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Is joining the Air Force worth it?

  1. Nov 26, 2015 #1
    Hello all. I am new to the forums and this is my first post.

    So, I am currently a junior double majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Physics. My college has a 5 year program meaning I have another 2 years after the upcoming spring semester. I have grown an interest in joining the Air Force once I graduate. I would like to be a pilot or a scientist for the AF (I understand that I don't really get to choose). It is too late for ROTC so I would be going to OTS. I think the AF would be a good career that I could work my way up and I think I would enjoy it. I have a good friend who is enlisted that was originally telling me I would love it and I should definitely join. Just yesterday however, he said I would be stupid to join with what I am majoring in. He said he asked around on base about my situation and basically told me that I am overqualified and I probably wouldn't be doing anything related to what I majored in. This kinda worries me and is making me rethink joining.

    I guess my question is can you really be overqualified for the AF? Would it not be worth joining? What are the chances that I do nothing in the field of my major?

    Thank you for any input.
     
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  3. Nov 26, 2015 #2

    Choppy

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    I'm not sure how having a degree makes one overqualified for the air force. Typically though, a university degree is one of the lines between enlisted personnel or non-commissioned members and those with a commission or officers. (I'm assuming you're talking about the United States Air Force.) You would probably be over-qualified for a lot of the enlisted trades, although technical demands on these can vary. Usually the officers get assigned the more technical roles. But as you seem to be aware, a lot what happens to you depends on operational demands at the time.

    It sounds like perhaps you would benefit from talking directly to a recruiting officer who can give you more specific details about what a career in the air force would entail.
     
  4. Nov 26, 2015 #3

    Dr Transport

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    The Air Force requires their officers to have a college degree...so having a degree will not hurt you.
     
  5. Nov 26, 2015 #4

    Student100

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    Officers get assigned to administrative roles, all the technical roles are done by enlisted personnel and Chief warrant officers. Barring pilots, if that's what you want to do. (Although the amount of physics or engineering in this role is non-existent pass flight training.)

    This.

    If you want to serve your country in a role you might use your degree in, you should look at working as either a contractor or a civil servant.
     
  6. Nov 26, 2015 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    The Air Force no longer has warrant officers. The last one retired in 1980.
     
  7. Nov 26, 2015 #6

    Student100

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    Ah, I didn't know that.
     
  8. Nov 28, 2015 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    Bcrowell makes a very good point - you never say why you want to join the Air Force. Given that this is a major life decision, you should have a good reason for it.

    The odds of being a pilot are about 20%: (13,000 pilots in 61,000 officers). The odds of being a scientist with a BS are about zero.
     
  9. Nov 28, 2015 #8

    Dr Transport

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    How can you say that, I personally know multiple active and retired Air Force officers who have Masters and PhD's in technical fields and do science and engineering on a full time basis. Many of them got their advanced degrees from the Air Force's technical university at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
     
  10. Nov 28, 2015 #9

    Student100

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    Maybe the Air Force is different, every officer I've met is an administrator, not a engineer or technician. For example, we had an officer who lead our department (electronics technicians) who had a degree in interpretive dance. A MIT grad who had a degree in molecular biology was in charge of deck department (the manual laborers). There was no clear logic to their placements (that I was privy to), and no officer I met ever did anything technical, minus the chief warrants.

    When I worked for the department of the Navy, we had engineering branches who did most of the engineering work, they were all civil servants and contractors. The officers that worked at the agency again preformed administration tasks, even though some had advanced degrees in science.

    It was the same in the Army, and at my time working for the joint communications special element. Again, the Air force could do things differently, it just seems like the odds would be stacked against them to find what are undoubtedly a small number of technical billets, should the exist. Wasn't Drakkith in the Air force? Maybe he would know better.
     
  11. Nov 28, 2015 #10
    Thanks for the responses and sorry for not being completely clear.

    My goal is not necessarily money. Obviously I would prefer to make a the most money but I would rather do something I would truly enjoy before worrying about the money. The main reason I am considering the United States AF is because I will have the satisfaction of serving for my country and I believe thats why I would really love it. Also, the benefits are nice through the military especially if I put in my 20 years or so. My buddy told me that he thinks I could better serve using my abilities in a civilian contractor job rather than joining. So that I guess that is what I am debating on. I have also been debating on grad school for physics. I know you can get a PhD through the AF as well. That was a route I was thinking of ( I understand it is not a guarantee).

    So I guess the question is could I be more useful as a civilian have the ME and Physics degrees? Also, (if I decide to do this) should I get a PhD prior to joining or try to through the AF? Thanks
     
  12. Nov 28, 2015 #11

    bcrowell

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    When you're admitted to a PhD program in physics, normally you get enough support to be able to live, complete your studies, and not go into debt. You don't need the air force for that.

    They might be nice compared to a blue-collar job in the private sector, but that's not what you should be comparing with. The military's benefits are quite attractive to someone who's 22 years old, has a wife and two small children, is uneducated, and needs healthcare for his family. That's not your situation as I understand it.

    I don't think there is any way that other people can answer this for you. It depends completely on your political evaluations, your opinions on Middle Eastern politics, Bush's wars, and so on and on and on. My advice to an idealistic young person who wanted to serve their country would be to go to law school, then work for the ACLU after graduation, and try to start undoing what Bush and Obama did when they shredded the bill of rights.

    It seems to me that your ideas are inchoate at this point, and you need to apply the logical problem-solving skills you learned in college before you go any further. You say that you don't care about money, but then you go on to discuss two purely pecuniary reasons for joining the air force (benefits and support for grad school). Moreover, neither of these pecuniary reasons makes much sense.
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2015
  13. Nov 28, 2015 #12

    Dr Transport

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    Given all that has gone on in the past 15 years, it is a toss up whether an Air Force career or private is better. Now, right now and for the foreseeable future the DoD budgets for contracting will be in flux, real flux. Most of the DoD contractors will be downsizing the next couple of years. Good people, really good people will be hitting the streets after lay-off. If you can get into the service and keep your nose clean and get decent ratings, you should be able to keep a job and money flowing in. The same cannot be said for industry.

    I would at least investigate the service if you are interested, it may be a viable option.
     
  14. Nov 28, 2015 #13

    bcrowell

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    The last statistics I saw from the APS showed that the unemployment rate for people with a bachelor's degree in physics was essentially zero. I don't think it's necessary for someone with a physics degree to join the air force in order to avoid sleeping under a bridge with his belongings in a shopping cart.
     
  15. Nov 28, 2015 #14

    Dr Transport

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    That may very well be true for the sample they looked at, I know the DoD contractor I work for (a major one and don't ask) has announced major lay-offs within the past 3 weeks to take effect just after the first of the year. I never said that you had to look at the service to avoid sleeping under abridge. I said it was an option. I realize from the tone of your posts, you do not advocate anyone joining the service, I am not pushing it even though I am a Vet, all I am saying it is an option if you want to serve your country.
     
  16. Nov 29, 2015 #15

    russ_watters

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    The way you worded that, it may be true, but it misses the point: you do have quite a bit of a choice in your job. The odds of becoming a pilot if you don't want to be one are zero. The odds of becoming a pilot if you want to be one and qualify are generally pretty good.
     
  17. Nov 29, 2015 #16

    Vanadium 50

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    It's true that if you don't want to be a pilot, you don't have to be. But the OP said that he wanted to be one. And it is competitive - particularly for non-Colorado Springs grads. (The Academy typically gets around half the new pilot slots, but commissions only about a quarter of 2nd lieutenants) What is also competitive is what aircraft you end up with. You might want the F-35, but you might get the C-130 or the KC-135. (Then again, what is competitive varies - I understand the Navy's P8 is high coveted duty. It's a 737, so it's good training for civilian life, and unlike carrier duty you usually get to go home at night to your family.)
     
  18. Nov 30, 2015 #17

    RUber

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    @ScreenDoor, the Air Force hires a good number of engineers and fewer physicists. However, the expectation of AF officers is to be a leader first, so they will tend to encourage you to gain breadth rather than technical depth. This often means project management with less hands-on design work. There are some research-focused positions in labs and graduate school, and if you are interested, you can apply. An example career track for an engineer emphasizing academics might look like this:

    Yrs 1-4 - Test engineer or developmental engineer
    yrs 4-5 - Graduate student - MS
    yrs 5-9 - Research engineer or Project manager
    yrs 9-12 - Graduate student - PhD
    yrs 12-16 - Asst. Professor or Technical role utilizing PhD.
    yrs. 16-20 - Program director, Acquisitions manager, etc.

    There is no one way to make a successful career, and the trade-off is that you will move often and change technical focus every few years.

    If you wanted a full career in the labs, civil service is better, since the AF won't force you to change jobs every 3-4 years. If you are looking to grow as a technical leader and understand large-scale acquisition programs, then the officer route may very well suit your needs.
    Also, if you are planning to go through OTS, you may have as much as 1-2 years to wait for a class date (depending on demand), so you should also be planning for some sustaining type of work to support yourself and keep your skills sharp after graduation. Some people I know started graduate school while waiting for classes, others looked for defense-related contract jobs to fill the gap.

    For more information, you should talk to your school's ROTC det. and/or a recruiter who is knowledgeable in officer careers about your options.
     
  19. Nov 30, 2015 #18

    donpacino

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    some food for thought...
    I cannot remember the name of the program but when I was a junior in college a representative from the airforce came to my school looking for engineers and physicists. The program would pay for the remainder of school and put the student into a guaranteed engineering or science position at 1 of four bases in the US. You would have to complete officer training after you completed college. It was not part of ROTC. Maybe look into air force programs to see if one fits my description?
     
  20. Nov 30, 2015 #19

    RUber

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    @donpacino, One similar program is called Technical Degree Sponsorship Program (http://www.airforce.com/pdf/ebrochure/tdsp/). In the past few years, they have mainly been focusing on EE students.
     
  21. Nov 30, 2015 #20

    donpacino

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    cool thanks.

    that would make sense as I was an EE student. I will admit I did not pay that much attention, as I was not interested in joining the air force.
     
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