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Statewide Homegrown 1

At Ease | Early Enlistment for High School Seniors


Many high school students are starting to sweat their spring semester. And no one feels it more than high school seniors and their parents.

It doesn’t help that everyone around them asks,

“What are your plans?”

“Where are you going to college?”

“What do you want to do with your life?”

“What’s your next step?”

Let’s all just stop and take a deep breath. 

The pressure of the moment feels unreal. When do we have to have it all figured out, and why does it matter?  Well, the weight of having it all figured out may not, but at least having a plan for their next step might. And, with 55% of high school graduates not attending college, many alternative options exist.

A leading alternative to college is enlisting in the Armed Forces, which can begin as early as junior year of high school for some and even after college for others. We had a chance to visit with the Arkansas National Guard team, but options exist with all branches of the armed forces.

Image taken by Officer Candidate Alexander Chrisco.

National Guard is an Option

The Arkansas Army and Air National Guard provide solid options for students in Arkansas. If you ask their recruiters, they will tell you there is no “typical” student. Some students come to them to get out of town, others don’t know if they want to go to college or how they will pay for it, and some like to continue a family tradition of military service.

In 2017, the Arkansas legislature passed Act 471, including the National Guard Tuition Assistance Program (NGTA), offering full tuition and fee assistance for qualified individuals in the Arkansas Army and Air National Guard. The NGTA offers financial coverage of 120 hours or a completed bachelor’s degree at an Arkansas state-funded institution. Other provisions exist for members attending a private institution or out-of-state college.

This offers great incentive and begins many conversations between guidance counselors, recruiters, students and parents. Graduating debt-free is not an easy task, but it is one of the best tools for those who choose to enlist in National Guard programs and serve in preparation for civilian life.

Image taken by Pfc. Savannah Smith.

Where to Begin

The conversation for early enlistment often begins in a high school cafeteria. As strange as that seems, military recruiters are a common site on Arkansas high school campuses. Serving as mentors and extra eyes, these recruiters build relationships with students throughout the year.

“Many times, students approach me and ask why I’m there. That starts a conversation about the Arkansas Air National Guard,” shared Recruiter Tech Sergeant Anna Bullock. “I often start a conversation with a student by asking them about their plans after college. I know this isn’t a choice for every student, but I also know students typically don’t know all their options, especially when attending college is not their next step.”

Joining the National Guard is an excellent option, and students can begin as early as their junior year of high school. While early conversations start with ninth graders or 16-year-olds, a student must be 17 to enlist. Several tests – moral, medical, and aptitude – are part of the pre-enlistment process, and once a student is ready to continue, they complete forms and documentation, including parental consent.

Next, a student can attend basic training for seven and a half weeks in the summer between their junior and senior year and maintain drill responsibilities throughout their senior year. After graduation, the enlistee must complete job skills training, which sometimes takes three months. But once complete, they are considered level three certified and ready to be turned over to their new platoon with job readiness.

At that point, some will move forward with college, vocational school, or a civilian job that often correlates to their technical skills training. Those approaching an active-duty option will find their process varies a little.

Image taken by Officer Candidate Alexander Chrisco.

There are a few important things to note about the enlistment process and the benefits offered,

  • The interview process can begin as early as 16.
  • Army National Guard enlistment can occur at 17, with parental consent.
  • Air National Guard enlistment and contracts cannot begin until after high school graduation or a student earns a GED certification.
  • Earning a high school diploma and staying involved in school are priorities. The National Guard serves as a part-time job with maintained responsibilities.
  • The day a contract is signed, the responsibilities and enlistment obligations begin.
  • To receive the educational benefits through the National Guard, an enrollee signs a six-year contract and commits to report for drill one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year. After six years, guardsmen can move into two years of standby service.
  • Enlistment is not limited to high school students. College students and civilian adults can enroll into their retirement years.
  • Air National Guard early enlistees participate in Student Flight on drill weekends to prepare them for basic training focusing on the Air Force creed and values, how to march and military etiquette.
  • Enlistees get to pick their own jobs and technical training paths with guidance provided by the ASVAB assessment.

Image taken by Tech. Sgt. Zachary Kee.

The Enlistment Conversation 

High School students can contact a local recruiter or recruitment office directly. But many recruiters will tell you to go to a trusted adult or school administrative professional and ask them to point you in the right direction. Sergeant Trammel from Washington County mentioned, “I have relationships and connections with every school in my area. Most of us have a guidance counselor or office administrator with whom we actively discuss student development. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get to know these resources in your high school. We all want to see high school students succeed and have everything they need to make informed decisions.”

Taking the ASVAB is another first step in the enlistment process. This aptitude test assesses students bent toward specific technical skills and possible future careers and job duties. Some schools use this as a trusted aptitude test for students, and it does not commit anyone to future enlistment.

Each recruiter emphasized that they work with students individually. While there are official steps, there is no typical process. They want to know a student’s future goals and how they plan to get there. Military recruiters want to see students succeed; they know our country’s future, and the military’s future depends on it!

Those interested in Active Military roles may look at the steps to their enlistment process. All recruiters will encourage you to research and ask questions, learn about each branch, the differences between active military duty and National Guard enrollment, and the advantages and differences.

For more information, visit the National Guard website or US Military requirements.


Images provided and used with permission from the Arkansas National Guard Public Information Office.

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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One response to “At Ease | Early Enlistment for High School Seniors”

  1. […] Air Corps at Camp Robertson in Little Rock during his freshman year. He knew he would be drafted, so he got ahead of the process and joined to try and follow the footsteps of another Pine Bluff native. They hoped to join the Air Corps for […]

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