferring to a new military position

You must ask for a transfer through your chain of command. Your branch’s approval depends a lot on your personal situation. If your service record is clean, and you have a good reputation with your chain of command, your request is more likely to be considered.

In addition, a transfer may be more likely if:

  • You are re-enlisting. You can request a specialty reassignment when you re-enlist, during which you agree to serve for another few years in your new position. This is likely the best time to make a move to a new position.
  • There are too many personnel in your current position. If your current specialty is overstaffed, it may be easier to move to a different specialty with fewer staff positions.
  • Your desired specialty is understaffed. If the specialty you would like to join is in need of more personnel, you are more likely to be able to make the change. Your service branch may even send out a call looking for people interested in switching to critically understaffed positions.
  • You’ve received more training or education, like a college degree, that makes you more valuable in a different position. Some specialties aren’t available until you’ve served for a few years, like many positions in the special operations units.

Will I be able to use my military MOS to find a civilian job?

You can absolutely use the skills and experience you’ve gained in the civilian workforce. In fact, many of the specialties require civilian-based credentials and training to operate effectively. For example, both military and civilian air traffic controllers are FAA-certified.

There are several Department of Defense programs dedicated to helping separating service members find solid civilian careers. For example, each service branch runs a credentialing program designed to translate a service member’s specialty and general military experience into a civilian-style resume hiring managers can understand. And remember, Military OneSource is here to connect you to the resources and services you need to live your best military life.

Honoring Gold Star Families

Close-up of a gold star on a blue shirt

Gold star families – spouses, children, parents, siblings or others whose loved one died in service to our nation – are a vital part of our country’s military community and history.

How did the term gold star originate? During World War I, families displayed small banners with a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the armed forces. If their service member died in service, the family replaced the blue star with a gold star. The gold star let the community know that their service member died or was killed while serving their country.

Today, the nation recognizes gold star survivors in several ways to show its deep gratitude, including:

  • Designating the last Sunday of September as Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day
  • Recognizing April 5 as Gold Star Spouses Day
  • Authorizing the Gold Star Lapel Button

These buttons are a symbol of the nation’s appreciation of a service member’s sacrifice to country and service, allowing us to honor and recognize the families of these brave men and women. To learn more about the Gold Star Lapel Button and how to honor gold star families:

Even though gold star families have experienced a great loss, their ties to the military community remain strong. Their military networks are dedicated to supporting them. To learn more about the resources and benefits available to gold star survivors, download A Survivor’s Guide to Benefits: Taking Care of Our Families, or see an overview of what’s available at Gold Star & Surviving Family Members – Benefits.

More comprehensive information about various benefits for gold star survivors can be found in the Gold Star & Surviving Family Members section of Military OneSource.

Understanding the Roles of Military Officers and Enlisted Service Members

an officer is saluted by enlisted service members

More than 80% of the U.S. military is made up of enlisted members, with officers making up the rest of the military population of the armed forces. Officers are trained to be managers and leaders. They plan missions, provide orders and assign tasks, while enlisted members are technical experts and leaders that hold the specific skills necessary to complete the mission.

Both of these roles are essential to the military and offer rewarding careers. A first step toward becoming an enlisted service member or an officer is to work with a military recruiter. Your recruiter will help you determine which path is best given your level of education, goals and qualifications.

Joining the military as an enlisted member

To enlist in the armed forces, you must:

  • Have a high school diploma. In some cases, a general equivalency diploma will be accepted.
  • Be at least 17 years old. The maximum age to enlist in the military varies according to branch of service, from 28 years old for the Marine Corps, to 39 for the Navy and the Air Force. The maximum age to enlist in the Army is 34. But these are subject to change so check with your recruiter.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.
  • Speak, read and write English fluently.
  • Achieve the minimum score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test for your branch of service.
  • Pass a physical and meet weight requirements. Fitness standards vary by service.

After meeting with a recruiter, you will report to a military entrance processing station. There you will:

  • Take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Your overall score on the ASVAB’s 10 subtests will help determine what jobs you are qualified for in the armed forces. You may be required to take additional special purpose tests to help determine the best career for you.
  • Undergo a complete physical exam, which includes hearing and vision tests as well as drug and alcohol testing.
  • Meet with a service liaison to learn about available jobs in your service. Some services assign a job at this time while others wait until after basic training or later. Your job will depend on your preferences and where your skills are most needed at the time of your enlistment.
  • Be fingerprinted for background checks and security clearances.
  • Take the Oath of Enlistment in which you vow to defend the U.S. Constitution and obey the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Serving as an enlisted member

As a recruit, you will attend basic training to prepare physically and mentally to become a member of your branch of service. Basic training typically spans seven to 12 weeks depending on your branch of service. After graduation from basic training, you will attend advanced training and in some cases, additional training to learn your job.

Enlisted members start their careers as junior enlisted personnel, called privates in the Army and Marine Corps, airman basic in the Air Force and seaman recruit in the Navy. Though military titles and rank can differ by service, pay grade rankings are standardized across the military. These are designated as E-1 through E-9. Pay and responsibilities increase as you rise through the enlisted ranks. An enlistee may rise through the lower ranks fairly quickly, although promotions tend to happen less frequently after the rank of E-4 because the number of these positions are limited by Congress.

Becoming a noncommissioned officer

A service member reaches the rank of noncommissioned officer at the rank of E-4 or E-5, depending on their branch of service and military title. Noncommissioned officers are high-ranking enlisted members who have been given leadership authority.

Becoming a commissioned officer in the military

A commissioned military officer holds a four-year college degree or higher and has undergone officer training. There are several paths to earning an officer commission in the armed forces.

Reserve Officers’ Training Corps

Some 1,700 colleges and universities nationwide offer ROTC. This military training program grants scholarships to help pay for college in exchange for military service after graduation. Students enrolled in ROTC attend training and take specialized classes alongside their regular academic classes.

Learn more about the ROTC program at each service branch:

Military service academies

Each service branch has its own undergraduate institution that educates and trains its future leaders. Admission to military academies is highly competitive. Students should begin preparing during high school to ensure they meet the high standards and strict requirements for acceptance. Military academies offer free tuition and room and board in exchange for a commitment to serve as an active- duty officer for a period of time after graduation, usually at least five years.

Learn more about each military academy:

Officer school

College graduates who want to serve as military officers can apply to Officer Candidate School (called Officer Training School in the Air Force). This intensive program spans between 9 1/2 to 12 weeks, depending on the service, and prepares candidates to become officers.

Learn more about Officer Training School and Officer Candidate School by service branch.

Direct commission

Direct commissions may be available to civilians with certain highly-specialized professional degrees that are in demand in the services. Doctors, lawyers, clergy and engineers are among the professionals who are most in demand and therefore most likely to receive a direct commission. Professionals who receive a direct commission receive officer training to help them transition from civilian to military life and learn leadership skills.

Transitioning from enlisted to commissioned officer

Though less common, enlisted members may apply to become a commissioned officer. If you are well-qualified and hold a bachelor’s degree, you may be nominated by a commanding officer to attend officer candidate or officer training school. Some branches of service offer programs in which an enlistee earns a college degree and attends officer school while serving in the military.

Warrant officers

It is also possible to become a warrant officer — a technical and tactical leader — without holding a four-year college degree. Warrant officer pay grades are designated W-1 through W-5 (W-2 through W-4 in the Navy). The Air Force is the only service that does not have the rank of warrant officer.

Serving as a commissioned officer in the military

Officers have significant responsibility as managers and leaders. A newly minted officer typically starts their career as a second lieutenant (ensign in the Navy). Officer grades are designated O-1 through O-10. Promotions bring an increase in pay and responsibility, but happen only if there is a requirement. That’s because, as with enlisted ranks E-5 and above, the number of officer positions is limited by Congress. Officers may spend several years at each rank before rising to the next, though promotions tends to happen faster in the lower ranks.

Whichever path you choose, a career in the military as either an enlisted service member or as an officer offers both tangible benefits, such as a steady income, paid leave and health care benefits; and intangible benefits, such as the pride of service, being part of a community like no other and knowing that you are serving a vital role in protecting your country.

To learn more about being a part of the military, contact your service branch recruiter or call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647.

What Service Members Need to Know About Employment

Man repairs an airplane

Maybe you’re closing the chapter on your military life and opening a new one, or you’re in the process of making long-term plans. This means transitioning from being a service member to a civilian employee in a company, nonprofit or maybe the government. As a service member, you have many resources available to help you with this significant change. Here’s an overview of what you need to know as you seek employment.

Explore your career path

There’s a difference between a job and a career. Both pay the bills, but a career is more likely to give you a sense of meaning and accomplishment.

Finding a career that matches your skills and interests is the key to job satisfaction. Invest some time in a little soul-searching before you begin your search to make sure you’re going down the right path.

Whether you plan to continue in your current field after leaving military service or you wish to pursue a new opportunity, you should ask yourself two questions:

  1. What are my career goals?
  2. What steps do I need to take to position myself for success?

To help you answer those questions, a self-assessment can help you set goals and plan your way forward. Here are a few options:

  • CareerScope® is a career planning and assessment tool through the Department of Veterans Affairs that recommends career choices based on your interests and abilities.
  • My Next Move for Veterans is an assessment tool to enable you to explore careers, including those related to your military occupational specialty.
  • Career OneStop also offers a self-assessment that includes an interest assessment and skills profiler. The service, which is sponsored by the Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, also offers tools to help search for jobs, identify training and learn about careers.

Credential and leverage your military experience

Your military experience has given you training that converts to skills in the civilian world. The COOL program helps you translate your training into civilian credentials and speak better to what employers are looking for. Here are links to individual service branch programs:

The United Services Military Apprenticeship Program provides active-duty Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard service members the opportunity to improve their job skills and to complete their civilian apprenticeship requirements while they are serving.

DOD SkillBridge connects transitioning service members to career job training opportunities. Participate in training and development with industry and employers who are seeking the high-quality skills that you bring to the table.

The Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program provides transitioning service members with professional training and hands-on experience in the civilian workforce.

Build your resume

The goal of a resume is to effectively summarize and highlight your qualifications in a way that will make the employer want to reach out and schedule an interview with you. These tips will help you build a resume that will stand out.

  • Collect your assets. Get a copy of your Verification of Military Experience and Training through the Department of Defense. The VMET document helps you prepare resumes and job applications quickly when you separate from service.
  • Include essential components like contact information, job objective, summary of qualifications, employment history, education and training, and special skills.
  • Tailor your resume for the job. Translate everything into civilian terms and include volunteer experience.
  • Write a cover letter. Get the name of the person in charge of hiring, keep it to one page and always follow up.
  • Tap into resume-building tools. Check out Veterans.gov and VA.gov.

Find the right civilian job

Your military experience is valuable to many employers, but it’s up to you to get out there and sell it. Start with these tips:

  • Network. Get in touch with friends and fellow veterans. Organize your contacts and connections.
  • Tap into the services of your transition assistance offices. Get referrals for employment agencies and recruiters, job leads and career counseling.
  • Hit job fairs. Look for upcoming events to meet potential employers including:
  • Look for veteran-friendly companies. Many organizations are committed to helping veterans find a good job. Look for programs such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative. Check out organizations like Soldier for Life, Marine for Life, the Military Officers Association of American, Non-Commissioned Officers Association or Enlisted Association, and United Service Organizations. Also, see the HIRE Vets Medallion Award for a list of organizations committed to veteran hiring, retention and professional development.

Other employment benefits and assistance programs

Review some of the top services and programs offered by the military and the government, focused on jobs for veterans and helping you find your new career. Also, check out these employment benefits and assistance programs available before and after you leave the military:

  • Department of Labor Employment Fundamentals of Career Transition: This one-day workshop provides an introduction to the essential tools and resources needed to evaluate career options, gain information for civilian employment, and understand the fundamentals of the employment process.
  • Department of Labor Employment Workshop: This two-day workshop covers emerging best practices in career employment, including in-depth training to learn interview skills, build effective resumes, and use emerging technology to network and search for employment.
  • Vocational Training Track: Participants complete a career development assessment and are guided through a variety of career considerations, including labor market projections, education, apprenticeships, certifications and licensure requirements.
  • Soldier for Life engages and connects Army, government and non-governmental organizations to support soldiers, veterans and families.
  • Marine for Life connects transitioning Marines and their family members to education resources, employment opportunities, and other veterans services that aid in their career and life goals outside of military service.
  • National Guard Employment Support Program supports National Guard Service members in finding meaningful careers and job opportunities as they face the challenges of military life, whether mobilized or in a steady-state posture.
  • American Corporate Partners: Free mentoring program connects Post-9/11 veterans with corporate professionals for customized mentorships.

Match your military skills to civilian jobs, find transition resources, and start your military-to-civilian job search with the resources and information provided above. Check out all the resources for employment on Military OneSource.

Voting Becomes Easier for the Mobile Military Life

Vote button over the American Flag.

As a guardian of our nation, you protect the American way of life. The Federal Voting Assistance Program is here to ensure you and your family are able to exercise your right to vote.

About three-quarters of the 1.3 million active-duty service members are eligible to vote absentee because they’re stationed outside of their voting jurisdictions. Thanks to 2009 amendments to the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (1986), it’s easier for relocated and overseas service members and spouses to register and submit absentee ballots.

Military Absentee Voting Made Simple

No matter where you are, the Federal Post Card Application lets you make sure your vote is counted in a few simple steps.

Today, states are required to send ballots to service members and eligible family members at least 45 days before federal elections and to provide electronic options for voters to receive those ballots. The change boosted the rate of successfully counted absentee ballots sent from service members, from 30% in 2006 to 53% in 2018.

FVAP helps you vote. Wherever you are.

FVAP provides assistance for service members and eligible family members to register to vote, request an absentee ballot and check the status of a ballot for federal offices no matter where they’re located.

Now it’s easier than ever to:

  • Register to vote – whether it’s your first time, you have relocated, or you have separated from the military
  • Request your absentee ballot
  • Vote and submit your absentee ballot

Most states require you to register to vote or request an absentee ballot to start the process. The expanded use of electronic options for sending and receiving federal election materials has made it much easier to vote by absentee ballot. That’s important as two-thirds of military voters are absentee voters.

It’s best to start the absentee voting process early. Here are easy ways to demonstrate your readiness and ensure your vote is cast and counted:

Many states allow you to submit your FPCA electronically, and all states allow for at least one form of electronic transmission to send you a blank ballot. Many states accept the ballot by email or fax, while some states only accept the ballot by mail. Mail delivery times vary based on where you live. If your state requires you to mail your ballot, then you can make sure your vote is counted by mailing your ballot early to allow for extra time.

Since voting materials that are mailed can’t be forwarded, it’s important for you to provide your election office with your new address after every move. Consider sending in a new FPCA every year. Also, federal elections can come up suddenly even during nonelection years. Submitting the FPCA each year helps ensure that you will receive a ballot for all federal elections for which you are eligible.

Voting when transitioning out of the military

If you are transitioning to civilian life, you should notify your election office of your change in voter registration status and update your information, so that you can vote locally in the next election. Depending on whether you are staying in the same voting district after military separation, or if you are moving to a new state or county, there are just one or two easy steps to take, available here: https://www.fvap.gov/military-voter/transition.

More information

When you want to vote – whether you’re entering the military, casting a ballot for the first time, relocating, or transitioning or retiring from the military – and have questions about casting your ballot – your Installation Voter Assistance Office or FVAP have the answers. Go to FVAP.gov or call 1-800-438-VOTE (8683).

Federal Voting Assistance Program resources

Coronavirus disease 2019: Voters can find helpful resources on FVAP.gov, including COVID-19 information and two visual maps that depict how states accept the FPCA or ballot.

Envelopes: Voters can also download postage-paid envelope templates that will allow them to mail back their voting materials free of charge from any military post at a military installation or via diplomatic pouch at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas.

Languages: Voters who prefer to read absentee voting information in Arabic, French or Spanish can find translations of instructions for filling out the FPCA and FWAB.

Installation Voting Assistance Office: Active-duty military and military spouses can find and get help from their IVAO.

Subscribe: Voters can also subscribe to receive voting emails.

Calendars: Voters also have access to voting alerts and calendar reminders for their state.

Ambassadors: Voters living in Rome, Tokyo and London can reach out to FVAP voting ambassadors who coordinate in-person and virtual events, including:

Social media: Voters can also follow FVAP on social media to tune in to Facebook Live events, absentee voting best practices and more.

Meet the Team Behind Military OneSource’s Call Center

Military OneSource call center professional

As the one source to connect you to your best MilLife, Military OneSource provides both a robust website full of information and a call center with a team of friendly professionals standing ready to assist you with any need you have. We’re here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by telephone and online to help you with everyday life and your biggest milestones. Watch our brief video to meet this dynamic and qualified team of experts and learn about the range of services offered through Military OneSource.

Contact Military OneSource 24/7.

You can get personalized help 365 days a year by telephone and online.

Overseas? See OCONUS calling options.

Prefer to live chat? Start now.

Non-medical counseling is available to help you thrive

Confidential, non-medical counseling is a popular and proven service among service members and their families. Our counselors know military life, so they understand your challenges and how to help. We provide marriage and relationship counseling, parent and child counseling, sessions to ease deployment adjustment and other kinds of support to help you thrive at work and home. Support is just a call or click away. We provide counseling sessions face-to-face, by phone, online chat or secure live video.

Other popular services

At Military OneSource, we provide specialty consultations and other services to help service members and their families, including:

  • Tax and financial counselors who can help you prepare your taxes or assist with budgets, debt counseling or buying a new home.
  • Health and wellness coaches who support you with your healthy living goals and stress reduction.
  • Our peer support service, which provides opportunities for active-duty, National Guard and reserve members and military spouses to speak with someone who has been there, done that.
  • Relocation assistance to help you master your next PCS.
  • Assistance on elder care, adoption, special needs, education and career goals, relocation and more.

Streaming YouTube is currently blocked from DOD networks.

Who’s Eligible?

All active-duty, National Guard and Reserve Component service members regardless of activation status, recently separated service members, military families and survivors have access to Military OneSource resources anywhere in the world at no cost. Services are available by phone and online. Learn more about eligibility.

Look inside

Learn more about the range of services offered by Military OneSource. Our team of professionals is here to meet your needs. For more information, call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647. Click here for OCONUS calling options.

Military OneSource Live Chat

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Technology is on your side when it comes to getting the information you need. Instead of spending hours online researching articles, check out the live chat feature on the Military OneSource website. You type in your question and receive a quick response with the information you need. Live chat makes the existing Military OneSource services even easier to access.

Easy access

Service and family members can begin live chats on Military OneSource from their computers or on the go from their smart phones or tablet devices. Military OneSource live chat conveniently provides military families with information when and how they want it. Quick and personalized information is available 24/7/365 from a trained Military OneSource consultant.

If your office or house is too noisy for calls, or you don’t feel like speaking with anyone after a full day, live chat is a convenient way for you to discover all that Military OneSource offers.

Contact Military OneSource 24/7

You can get personalized help 365 days a year by telephone and online.

Overseas? See OCONUS calling options.

Prefer to live chat? Start now.

How does online live chat work?

  • Scroll to the top of any Military OneSource page
  • Find the comment bubble icon on top right, and click on it
  • Click Continue
  • Type in your question — it’s as simple as that

Our live chat works just like you’d expect it to. Both you and your Military OneSource consultant can see when the other one is typing, so you will know when the consultant is sending info your way.

Depending on the nature of your question and what services you request or require, the consultant will help in one of the following ways:

  • Provide you with the information you requested
  • Invite you to call the Military OneSource toll-free number at 800-342-9647 for additional services such as specialty consultations
  • Refer you to other appropriate services with a warm hand-off to the other provider

Live chat topics

Live chat provides you with personalized information and resources beyond what you find on the Military OneSource website. A Military OneSource consultant can suggest the best resources for you on topics including:

  • Parenting, adoption and family
  • Single life, marriage or relationships
  • Child care programs and respite care
  • Children or adults with special needs
  • Caregivers and wounded warriors
  • Language interpretation and document translation
  • Deployment, relocation and transitions
  • Morale, Welfare and Recreation
  • Commissaries and exchanges
  • Disaster preparedness

Live chat also gets you quick answers to questions regarding confidential help including the following:

  • Specialty consultations (adoption, education, elder care, health and wellness coaching, peer-to-peer, special needs and wounded warrior)
  • Non-medical counseling (improving relationships at home and work, stress management, adjustment difficulties, parenting, marriage problems, or grief and loss)
  • Interactive tools and services (document translation, financial counseling, free tax service, language interpretation, and Spouse Education and Career Opportunities counseling)

Grab your smart phone or tablet device and let a Military OneSource consultant assist you. Live chat us today.

Military OneSource Virtual Resources Offer Personalized Support and Tools for Overall Well-Being

Military male jogging outside

Current as of October 2, 2020

Military life has great rewards – and some challenges. Deployments, moves and the uncertainty of current travel restrictions are stressful. In times of change, it’s reassuring to have a trusted source of information, resources and support. For service members, that’s Military OneSource — available 24/7 to help service members and their families thrive.

Financial counseling, career guidance and tax help

The coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has caused global financial worries. Military OneSource offers free financial and career resources including:

Resources for physical, mental and emotional well-being

Military OneSource has tools for service members and families to care for body and mind. A few of the available resources include:

  • Health and wellness coaching can help teens and adults get on track. Start with healthy eating, physical fitness and managing stress. 
  • Online tutoring and homework help from Tutor.com. This free service has temporarily expanded. It now covers any adult or child member of a Department of Defense civilian, National Guard and reserve. It also applies to wounded warrior military families. Even adults enrolled in a college or professional development course may be eligible. As always, the service is available to military children in grades K-12. Access Tutor.com through the MWR Digital Library.
  • Chill Drills are audio tracks developed to help service members relax and de-stress. 
  • Wellness apps can help your service member regroup and reboot. Learn deep-breathing techniques to relax and unwind. Find personalized tools to handle stress and anxiety during self-care breaks. All apps were developed by the DOD, Veterans Affairs and other partners. 
  • Military OneSource non-medical counseling can help with stress management. Counselors work with you to resolve marital and communication issues, parenting skills, grief and more. Military OneSource counselors know military life. They understand your challenges. Sessions are confidential.
  • Video non-medical counseling for children and youth offer children and teenagers tools to develop healthy coping skills to manage life’s stressors.

Personalized support to strengthen relationships

Even the strongest relationship can bend under the pressure of life changes. Learn to deal with deployment, permanent change of station and living through a pandemic. Military OneSource services can strengthen important connections:

Determining eligibility and getting started with Military OneSource virtual support

Military OneSource support is available to active duty, National Guard and reserve, their partners and their children. For eligibility, see Military OneSource Confidential Help Eligibility.

Service members and family members can access services by creating a free account on Military OneSource. They can start a live chat or call 800-342-9647. If outside of the country, use international calling options.

Stay up to date on information to help your service member navigate the coronavirus 2019 pandemic.

In times of change, it’s reassuring to have a trusted source of information, resources and support. For service members, that’s Military OneSource — available 24/7 to help service members and their families thrive.