Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty officer

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journeyman
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Joined: Fri Jul 20, 2012 11:41 am

Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty officer

Post by journeyman »

I'm in my early 30s. Might resign from federal service (FERS plan) and go full active duty as an officer. I looked at enlisted which could allow me more technical hands-on work, but I have some friends in the Marine Corps and Army who shared horror stories about the enlisted life. I know the answer is "it depends on where you end up" and "who your chain of command is" but I would like feedback from this amazing forum community to give me multiple perspectives.

If I had enough money to go to law school, I would look into the JAG program with all the service branches. But I haven't applied to law school and this seems like a distant goal.

For now I'll remain technical as an engineer. I have enough experience and education to pursue the following:
Navy: Civil Engineering Corps (CEC) collegiate program: they prefer engineers who already have their EIT. If not I am sure they will help me prepare and attain the EIT, on the road to getting a PE certification. These folks are part of the staff corps officers supporting NAVFAC to build and manage facilities at all the Navy/Marine Corps bases. As an EE, all I'd be doing would be electrical/lighting work related to construction. Which is good work. But it's a far cry from the technology development I've been exposed to.
Coast Guard: not sure, please advise.
Air Force: not sure, please advise.
Army: not sure, please advise.

My govt experience:
1. worked on electronics products for customers in various defense agencies. worked on circuit boards.
2. did modeling and simulation analysis to identify and mitigate risks when installing systems on ships. this involved RF testing.
3. worked with various energy technology that is gaining traction with all the armed forces. next-gen type of stuff.
4. for all the above programs, had to network with sponsors, program management offices, and operators in the field who tell us how to improve the systems to meet their needs.
5. Been doing this DoD work for 6+ years.

I've been reaching out to recruiters. Filling out the medical history paperwork, and everything else they want.

Have any of you had good experiences with in your military career path? Any of you have graduate degrees, and want to offer me advice on paths to consider? I'm guessing "nothing is guaranteed", i.e. I can end up with a boring or unsatisfying job for several years, but if that's my only option that I'll accept it.

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rcozby
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Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by rcozby »

Army is desperate for cyber warriors. Duty in air conditioned rooms, most of which are bomb proof. Seriously important, real world work with unbelievable civilian applications. Willing to train.

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Aitrus
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Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by Aitrus »

I've worked with all the services. Here's my take:

- Air Force is best for work/life balance. Highly values continuing education and thinking outside the box, encourages people to think creatively and challenge the status quo in terms of how to do things better. Dislikes challenges to the status quo in terms of social issues, "accepted" answers to what is right and wrong, and is very dogmatic about certain things that don't make much sense. Is having an identity crisis - can't decide if they want to be like the Army of today or the Air Force of yesteryear, and so end up being a weird mix of both. Getting stronger in Cyber, big focus on Space. Very active and looks sexy to Congress during a shooting war, but turns into a taxi service and manpower pool for the Army if the war drags on for years. Lots of work for a civil engineer in the Air Force, with the opportunity to learn some cool jobs that the AF lumps into civil engineering (firefighting and bomb squad). Prime BEEF teams are specialized deployment packages designed to get an airbase up and running in a combat zone.

- Air Guard is much maligned as being a bunch of talentless fat nobodies. Not always the case - you can have a shop of guys that have been doing the job at the same place for 20+ years, so they know lots of ways around the problem. Good camaraderie if you can find a good unit to be in. Promotion is both easier and harder all at the same time. Makes a good back-up to a regular civilian job because you can use the Guard as an insurance policy against getting laid off and get working opportunities in the Guard during hard times. Getting very strong in Cyber (more than the regular AF). Lots of opportunities to retrain into different jobs or transfer to units on your own choice and preference. You don't get moved from one end of the country to the other on short notice just because Daddy Air Force needs you to go there. You have the chance to do some good in your local community during a fire, tornado, flooding, etc.

- Air Force Reserves are a little like the Guard and a little like the Air Force. The Guard is basically the State's military force, but the Reserves belong to the Federal level Air Force. Lots of flexibility in performing your duties, especially if you're not an active member. But if there's a war, then you get ordered around just like the Active Duty component. In the Guard you belong to the State first, then to the Country.

- Army is good if you like a very regimented atmosphere with less creativity or chance to show individual solutions to problems. Members are treated as more of an asset rather than a person. Less technologically driven than the AF, but more solid on actual "go to war" type skills. Deploys a lot during any war, but if there's no war to fight or a country to "liberate" then leadership starts getting bored and comes up with weird solutions to non-issues. Very rank conscious.

- Army Guard is a just like the Air Guard, but with Army flavors.

- Navy will take you away from home for long stretches of time if you're assigned to a ship or boat, regardless of if there's a war or not. Lots of technology like the AF, but is behind in some areas. A little behind the AF in Cyber, but is dumping a lot of resources into it. Big focus on Space as well. Very, very rank conscious. Officer and enlisted don't talk as much as they should (not doing so tends to overinflate the officer ego and underestimates the skills/abilities of the enlisted force), but there's historical precedent for it due to the discipline that has to be maintained out at sea.

- Navy Guard / Reserve apparently exists, but I've never worked with them.

- Marines have the best camaraderie out of all of them. A lot like the Army in the regimented and lack of focus on creativity categories, but with good reason. Lots of opportunities to do things outside the normal military experience if you have the war-skills aptitude for it. Least technological of all branches, but best on actual warfighting skills. They have taken the art of fighting a ground war with limited forces and perfected it. They have a special love for engineers because of how they use them during wartime. Very, very rank conscious.

- Marine Reserve are a very cool bunch. Imagine your local banker or grocery store worker that goes out and plays war for reals on the weekends.

- Coast Guard: these poor souls should get much more respect than they do. Very savvy guys that don't get a lot of attention. They focus mainly on drug interdiction, rescue operations, and illegal immigrant stops. Works a lot with DEA and Border Patrol.
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mhende2
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Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by mhende2 »

Journeyman, Aitrus has given you a good comparison. I was an Engineer Assistant who worked very close with the Engineers, and also an Air Force recruiter for 4 years. The standards were quite high for officers to get accepted in the Air Force, and I think they still are. I now work as a civil service Engineer Technician for the Army, and the standards here seem to be dependent on the money available, how quick it's needed, and what level command is pushing the project. All that is subject to change from week to week. Whereas during my 24 years in the Air Force I found the same steps and requirements in designing projects were standard and nearly identical no matter where you are stationed. One of the complaints I hear a lot in the Army is "when I was working at X location, we did it this way", and it seems everyone came from a different location and had a different way, so my impression is the Army is not very standardized compared to the Air Force, but very capable of performing the task. I can't speak with experience of the Engineering positions in the other branches, but I would think any officer position would be better than enlisted. I have great respect for all my brothers and sisters who serve in all branches of the military, each branch has it's own unique missions, and we all count on each other. I don't consider any of them bad, and all are excellent in different areas. My advice is check out each branch, and don't make a decision until you have gathered all your information no matter what anyone tries to sell you. You are getting ready to make a major change in your life, and you owe it to yourself to do diligent research before making this leap. Good luck and best wishes in your future.
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Scorpio70
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Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by Scorpio70 »

Let the military pay for law school. We have too many attorneys in my office as it is.

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rmcdeepsea
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Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by rmcdeepsea »

What kind of "Engineer" work are you interested in doing? I ask because before I became a pilot, I was an Army Engineer Diver, enlisted. If you come in the Army to the "Engineer" Corp, you might not be doing what a civilian considers engineer work. Especially if you are enlisted. I would strongly suggest doing a great deal of research, including talking to someone in that exact job, prior to commiting to anything. many of the jobs sound much more glamourous than they truly are. I loved my job as an enlisted soldier, and wouldn't trade that time for anything. But it was back breaking hard work. Something to consider.

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hytid
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Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by hytid »

journeyman wrote:I'm in my early 30s. Might resign from federal service (FERS plan) and go full active duty as an officer. I looked at enlisted which could allow me more technical hands-on work, but I have some friends in the Marine Corps and Army who shared horror stories about the enlisted life. I know the answer is "it depends on where you end up" and "who your chain of command is" but I would like feedback from this amazing forum community to give me multiple perspectives.

If I had enough money to go to law school, I would look into the JAG program with all the service branches. But I haven't applied to law school and this seems like a distant goal.

For now I'll remain technical as an engineer. I have enough experience and education to pursue the following:
Navy: Civil Engineering Corps (CEC) collegiate program: they prefer engineers who already have their EIT. If not I am sure they will help me prepare and attain the EIT, on the road to getting a PE certification. These folks are part of the staff corps officers supporting NAVFAC to build and manage facilities at all the Navy/Marine Corps bases. As an EE, all I'd be doing would be electrical/lighting work related to construction. Which is good work. But it's a far cry from the technology development I've been exposed to.
Coast Guard: not sure, please advise.
Air Force: not sure, please advise.
Army: not sure, please advise.

My govt experience:
1. worked on electronics products for customers in various defense agencies. worked on circuit boards.
2. did modeling and simulation analysis to identify and mitigate risks when installing systems on ships. this involved RF testing.
3. worked with various energy technology that is gaining traction with all the armed forces. next-gen type of stuff.
4. for all the above programs, had to network with sponsors, program management offices, and operators in the field who tell us how to improve the systems to meet their needs.
5. Been doing this DoD work for 6+ years.

I've been reaching out to recruiters. Filling out the medical history paperwork, and everything else they want.

Have any of you had good experiences with in your military career path? Any of you have graduate degrees, and want to offer me advice on paths to consider? I'm guessing "nothing is guaranteed", i.e. I can end up with a boring or unsatisfying job for several years, but if that's my only option that I'll accept it.


Take the LSAT; you never know what doors your score/background will open for you.

R2D2
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Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by R2D2 »

This is a TSP site.

crondanet5
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Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by crondanet5 »

Has any recruiter offered you a path to becoming a commissioned officer?

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BR549
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Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by BR549 »

R2D2 wrote:This is a TSP site.

And your point is?
Folks I don't mind tellin' you I made a bundle pushin' used cars. - Junior Samples

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mjedlin66
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Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by mjedlin66 »

Won't you be starting as an O-1 no matter what? Isn't that a substantial pay cut?

I've looked into this in the past and that's the conclusion that I came to, which ultimately killed the idea for me.
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crondanet5
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Joined: Tue Aug 19, 2008 8:51 pm

Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by crondanet5 »

He should also carefully review the changes to the military retirement program as it makes staying in the military worth less than it used to be.

Scorpio70
Posts: 432
Joined: Thu Dec 24, 2015 11:49 am

Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by Scorpio70 »

I spent some time in Heavy Mechanized Engineers, and they were not very smart about building things. ASPs below sea level would flood in rain storms. If you are a real engineer I would avoid the Army.

journeyman
Posts: 26
Joined: Fri Jul 20, 2012 11:41 am

Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by journeyman »

@aitrus Thank you for the detailed information!

rcozby I agree with the comment about Cyber. Defense has spent a great deal of money on it, and it isn't going away. But I had no idea the Guard services were into Cyber. I will look for a Guard recruiter and ask about it.

I did not know there have been more changes to the military retirement. That is a new wrinkle in the plan. Hmm. Makes my current retirement benefits sounds pretty nice, because I am maxed out on my TSP contributions and get the 5% matching like most people on this site. As I understand there is still 0% matching in the uniformed service, but maybe in FY18 they will allow 1% matching.

Regarding starting rank, the Coast Guard and Navy have mentioned with my experience and education they would put in a package requesting I come in at least at the O-2 level. I have seen folks going accepted into the JAG program enter in with O-2 or O-3 in some cases. Similar cases with Medical corps because those folks have to go through many years of school and training.

@hytid, I will try to take the LSAT at some point.

No, I don't know about all the paths quite. I've had phone calls with 3 different recruiters but haven't been able to visit in person since I'm 1 hour from the nearest recruiter. USCG is about 90 minutes away.

@rmcdeepsea great point! I'll look a little deeper into what the work actually looks like.

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Aitrus
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Re: Advice for a fed civilian engineer going activy duty off

Post by Aitrus »

Not all of the Guard is working on Cyber hot and heavy, just the Air Guard, and not in all states either. Washington, Ohio, Tennessee and Massachusetts I know for sure are working on it (Washington especially so). But you don't have to be a resident of the state you are a member of the Guard in, so that gets you some flexibility. Some States will pay back student loans as part of their incentive for joining. Some have 9/11 GI bill kickers in order to give you more money, signing bonuses, etc.

For the regular AF, they will sometimes gain people that already have degrees into positions that have higher ranks. Doctors, for example, often join the AF as O-3 or O-4, depending on their degree and experience.

The retirement system is changing, but there are plusses and minuses to it. There's another thread on it, and somebody posted a link to a youtube video going over the details (I don't recall who, but it was a good video). That's why the Guard is a nice option - you don't have to give up your day job, and yet you still work toward a military pension plus get more TSP matching when the new retirement system kicks in.
Seasonal Musings 2022: viewtopic.php?f=14&t=19005
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