The Military Entrance Processing Experience, Step by Step

These two long days decide if you're in the military or headed home

A group of young people talk with military recruitment officer
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You've walked into a military recruitment center and indicated your willingness to serve your country. A military recruiter has pre-screened you and determined that you are a valid candidate. You sign some paperwork. What happens next?

Here's what happens, step by step, on Day 1 of your life in the U.S. military.

Before Entry Processing

Strictly speaking, you're not in the military yet. You're headed to a military entry processing station, or MEPS, where you will be accepted or disqualified for service. (As you'll soon learn, the military has an acronym for everything.)

The day will begin back in your recruiter's office, where you'll complete any leftover paperwork and get a briefing about what is to come.

Then, the recruiter will drive you to the nearest MEPS or put you on a military shuttle that takes you there.

If you're on a shuttle, you'll find yourself in the company of military professionals as well as newbies like you who are on the move from any and every branch of the services. Some will likely be "shippers," meaning that they're headed for basic training.

Arriving at MEPS

As soon as you arrive, you'll be escorted to the main control desk. There are two important rules to remember:

  1. Don't wear anything on your head, not even a hat, sunglasses, or headphones
  2. Don't put your feet up on the chairs

Otherwise, just use common sense. You're in a federal building. Don't carry any weapons, don't use profane language, and most certainly do not harass your female counterparts waiting in line.

At the desk, you'll turn over some paperwork sent with you by the recruiter. The officer at the desk may also ask if you want to use the restroom.

The answer is yes. You are about to take a long and important test.

The ASVAB

That test is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVB) and the room where it is taken is your first stop.

It's a bit like the college entrance SAT exams, except it covers more subject areas like electronics and car maintenance. It's no good trying to study for it. It's a test of general knowledge, and if you know nothing about car maintenance you might make it up in the math section.

At the End of the Day

Once you've completed the test, you'll be put on a shuttle to a hotel. You'll be warned not to get drunk or cause trouble, but surely you don't need to hear that.

Still, you can loosen up a little and make a friend to share dinner with later on.

At the hotel, you'll just tell the folks at the front desk that you are military, and they'll send you where you need to go. You'll probably have a roommate. While there, you are responsible for any room charges like movies or phone calls. The military picks up the tab for the room.

Go get yourself some dinner, enjoy the company of those around you, and get some sleep. Your 4:30 a.m. wake-up call will come entirely too early.

Day Two

The shuttle back to MEPS will leave no later than 5:00 a.m.

Once there, you'll line up with everyone else in an entry area, be debriefed about entering the building, and then walk through metal detectors in single file.

Be quiet. Even if you know the routine and you've been here before, be quiet. You don't want to annoy a Marine sergeant at dawn.

The Liaison

At this point, you'll be assigned a liaison who will check you in with the branch of the services you are seeking to enter. You'll sign papers, get a nametag, and answer a few questions about your physical health and habits.

That's because you are about to undergo a physical.

The Physical

The physical exam is just as important as the ASVAB. If you don't pass, you can't get in.

There are waivers for certain ailments and none for others. This will be the most thorough physical exam you will ever take. All you can do now is answer all the questions with a clear "yes" or "no" and don't even think about prevaricating.

Any "yes" answers will require medical documentation, and if you don't have it with you it will delay the process. Your recruiter knows this, so you should be carrying any documentation with you.

They will test your hearing, vision, and depth perception, and they'll take blood and a urine sample. A doctor will check you out and ask you if you've ever done drugs.

The last part of the physical is done in your skivvies. Sexy underwear is frowned upon, and if you wear it you'll be given a pair of old-fashioned drawers, in the male or female version, as a substitute. You'll be weighed and measured, and they'll look at the arches in your feet.

Then another doctor will watch you perform various exercises like arm circles, walk like a duck, and walk on tiptoes.

The most intimate parts of the physical, you will be glad to know, will be conducted in private with just a doctor and a noncommissioned officer of your gender present.

That's about the extent of it, although the Air Force also requires recruits to lift weights.

At this point, you'll take your physical paperwork to the main control desk.

Job Counseling

Assuming you've passed both the aptitude test and the physical, you might continue on to job counseling then and there. You will be given time to review the available jobs and consider which ones you think are the best fit for you. Hopefully, you've done some research into military careers beforehand, and have some idea where you want to go. The counselor may have some ideas you hadn't thought of as well.

By the end of the session, you'll have a list of potential jobs in your order of preference. By the end of the day, you'll be booked for a job, or put on a "qualified and waiting" list for the next available opening.

The end of the day

The end of the day may be the end of your MEPS experience, or not.

You might find yourself staying over for another round of tests for a particular specialization you're interested in.

Or you may find yourself heading off to Day 1 of your military career.