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Launching your computer science career in the Air Force

Air Force cyber-related jobs are in such demand that this branch is offering sign-on bonuses for certain roles.

A significant number of the Air Force's more than 100 jobs are cyber or IT-focused. 

"We have a variety of cyber specialties in the Air Force," Leslie Brown, chief of public affairs for the Air Force Recruiting Service, said in an email to ZDNet. "Enlisted applicants will be able to choose from numerous careers such as knowledge ops, or from careers that are mainly desk jobs such as cyber programming, or a career that is a hybrid between a desk job, and on the field such as client systems or a career that is mainly outside such as cable antenna systems."

According to Brown, nine cyber-related enlisted jobs are available to people serving in their initial enlistment contract. Two officer cyber-focused officer careers are available. Air Force jobs — and all military jobs — come with unique benefits, challenges, and responsibilities.

Some of the benefits include professional hands-on training and job experience, money available for higher education, free on-base lodging and meals, healthcare, and access to military exchange stores, which usually offer lower prices for everything from gas to groceries to household goods. Military members also receive a high level of public trust and respect

In exchange, the military requires you to stay physically fit, obey orders, and perform consistently at a high level — and may require you to relocate or work in hostile overseas environments on short notice. You can't just quit if you're frustrated with a job assignment or supervisor. And most importantly, you may face dangerous, life-threatening wartime or combat situations.

If you're OK with those sacrifices, launching your computer science career in the Air Force might be something to consider. Keep reading to learn more about some of the steps you'll need to take.

How do you join the Air Force?

The Air Force's recruitment website has detailed information on the requirements to enlist or serve as an officer. Enlisting in the Air Force gives you the opportunity to work in an entry-level position. Enlisted roles are available to people with a high school diploma or GED. Officers have leadership roles, which requires a four-year degree. 

Here's a brief snapshot of what you need to know in order to enlist in a computer science-related military career:

Take the ASVAB

Enlisted candidate entry requirements include taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test (ASVAB). This timed test measures your aptitude in four areas: verbal skills, math, science and technical ability, and spatial ability. If you're interested in computer science, your ASVAB score and educational background will influence your career opportunities, including Air Force careers in cybersecurity and IT.

Basic training

After taking the ASVAB and meeting the education, health, and citizenship requirements, enlisted personnel must complete the Air Force basic military training. Air Force basic training is conducted at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas. The Air Force is also handling basic training for people enlisting in the Space Force.

Technical school

After basic training, also informally known as boot camp, you start training specific to your job. Air Force tech school training is conducted at bases throughout the US. Training time depends on your job and may run from six weeks to more than a year.

Becoming an Air Force officer

To become an Air Force officer, several options are available. First, officer candidates must take the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT). If you have a bachelor's degree or are on track to complete your degree within one year, you can apply to and complete officer training school. The Air Force conducts officer training school at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama.

Another option is entering a college-level reserve officer training corps (ROTC) program. When you earn your bachelor's degree, you'll receive a commission as an officer. You can also apply to and graduate from the Air Force Academy. However, admission to this elite institution is very competitive.

Which Air Force computer science jobs are in demand? 

The Air Force is offering bonuses to entice people to fill the military's in-demand IT jobs.

Bonuses of $12,000 to $20,000 are available for cyber-related jobs, depending on the certification level. If you want to serve but seek even more bonus money, you'll need to look outside the cyber field. For example, enlistment bonuses of $50,000 are available for explosive ordnance disposal and special warfare operators. Prospective applicants should note that bonus amounts frequently change depending on the Air Force's personnel needs.

While the military offers the excitement of doing top-secret work that protects national security, Brown said the Air Force recognizes that many airmen want to return to civilian life after working in the Air Force. 

When those airmen step back into the civilian world, "we feel we are returning outstanding citizens who will make our communities better and may end up at jobs helping us protect our banks, power grids, and economy as a whole," Brown said.

This article was reviewed by Dr. Michael J. Kirchner

michael kirchner, a white man with brown hair and a beard, smiles at the camera

Dr. Michael J. Kirchner is an assistant professor of organizational leadership at Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he teaches courses in leadership and human resource development. Dr. Kirchner also serves as the campus' veteran resource center director. 

Previously, Kirchner oversaw the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Military and Veterans Resource Center, where he guided programming for the campus' 1,500+ military-affiliated student population. Under his leadership (2013-2016), the campus built a nationally recognized "military-college-career" framework focusing on supporting student veteran transitions. 

Kirchner earned his Ph.D. in human resource development from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research on career transitions and leadership development has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, including Human Resource Development Quarterly, Advances in Developing Human Resources, New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, and Industrial and Commercial Training. 

Kirchner is the founder and president of Time for Development LLC, where he provides consulting to organizations on military-friendly programming, human resource development strategy, and training design. He served for a year in Baghdad, Iraq, from 2004-2005 as part of the U.S. Army National Guard.

Kirchner is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network. 

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