The downsides? Some are obvious: you eat institutional food, get up at dawn, and
there are no casual Fridays. Uncle Sam frowns on facial piercings and likes short
haircuts. What's more, you won't make nearly as much money as you would in the private
The pay obviously isn't in the same league as Silicon Valley, with new recruits
starting out at $1,000 to $1,200 a month, plus room, board, and benefits, depending on
what sort of education you walk in with. The benefits, which may take the form of sign-
up bonuses or free education, can be substantial, however, although how much you get
will depend on how long you sign up for. A two-year stint (which is a minimum
requirement) will net you less goodies and opportunities; if you sign up for four
years, you'll be the beneficiary of much more largesse from Uncle Sam. With the cost of
a vendor-specific certification sometimes exceeding $10,000 and the cost of a full-term
college degree going through the roof, free education courtesy of the US government can
definitely make it worthwhile.
The high-tech Army
Knowing how to point a gun and shoot it isn't enough any more. Caldera says that the
Army has become as high-tech as private industry. "We're trying to leverage technology
to change war the same way that computer technology is changing every other part of our
society. We believe our soldiers should have a technological advantage on the
For example, today a soldier can whisper into a lapel pin and report his position to
home base. He can take a picture of an enemy encampment through his rifle site, and can
use wireless technology to email it back to headquarters. Modern soldiers have to
understand that technology, and the Army needs people to design, maintain, and operate
If you're worried that you'll sign up to be a computer operator and end up peeling
potatoes in Siberia, rest easy. Your path is laid out ahead of time, and yes, you do
get to tell them what you want to do -- and there are plenty of high-tech jobs
available. Nearly 20 percent of the overall force, both officer and enlisted, are
involved in high-tech/IT jobs -- which means that out of an active force of 480,000,
the Army has over 90,000 high-tech and IT positions.
"The choice is theirs," Secretary Caldera says, "whether they want to work on a
technical certification or whether they want to work on a degree granting program."
Training has become very popular with recruits. Although the Army offers a host of
different sorts of sign-up bonuses, Caldera said that 90 percent of soldiers request
training rather than a cash bonus.