Can I join the US Air Force?

If you are interested in joining the US Air Force, the following information will hopefully be helpful. But remember, sometimes the information will change with little or no warning, and so your best bet is to get in touch with an Air Force recruiter since their information is always up-to-date!

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Basic Eligibility Requirements:

Age and Parental Permission
You must be at least 18 (17 with your parents permission) but have not reached your 28th birthday (with no prior service)
Citizenship
You must be a born, naturalized, or otherwise legal citizen of the United States.
Education
You must have either a high school diploma OR a GED plus 15 college credits.
Disqualifiers
Drug use, alcohol abuse, other substance abuse, as well as law violations or convictions will prevent your enlistment.
Height and Weight Standards
You must meet the Air Force height and weight standards.
Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery scores
You must meet specific scoring requirements on the ASVAB test.
Dependent Restrictions/Financial Eligibility
You are qualified if you are never married, and under the age of 23. If this is not the case, check here for more details.

I meet the requirements - what now?


Your first step in the enlistment process is to meet with a recruiter.

Air Force recruiting offices can be found in all major U.S. cities. They’re listed in the phone book in the white pages, under “U.S. Government.”
The recruiter will conduct a “pre-screening” to see if (on the surface) you are qualified for enlistment. The recruiter will ask you about your education level, your criminal history, your age, your marital/dependency status, and your medical history. The recruiter will weigh you to ensure you meet Air Force accession weight standards. The recruiter will have you take a “mini-ASVAB” (Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery), on a computer, which gives a pretty good idea of how you will score on the actual test.

The medical pre-screen is sent to MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station), where it is reviewed by a doctor. The recruiter forwards the rest of the information to his/her bosses at the Recruiting Squadron. The review process will take a few days. If there are no obvious disqualifying factors, the recruiter arranges an appointment for you to go to MEPS. If there are disqualifying factors, the recruiter will speak with you about the possibility of waivers.

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MEPS is where your real qualifications for joining the Air Force are determined. MEPS is not owned by the Air Force. In fact, it’s not owned by any of the branches. MEPS is a “joint-operation,” and is staffed by members of all the branches.

There are 65 MEPS, located across the U.S. Usually, the MEPS process takes two days. Depending on how far the nearest MEPS is from where you live, you may have to stay overnight in a contract hotel.

Unless you already have a valid Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) score, you’ll usually take the ASVAB on the afternoon you arrive. The next day, the real fun begins — and it’s a long, long day. Your day will start at about 5:30 AM, and you won’t finish until about 5:00 or 5:30 that evening.

Your day will include a urinalysis (drug test), medical exam, eye test, hearing test, strength test, security interview, weight check, body-fat measurement (if you exceed the weight on the published weight charts), security clearance interview, meeting with a job counselor, reviewing enlistment options and possible enlistment incentives, taking the enlistment oath, and signing the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP) contract.

MEPS part 1

The ASVAB

The Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery, more commonly referred to as the ASVAB is used by the Air Force primarily for two purposes:

The ASVAB comes in two forms: The pencil and paper version, and the computerized version. If you’re taking the test as part of your enlistment process into the Air Force, you’ll most likely take the computerized version during your trip to MEPS.

The Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), often mistakenly called the “overall score,” is actually comprised from only four of the ASVAB subtests (Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, and Math Knowledge). The other subtests are used to determine job qualifications. Every career field does in fact require more than just an overall ASVAB qualifying score, which is a 36 if you are a high school senior or have already graduated from High School, or a 65 if you have a GED. The ASVAB is broken down into four main categories (Mechanical, Administrative, General and Electronic), and all enlisted career fields have a minimum score requirement that fall under one or more of these categories. These scores, along with the results of your physical examination, will be reviewed when you undergo job counseling during the enlistment process at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). Besides the four main categories, the ASVAB is divided into eight parts (for the high school version) or nine parts (for the production version). The high school version lacks the "Assembling Objects" subtest.

More specific information on the individual subtests and how they count in the four main categories can be found here.

Medical Examination

The largest portion of your day at MEPS is taken up by the medical examination. You’ll start by completing a detailed medical history. Your blood and urine will be taken and examined. Your eyes and hearing will be checked. You’ll have to do some stupid-sounding things, such as walking while squatting (this is commonly called the “duck-walk.”)

Medical Standards for enlistment are set by the Department of Defense, not the Air Force. The doctors at MEPS will medically disqualify you if you fail to meet any of the standards. There are two types of disqualification: temporary and permanent. A temporary disqualification means you can’t join right now, but may be able to, at a later time. For example, if you just had an operation the week before. A permanent disqualification means that you failed to meet the published standards, and that won’t change with time.

If you’re permanently disqualified, the Air Force can choose to waive the medical disqualification and enlist you anyway. The commanding officer of the recruiting squadron will determine whether or not a waiver will be submitted. If the commander approves it, the request goes all the way up, winding its way through the command chain, to the top doctor in the entire Air Force (The Air Force Surgeon General). The SG’s office has final approval authority. This process can take several weeks (sometimes several months).

MEPS part 2

Security Interview

Most Air Force enlisted jobs and assignments require a security clearance. In order to obtain a security clearance, one must be a U.S. Citizen. You can still enlist without U.S. Citizenship, but your job choices and assignments will be limited to those which do not require a clearance.

Some Air Force jobs don’t require a clearance level, but — due to the nature of the job — still requires a favorable background check. These jobs require what the Air Force calls a “Sensitive Job Code” (SJC) of “F.”

Of course nobody can tell for 100 percent certain whether or not a security clearance will be approved, and the process can take several months. This is where the Security Interviewer comes in. He/she will ask you a whole bunch of questions about your past (drug use, alcohol use, mental health treatment, finances, criminal history, etc.), and is pretty good at making a prediction as to whether or not you’re a good candidate for security clearance/SJC approval. This, in turn will affect which Air Force enlisted jobs you are eligible for.

Selecting Your Job

The Air Force has two enlistment options: Guaranteed Job and Guaranteed Aptitude area. There are only enough guaranteed job slots made available to the Air Force Recruiting Service to accommodate about 40 percent of the recruits who enlist each year. Most enlist in a guaranteed aptitude area. The Air Force has four aptitude areas: General, Electronics, Mechanical, and Administrative. Various combinations of ASVAB scores make up line scores for each of these areas. Under the Guaranteed Aptitude Enlistment Option, one is guaranteed that they will be assigned to a job which falls into that aptitude area, but won’t find out what their actual job is, until the last week of basic training.

If you’re very lucky, you may be able to reserve a specific job at the time you meet with the Job Counselor at MEPS. More likely, however, there won’t be any available slots listed in the computer system. In that case, you’ll give the Job Counselor five (or so) choices. Usually, at least one of your listed preferences must be for an aptitude area, and the other preferences can be for specific jobs. You’ll then enlist in the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP) and your preferences will be entered into the job computer system. When one of your choices becomes available, your recruiter will notify you of your job assignment and your shipping date.

MEPS part 3

Waiting it Out!

The waiting period in the Delayed Enlistment Program is probably the hardest thing about the enlistment process. The Air Force recruits for several months in advance. Depending on job and training availability, you may have to wait for several months to ship out to basic training.

If you’re in a hurry to get out of town, ask your recruiter about the possibility of being placed on the “quick ship” list. At times, there are recruits who drop out of the DEP at the very last moment. In order not to waste a scheduled job/training slot, the recruiting service maintains a list of those who agree to take the place of such individuals. The only problem is that you would have to accept the same job (or aptitude area) of the person dropping out, be of the same sex, and keep your bags packed, as you may only get a day’s notice.

While waiting in the DEP, you’ll meet with your recruiter periodically (usually once per month). Often these meetings take place in the form of a “Commander’s Call,” where all the DEPers attend a group meeting. Often the recruiter will arrange for guest speakers, such as recently graduated recruits, or senior recruiting officials. Your recruiter will also use these meetings to help get you ready for basic training and your Air Force career.

Taking the Oath

You’re almost done! All you have left to do is to go over your contract and enlistment options and take the Oath of Enlistment to enlist in the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP).

A counselor will go over your contract with you line-by-line. Don’t get too wrapped up in the DEP contract, because what really counts is the final enlistment contract, which you will sign on the day you ship out to basic training. This is because the DEP contract is probably going to have several omissions, especially if you haven’t been assigned to a job, yet. Certain enlistment incentives (such as enlistment bonuses) cannot be included in the contract until your job is known. Additionally, your active duty shipping date won’t be known until your job is assigned.

Getting On With Your Career

The time will finally come when it’s time to ship out! You’ll return to MEPS to process out of the DEP and onto active duty. The MEPS will have you fill out some forms to ensure that nothing has changed (medical, criminal history, etc.) during your time in the DEP, which could affect your enlistment qualifications. You’ll then review and sign your active duty enlistment contract, take the enlistment oath again, then be put on a plane to San Antonio, Texas, where you’ll be met by Air Force Basic Training Personnel.

Following Basic Training, you’ll proceed to technical school to learn your Air Force job. When you graduate technical school, you’ll be granted a week or two of leave, and then it’s on to your first duty assignment.