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Air Force Careers: Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to join the United States Air Force. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about educational and career opportunities to find out if this is the career for you.

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Careers and remuneration in the U.S. Air Force are directly reflective of whether you're enlisted, your time in grade and time in service. The education requirements vary with each level as well. In addition, you'll receive specialized military training pertaining to your career choice.

Essential Information

The United States Air Force (USAF) offers a multitude of career options for all types of candidates, from those who have only a high school education to doctors and attorneys. Positions are divided into three groups: enlisted persons, officers and healthcare workers.

Career Critical Care Nurse Aerospace Maintenance Worker Pilot
Education Requirements Bachelor's or master's in nursing High school diploma or equivalent, plus 15 college credits Bachelor's degree
Air Force Training Five-week program that covers physical health and military healthcare practices Sixty days of Basic Training and technical proficiency classes Nine-week Officer Training School
Base Pay (2015)* $35,668 (for all 2nd Lieutenants) $18,802 (for all E-1 Airmen) $35,668 ( for all 2nd Lieutenants)

Source: *U.S. Air Force (salary for lowest-ranked enlisted and officers)

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Career Options

Enlisted persons may work in one of four career tracks: mechanical, administrative, general and electronics. Mechanical careers are usually in an aircraft-related position, such as aerial gunner apprentice, aircraft structural maintenance apprentice and aircrew flight equipment apprentice. Administrative careers vary from managerial positions to entertainment positions, such as regional band apprentice. General careers may overlap with some administrative careers but include work in the medical or dental field, engineering, law or broadcasting. Electronics careers may overlap with some mechanical careers but include work with weather, space systems and biomedical equipment.

Only a small percentage of officers have flight careers, with the majority in technical, non-technical and specialty careers. Technical careers include engineer, scientist and weather officer. Non-technical officers may work in combat rescue, logistics or special investigations. Specialty officers may lead the band, perform religious services or work as a judge advocate general or attorney.

Healthcare workers in the USAF may work as doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, medical administrators or other healthcare profession. Generally, continuing education and other benefits are offered as part of the employment package of healthcare workers.

Critical Care Nurses

Critical care nurses assist in the treatment of injured and sick patients who are in immediate need of attention. Oftentimes in the military, critical care nurses must brave dangerous situations to reach injured officers and civilians. The Air Force trains these nurses to operate under extreme duress, both on the ground and in the air.

Aerospace Maintenance Workers

Those working in aerospace maintenance inspect and repair the planes. Every day, they test different components of aircraft to make sure they are safe to fly. Like all enlisted soldiers, aerospace maintenance workers must undergo Basic Training.

Pilot

Pilots are used in the military for a wide variety of reasons, from fighting to reconnaissance to transportation. Pilots are officers in the Air Force and are thus expected to demonstrate leadership skills. Like all officers, pilots must possess a bachelor's degree and undergo a significant amount of physical training.

Job Requirements

All enlisted persons must have a high-school education and complete eight weeks of basic training upon entry into the military. After enlisting in the USAF, they are required to attend the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) and study one of five career tracks: aircraft-related maintenance, electronics, healthcare, logistics or public services. Upon completion of the CCAF, selected enlisted persons may participate in the Airmen Education and Commissioning Program (AECP) and be eligible to become officers by pursuing their bachelor's degree in certain fields needed by the USAF. Enlisted persons who entered with a bachelor's degree in a non-AECP field may also be eligible to participate in the AECP and earn a second bachelor's degree.

Officers must have at least a college degree prior to entering the USAF. They must complete a 12-week officer-training program and may have the opportunity to pursue graduate studies or continuing education. Commissioned officers--which include all officers in the healthcare, legal and religious fields--are required to enter the USAF with the educational requirements of their profession already completed. They must undergo a 5-week commissioned officer training program.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the number of active-duty and reserve service members would not change much until 2024 at least, but it expected good employment opportunities for all members of the U.S. Armed Forces from 2014 until 2024. According to the U.S. Air Force, the lowest-ranked critical care nurses and pilots, who are officers, make a base pay of $35,668. Aerospace Maintenance Workers make a base pay of $18,802 while they are basic airmen, the lowest rank for enlisted officers in the Air Force.

In addition to a high school diploma or GED, you'll need 15 college credits to qualify as an aerospace maintenance worker. Critical care nurses and pilots require at least a bachelor's degree. Once they complete basic training and CCAF, enlisted personnel may have the opportunity to advance to officer status through the Airmen Education and Commissioning Program.

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