Let's settle this once and (maybe) for all. MOAA hereby unveils this unscientific, completely subjective list of the best jobs in the military. Each choice takes into account quality of life, excitement level, and the unquantifiable “cool factor.” With so many jobs from which to choose, some great ones had to be cut, but each brings something unique to the career table.
Army helicopter pilots might not have a movie like Top Gun to show off to their parents, but ask a Navy jet pilot (if you can find one) how many dogfights he's gotten in lately. Army pilots are performing missions every day in theater and at home, blowing things up, saving lives, and winning hearts and minds. The job gets bonus points for being a female-friendly combat career field because Army pilots don't deploy to anywhere that doesn't have at least some infrastructure (a PX and probably Internet) in place, so you get to have a job that's cool enough to write home about but not so top-secret you can't (usually) brag to your friends.
Members of the Army's parachute team serve three-year tours traveling the country to airshows, major sporting events, and parachuting competitions. That means for three years their job is to jump out of perfectly good airplanes and land in the middle of thousands of people who are cheering for them. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Let's face it - you're not attracted to the Marine Corps in the first place without a certain ability to “embrace the suck.” And if you're going to embrace it, the best way to do it is all the way as a Marine Corps grunt. There's no collection of individuals who better embodies the infantry way of life than the Marine infantry. For the type of man or woman drawn to that life, there's no better feeling than being a member of that collection of high-speed individuals.
There's an inherent contradiction with combat photographers: They preserve moments in time by gathering images and telling stories about them, but they're members of the forces who bring destruction to those moments. Combat photographers embrace this paradox, serving as eyes and ears for a world hungry for an inside look at war and those affected by it. This job also gets bonus points for being a unique combination of right-brain creativity and left-brain military-ness.
Saying Navy divers are tough is like calling Army Gen. George S. Patton “a pretty good officer.” There's a reason dive school at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Fla., has an attrition rate that hovers around 40 percent - it's clearly not for everybody. But the chosen few who graduate as Navy divers get to live a life that adolescent boys and girls (and full-grown men and women) around the world envy, spending days and nights swimming with the fishes. But in the good way.
With apologies to legitimate operators like Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) and Army Special Forces, SEALs are the top of the heap of the special ones. In fact, the biggest drawback to being a SEAL operator might just be that you can't talk about all the cool stuff you do. But for the baddest of the bad, that's just part of the job.
Part of the Air Force's special operations force, combat controllers (and the special tactics officers who command them) get the upside of the swanky Air Force life but still live a life of guts and danger. Their job is to control friendly forces' aircraft deep in combat zones, and their training involves anything that can get them there and back safely (airborne, survival school, weapons training, etcetera.)
Cyber warfare expert
Cyber operators (both enlisted and officers) don't only have one of the safest jobs in the military, but they also have one of the most coveted skills in the civilian world. Military training in cyber safety is about as much of a guarantee for a lucrative second-career job in the real world as you can get. Officers trained to manage the ins and outs of the digital battlefield can expect to be recruited by both major corporations and government organizations that clamor for trained workers.
These public servants are the Coasties' best-kept secret. From search and rescue to maritime law enforcement (think SWAT teams on boats), they are highly trained, armed to the teeth, and as high-speed as they come. Basically, take the best parts of public service, add the cool factor of military service, and sprinkle in the excitement of life on the open seas, and you've got the boat forces.
Public Health Service
You don't enter the medical profession unless you want to help people. As a medical officer in the Public Health Service (PHS), you get to extend your medical skills beyond your local community, helping those who need help the most and combining your love of people with a desire to serve your country. From clinical care for underserved populations to responding to crises around the country, PHS physicians don't just help people - they help populations, fighting on the front lines of public health.
Science and research officer
They get assignments all across the country from Florida to California, there are no deployments, and in places like the Centers for Disease Control they get to do research that can help millions of people around the world. These guys really have the whole “saving the world” thing going on.
NOAA Commissioned Corps
There might not be a more exciting way to combine adventure and science in the entire uniformed services than as a NOAA officer. As one, you might captain a research vessel to the South Pole, pilot a WP-3D Orion “Hurricane Hunter” into the eye of a hurricane, or explore the ocean floor hundreds of feet underwater in a submersible. Competition to be an NOAA officer is tough, but those who make it find one of the coolest jobs for scientists.
Short for Active Guard and Reserve, AGR positions are open to National Guard (Army and Air Force) and Army Reserve personnel. These active duty jobs in 20 career fields give soldiers and airmen all the benefits of active duty without the drawback of having to move around the country at DoD's whim.
For those individuals whose drive to serve their country is matched only by their desire to help people, noncombatant roles like chaplaincy and medical care can be a perfect fit. Chaplains and medical personnel go to work every day knowing they help people for a living. And they get paid to do it.
OK, this might be cheating, but every servicemember is authorized to apply for astronaut duty. The demands are many, and the application and training process is ridiculous, but the benefits are … well, out of this world.