Monday, July 11, 2005

Testing My Way In --- II

In part I, we found our blogging hero having determined he was eligible for the enlisted nuclear power program, and facing having to get up at “oh dark thirty” the next day to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).

As I mentioned in my last post the ASVAB is normally given to students in grades 10 through 12, ostensibly as a tool that they can use to help them determine what they'd be good at and provide them some guidance with regard to what they may want to consider focusing their academic energies on. Here’s a general low down on what the ASVAB is all about [the
following is from ABCs of the ASVAB which is posted on, and seems very informative on matters of ASVAB, etc., in addition to recruiting in general]:

The Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery is a series of tests developed by the Department of Defense in the 1960s. Until recently, the battery consists of 10 individual tests of the following subjects: Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, Arithmetic Reasoning, Mathematics Knowledge, General science, Auto & Shop Information, Mechanical Comprehension, Electronics Information, Numerical Operations, and Coding Speed. In December 2002, DOD eliminated Numerical Operations and Coding Speed from the ASVAB, and added a new section titled "Assembling Objects."

I’ve come to find that there’s a school version of the test, the one I took, and a recruiting version that I was expected to take the next day. The general idea is to determine what a person will be good at. At the end of the test you’re able to give a general recommendation as to what the test taker should go into as a career option. The test isn’t binding in terms of the job choice you make. The fact is that if you score high enough on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) part of the test you can pretty much go into anything you want regardless of whether the skills part of the ASVAB says you’re not safe with a screwdriver.

The AFQT is what’s most important about the ASVAB for this will determine whether you’re even let in the door. A bit about the AFQT:

The AFQT is important. It determines whether or not you can join the military.
The AFQT score is not derived from all portions of the ASVAB. Indeed, the AFQT
score is determined from only four areas of the ASVAB: Word Knowledge (WK),
Paragraph Comprehension (PC), Arithmetic Reasoning (AR), and Mathematics
Knowledge (MK).

For enlistment purposes, AFQT Scores are divided into the following categories:
Category I - 93-100; Category II - 65-92; Category IIIA - 50-64; Category IIIB -
31-49; Category IVA - 21-30: Category IVB - 16-20; Category IVC - 10-15; Category V - 0-9

In the early 90s, Congress passed a law stating that no Category V recruits could be accepted for enlistment in any of the military services, and no more than 20 percent of accessions could be in Category IV. Additionally, Congress required that any Category IV accessions had to be high school diploma graduates (no GEDs).

In my past experience my understanding has been that the restriction on cat IV recruits can at times be flexible or to some degree "bent" to accommodate potential recruits that are borderline. This may not be true and just recruiter legend, and there's reason to hope that it's not true. As a rule cat IV people tend to disproportionably comprise troublemakers and the most difficult to train, either due to behavioral problems or mental aptitude. By virtue of their categorization they find themselves essentially being used as cannon fodder when it comes to job assignments. These kids come in without any guarantee regarding what they'll do in the service, and the only sure bet is that whatever they do get for a job will be something that's inclined to need bodies without much brainpower but otherwise strong backs. The services tend to have a lot of jobs that fall into this category, though they're gradually going away either due to automation, new technology (new types of paints on ships, for example, that don't require seaman chipping away day in and day out), or it's "privatized", which in some magic of logistics support is found to be cheaper than using service manpower [how true this is remains to be seen, a lot of the magic has to with how budgets work out and that's a whole other story.] On the whole the system indirectly, by virtue of how the kid is treated for the first four years, and then directly if the kid is unable to pass advancement exams that would take them into a more professional direction, tends to discourage the kid from sticking it out past four years. That said, if the kid shows promise, is indeed well-disciplined and shows an aptitude to some degree for learning, then before their four years are up they'll very likely be given a choice, or afforded an opportunity to ask for a chance, to get advanced training and a shot at something that they'd find more palatable for their remaining time in or beyond.

So I was at the recruiting station at 6:30 the next morning, basically awake, though not altogether happy to be up at this hour. As I came in the station my recruiter greeted me and went through some quick paperwork to make sure I was ready for the coming challenge, and then asked me to hold on while he took care of some other recruits; we were all on our way to the ASVAB testing center to see if we had a place in the military.

I made myself comfortable and began reading whatever I brought with me to keep me occupied (I rarely can ever be found without reading material available). Before I got too comfortable my recruiter was introducing me to someone he called Chief so and so. I had no clue what a chief was (in the Navy the enlisted ranks go from E-1 through E-6, where on the whole these are considered the "junior" enlisted, and from E-7 through E-9 you have the chiefs, E-7 being a chief, E-8 being a senior chief, and E-9 being a master chief), but this guy looked like he was in charge, he certainly dressed differently from the recruiter, and he had some questions for me. He told me that I was lucky that I had a college degree because this made me eligible for accelerated promotion, etc., essentially the same spiel I had gotten from my recruiter. Then he asked me where I went to college, what I majored in, and what my GPA was. When I told him my GPA after my major I got a very queer look from him, but he cut off the conversation and bade me good luck on the ASVAB.

Off we went to the ASVAB testing center, of which I don't remember anything at all. In fact there was nothing noteworthy to recall about the ASVAB, where it was taken or anything else besides the fact that there were a lot of people there. I suppose given the economic circumstances of the time that was understandable. Carter was still President and fighting for his re-election against Ronald Reagan. The country was in a recession, with jobs hard to come by and the military, which was in the midst of a fiscal transfusion from Carter (Carter started the American military buildup of the 80's, Reagan, who is normally given all the credit for this exercise in military machismo, merely built on what Carter had started) and serving a country then at peace, was an attractive employment opportunity for a lot of people at that time.

The ASVAB done we made our way out to our waiting recruiters, all anxious about how we'd done and otherwise wanting to be sure that they had their charges in tow. We found our recruiter and we all headed out to the van we came to the center in, but as we moved as a group the recruiter pulls me to the side and tells me, "I was going to tell you this eventually, but I wanted you to get all the testing done first so if you decided this was an option for you that you'd be ready to go. But the fact is that you're likely eligible for the officer program and when we get back to the station there's going to be someone there to talk to you about applying for it."

Well I'll be ...


Blogger she falters to rise said...

I like these posts--they are really interesting. Maybe it's the "too be continued" way you end them or maybe it's just seeing how someone else got to be where they are today. I'm looking forward to the next one.

7:46 AM  
Blogger James said...

It's odd, really, but this whole thing is taking on something of a life in my head that I hadn't expected it to. I guess it has something to do with writing about my own life, and it seems that from there all these things start spilling through. Anyway, I have no clue how long this will go on, but it's looking like it'll be a while. Hopefully I can maintain some semblance of being entertaining!

8:28 AM  
Blogger she falters to rise said...

I think it's all entertaining--I just have to reserve reading most of it for when I have larger bits of time. It will cut down on magazine subscription costs, though, since I now have something else to read:)

2:20 PM  

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