With very few exceptions, becoming a non-commissioned officer (NCO) or petty officer in the U.S. Armed Forces is accomplished by progression through the lower enlisted ranks. However, unlike promotion through the lower enlisted tier, promotion to NCO is generally competitive. NCO ranks begin at E-4 or E-5, depending upon service and are generally attained between three and six years of service. Junior NCOs function as first-line supervisors and squad leaders, training the junior enlisted in their duties and guiding their career advancement.
Your performance in four basic areas – Arithmetic Reasoning (AR), Mathematics Knowledge (MK), Paragraph Comprehension (PC), and Word Knowledge (WK) determines whether you’ve made the grade. Your scores in the AR, MK, and Verbal Composite (VE, which is WK+PC) sections add up to the all-important “AFQT” (Armed Forces Qualifying Test) score that recruiters use to see if you are eligible to serve.
Your success on ASVAB test day depends not only on how many hours you put into preparing, but also on whether you prepared the right way. It’s good to check along the way to see whether your studying is paying off. One of the most effective ways to do this is by taking ASVAB practice tests to evaluate your progress. Practice tests are useful because they show exactly where you need to improve. Every time you take a ASVAB practice test, pay special attention to these three groups of questions:
The military organization is characterized by a strict hierarchy divided by military rank, with ranks normally grouped (in descending order of authority) as officers (e.g. Colonel), non-commissioned officers (e.g. Sergeant), and personnel at the lowest rank (e.g. Private Soldier). While senior officers make strategic decisions, subordinated military personnel (soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen) fulfil them. Although rank titles vary by military branch and country, the rank hierarchy is common to all state armed forces worldwide.
Limited Duty Officer: due to the highly technical nature of some officer billets, the Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard employ a system of promoting proven senior enlisted members to the ranks of commissioned officers. They fill a need that is similar to, but distinct from that filled by warrant officers (to the point where their accession is through the same school). While warrant officers remain technical experts, LDOs take on the role of a generalist, like that of officers commissioned through more traditional sources. LDOs are limited, not by their authority, but by the types of billets they are allowed to fill. However, in recent times they have come to be used more and more like their more-traditional counterparts.

Prospective service members are often recruited from high school or college, the target age ranges being 18–35 in the Army, 18–28 in the Marine Corps, 18–34 in the Navy, 18–39 in the Air Force and 18–27 (up to age 32 if qualified for attending guaranteed "A" school) in the Coast Guard. With the permission of a parent or guardian, applicants can enlist at age 17 and participate in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP), in which the applicant is given the opportunity to participate in locally sponsored military activities, which can range from sports to competitions led by recruiters or other military liaisons (each recruiting station's DEP varies).
For those who are interested in enlisting in the military, they are screened using the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), which is comprised of a subset of scores from the ASVAB. Successfully passing the AFQT is not the sole requirement for enlisting but is one of the qualifications that must be met. There are various requirements for the different branches of the military and those interested are encouraged to contact recruiters to obtain more information about requirements specific to that branch.

The President, Secretary of Defense and other senior executive officials are advised by a seven-member Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is headed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking officer in the United States military and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.[20] The rest of the body is composed of the heads of each of the DoD's service branches (the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force) as well as the Chief of the National Guard Bureau. Although commanding one of the five military branches, the Commandant of the Coast Guard is not a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Despite being composed of the highest-ranking officers in each of the respective branches, the Joint Chiefs of Staff does not possess operational command authority. Rather, the Goldwater-Nichols Act charges them only with advisory power.[21]
Although some groups engaged in combat, such as militants or resistance movements, refer to themselves using military terminology, notably 'Army' or 'Front', none have had the structure of a national military to justify the reference, and usually have had to rely on support of outside national militaries. They also use these terms to conceal from the MI their true capabilities, and to impress potential ideological recruits.
In broad usage, the terms "armed forces" and "military" are often treated as synonymous, although in technical usage a distinction is sometimes made in which a country's armed forces may include both its military and other paramilitary forces. Armed force is the use of armed forces to achieve political objectives. There are various forms of irregular military forces, not belonging to a recognized state; though they share many attributes with regular military forces, they are less often referred to as simply "military".
The Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) is used by all of the Services to determine if an applicant is eligible for the military. Four of the ASVAB subtests are combined to form the AFQT. It measures general cognitive ability and is composed of verbal and mathematics subtests. AFQT scores are grouped into categories for reporting purposes. The table below shows the AFQT categories and the percentile score ranges corresponding to the categories. Applicants that score in AFQT category IIIA or higher may qualify for enlistment incentives.