Can I Join The Military At 53 Years Of Age – Airman 1st Class Yoko Holden, 40, is one of 750 people who joined the active Air Force between the ages of 35 and 39 after the age limit was raised to 39. (Courtesy of A1C Yoko Holdren)
He tried to find work for more than a decade, but seemingly hit a road block at every turn. First, with her husband, Master Sgt. Donovan Holdren, and the cost of childcare for their three children.
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Can I Join The Military At 53 Years Of Age
Then there were the German employment and citizenship rules at Ramstein Air Base, where the family is based. His green card was about to expire. And, just as he wanted to get a job when his youngest son started school, the coronavirus pandemic hit.
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“I thought, ‘If I join the Air Force, they can train me from scratch,'” he told Air Force Times. “Whatever job is available, I’ll take it.”
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Now an airman in the first class of the security forces’ technical school, Holdren is one of hundreds of people in their late 30s who have joined the Air Force since the service raised its age limit for new recruits nearly a decade ago. The career change has offered new challenges and second chances offering the service another way to grow and diversify.
In 2014, the service raised the active duty enlistment age from 27 to 39 for those with no prior military service. The Air Force Reserve also changed its age limit from 34 to 39.
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Since then, active-duty forces have inducted 574 operational and support airmen between the ages of 35 and 39, just 0.5 percent of all active-duty enlisted airmen over the past eight years, according to Air Force Recruiting Service data. Their interest in joining the Air Force has grown almost every year, going from a recruitment of this age group in 2014 to 137 in 2021.
The Air Force also prohibits people over 39 from becoming officers in most fields, although health and ministry hopefuls can enter the service until they turn 49.
Official operations and support include 172 active aircraft that entered service between 2014 and 2021 at 35 years of age or older. They account for more than 3% of the officers who have entered these areas in a period of eight years.
Recruitment of older officers is more volatile than the enlisted side, moving from a high of 61 in 2019 to a low of two in 2021.
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Then Airman 1st Class Erin Zimpfer, a 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, spends time with her children. Zimpfer began a new chapter in his life for himself and his children when he joined the Air Force just before his 39th birthday. (Courtesy photo)
Americans approaching middle age are often drawn to the Air Force for a variety of reasons. Some are looking for something new after their parents started a family, or people who postponed their dreams of joining the military. Others find themselves with few options later in life, with or without a college degree; and some reconsidered their future after a major life change.
Zimpfer — born the sixth of seven children — was the first in her family to graduate high school, then married and homeschooled her four children as a stay-at-home mom for 14 years. That path changed in 2017, when he got divorced and had a hard time.
Inspired by his younger sister’s success in the Air Force after high school, Zimpfer made his own leap into military life. He took the oath of registration in February 2018, one month before his 39th birthday.
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“It was the fastest way to get from where I was to where I wanted to be, and I really wanted to get my degree and use the educational benefits,” she said. “Everything fell into place.”
While most recruits join the Air Force before age 30, older airmen have had more time to fully develop their emotional intelligence, work ethic and decision-making skills. That maturity can help them cope with the ups and downs of military life better than some of their younger peers.
“If you’re in your 30s, you’ve got life experiences, and you’re here for a reason,” former Air Force civilian and airman Hugo Escobar said in a 2016 video on his YouTube channel, “Your Military Money.” “Better to…show up late to the Air Force party than never.”
Escobar and others online, who offer anecdotes and advice about joining the Air Force later in life, caution that staying in shape and protecting yourself from injury are key.
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Being able to keep up with the physical demands has worried Holden, a self-described exercise hater who began training a year before attending basic military training.
However, he said the security force can be a good fit for non-native English speakers like himself because it focuses more on physical prowess than academics.
“They’re saying the test [to become a security forces aircraft] is easy,” Holdren, a Japanese-American, said in November. “That’s good for me… if I have to take a test in English I might have a hard time.”
Aviation experts also recommend being mentally flexible, as the military can overturn established routines and impose far more rules on everyday life than in the civilian world, with younger airmen in charge.
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“It was really frustrating for me to be so limited as 18-year-olds, when I have a house and bills and I’m responsible, never have a problem,” Zimpfer said of tech school. “Having that limit [at 10 p.m.], or not being able to be off base … was just something you had to accept.”
She decided to leave her four children, aged between 11 and 15, for seven months of training with her ex-husband. However, he faced his fears and got on board, a move that was easier because the children were older.
“I don’t have to worry about my kids as much because they’re in school [at Ramstein],” Holdren added of her three children, ages 7 to 13. “I can focus on my work.”
After passing boot camp and technical training, the senior airmen hope the gamble will pay off.
Joining the reserve offered opportunities Zimpfer lacked without a college degree or significant work history. He has held positions in public affairs and finance at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, first as a civil service employee and now as a contractor.
When he was laid off from his civilian job as a commercial compliance specialist for an Ohio manufacturer, Zimpfer called Lt. Col. Cynthia Harris, his Reserve chief of public affairs for the 445th Airlift Wing. Harris immediately placed him on active duty, which led to a job offer at Apogee Engineering.
Along the way, Zimpfer wants to get a bachelor’s degree and move into the field of human intelligence with a top-secret clearance.
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In addition to providing a path to higher education, military medical benefits and job stability can be especially helpful for older airmen who need to support their families. Some jobs that can be done anywhere, like base security, can help keep dual military couples like the Holdrens together.
He currently plans to return to Ramstein as an advocate after tech school at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. He is pursuing a degree in cyber security and is interested in criminal justice with the goal of one day obtaining a master’s degree.
He doesn’t have a firm long-term plan, but said if he likes his job and stays healthy he will play out his four-year contract.
“I don’t know that it is suitable for everyone’s situation, but I am very happy that I did it and that it was useful,” he said.
South Korean Marines Carry Their Weapons As They Walk Through A Field On The Island Of Yeonpyeong, Which Lies On The South Korean Side Of The Northern Limit Line (nll), In The
Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as a senior reporter in March 2021. His work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post and others.
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