I often get letters from young people asking what they should do in school to qualify for a career in military aviation. The military is a great place for any young person to start. It offers a decent salary, responsibility, travel and a chance to do some adventuring before shouldering the responsibilities that marriage and parenthood bring. The military is public service, literally: those who wear the uniform and obey the orders of our elected officials are servants of our republic. Yet the military, like college, is not a lifetime commitment. It is a commitment of a few years, which I assure you will pass all too quickly.
Is military aviation right for you? It is not an easy goal to achieve. To earn a seat in a military cockpit you must be dedicated to that objective and work like a slave to get there. Those who succeed are bright, well-educated, willing to work, willing to obey orders, and have a level of maturity that allows them to function in an adult world. This is no place for a person who hasn’t grown up, for the casual drug user, for the irresponsible or emotionally adrift. The system ruthlessly weeds out these people. Those who remain can do the job and want to do it. Consequently the fraternity of military aviators is one of the most exclusive in the world. Who your parents are and how much money they make counts for nothing. The only thing that matters is what you can do, if you can be trusted, if you are competent and capable.
Only you can decide if you want it badly enough. If you think you might want to go into the service someday, get a good education. Take the hard courses in school. Math, science and engineering courses are excellent preparation for the technical aspects of military aviation. Political science, history, and English literature are a solid foundation for the profession of military officer. A good education teaches you how to think, an accomplishment that will pay off in any walk of life.
In addition to getting a good education, you should stay physically active. Play varsity or intramural sports, stay fit, do not allow yourself to get fat. Develop your body as well as your mind. Stay away from drugs: there is no place whatsoever in the military for drug-users. People who casually disobey the law for a few hours of feeling good are not persons who can be relied upon when lives are at stake. They are dishonorable people, people whose emotions rule their lives. They cannot be trusted.
Do not get in trouble with the law. A criminal record has never been a recommendation for any career. The shrinking military can afford to reject applicants with criminal records. Selection for a program that leads to a commission has always been competitive and will become more so as the officer corps becomes smaller.
In summary, work hard in school and stay physically active. Do your best at everything you attempt. If you ever decide to apply to the military, your achievements in the classroom and on the athletic field will stand you in good stead. If you decide on a civilian career, they will be equally good currency there too.