Life as a Private: A Study of the Motivations and Experiences of Junior Enlisted Personnel in the U.S. Army

The U.S. Army Recruiting Command asked RAND Arroyo Center to undertake research to improve its understanding of soldiers’ motivations to join the Army, and how the reality of Army life matches up with expectations. Who joins, why, and how satisfied are they with their decisions? This study’s portrayal of the U.S. Army private could serve as an educational tool for a variety of important audiences, such as Army senior leadership, junior officers, noncommissioned officers, and prospective new recruits.

To conduct this study, RAND researchers interviewed 81 soldiers, ranked E-1 to E-4, generally assigned to their first Modified Table of Organization and Equipment unit. The findings from this study offer a rich description of experiences by a select few junior enlisted Army personnel; however, due to sample size limitations, the findings of this study cannot be generalized to the U.S. Army as a whole or to any rank or Career Management Field category. The research found that soldiers join the Army for family, institutional, and occupational reasons, and many value the opportunity to become a military professional. They value their relationships with other soldiers, enjoy their social lives, and are satisfied with Army life.