Accounting Careers in and Around the Military
by Emily Philippe
Program Director, Accounting and Finance at American Public University
Though I now work as the Accounting and Finance Program Director at American Public University, I spent many years of my accounting career as a certified public accountant (CPA) with public accounting firms and in industry, a civilian budget analyst (Certified Defense Financial Manager or CDFM) for the Army, and in various volunteer positions with Army Community Services (ACS), tax centers, providing educational and tax services to soldiers and their families. So I have experienced first-hand a few of the many accounting opportunities available in and around the military.
I joined the Army right out of high school. My recruiter took to me Fort Bragg, NC, so that I could see first-hand what an Army post looked like. The first thing that struck me on that visit was that Fort Bragg was its own little city. It had all the required necessities and many amenities that individuals and families need and desire. What does this “little city” impression have to do with accounting careers in and around the military? It demonstrates the need for accounting professionals both in the military and on military installations, and this need exists on military installations on U.S. soil and all over the world.
All organizations must have a system in place to account for and manage finances. Who does this? Accounting and financial professionals get this job done. From payroll for individual service members to the allocation of billions of dollars each year in support of all branches of the U.S. military, accounting careers abound both in the military and in support of the military and military families.
You do not need special training to join the military and work in accounting. You can join the military right out of high school, and they will provide you with the training needed for an entry-level accounting position. However, as with most organizations, you will need to get additional training if you want to move up in the field of accounting with the military. There are several options for continuing your education in accounting:
- Attend the numerous training opportunities available in the military.
- Pursue a degree through an accredited university.
- Seek certifications through various professional organizations.
When I enlisted after high school, I did not join the military to work in accounting; I joined to work on helicopters. However, since separating from the military I have worked and volunteered as an accounting professional on and around Army bases in Italy, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Korea, and New York. These experiences have shown me that accounting is a transferable skillset that creates a great career opportunity for transient service men and women and their spouses.
If you plan on pursuing a career in accounting, with the military or as a civilian, consider the following recommendations. First, while it is important to take advantage of military offered training and schools, do not neglect continuing your education outside of the military. When you separate or retire from the military, it is sometimes difficult to translate your military experience and training into civilian-speak, and this can limit your options. However, if you obtain a degree from an accredited university, you can boost your career opportunities.
Next, become certified. There are numerous accounting certifications available (see Robert Half’s Guide to Certifications for Accounting, Finance and Operations Management). The best known accounting certification is the CPA. If your accounting career is in the military or if you plan to work as a civilian in support of the military, there are several other certifications that are helpful. The CDFM, certified government financial manager (CGFM), and the certified government auditing professional (CGAP) r all focus on the knowledge and skills needed for accounting in the defense or government sectors. A military spouse, on the other hand, could benefit from certification as an enrolled agent, CMA (certified management accountant), or AFC (accredited financial counselor) depending on the specific area of interest.
Accounting professionals are needed in and around military installations all over the world. Take advantage of training opportunities, obtain a degree from an accredited university, and earn the professional certifications that prepare you to fill those positions.
About the Author
Emily Philippe is the Program Director for Accounting and Finance at American Public University and has been teaching accounting courses for the university since 2009. She has experience in public, industry, government, and educational accounting and holds certifications as a CPA, CDFM, and AFC.