Stuttering in the Military

January 20, 2022
Guest Contributor
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Can you stutter in the US Armed Forces? The answer is yes!

Many people who stutter serve successfully in the armed forces. In this blog post, we'll answer some frequently asked questions about stuttering in the US Military, and talk to a client about his service in the Air Force.

The Basics of Recruitment

Requirements to join include a self-paced written aptitude test and a physical examination, neither of which include an evaluation of speech. We searched all 145 pages of the Army regulation covering recruitment and did not find one reference to speech or stuttering, and the recruiter we spoke to said stuttering is not a barrier. If you have any questions about your specific situation, recruiters can answer individual questions.

Stuttering in the Military

People who have served in the US Armed Forces report that the challenges they faced there because of their stuttering are similar to the challenges faced by any person who stutters in any line of work. The wide variety of experiences and assignments available makes it possible for each person to find the level of challenge that is right for them. And, the National Stuttering Association has military support groups and a brochure you can use to educate recruiters, colleagues and supervisors.

Profile: Stuttering in the Air Force

Troy McGill treats a Nepali girl during U.S. Pacific Command’s Operation Pacific Angel 12-4 in Nepal Sept. 11, 2012. Photo by Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen.

Troy McGill, PT, PhD, Dip MDT, SCS, is a Board-Certified Sports Clinical Specialist and the Director of Therapy/Health Management Services at Alaska Regional Hospital. He spoke to us about his experiences as a person who stutters in the Air Force.

Tell us briefly about what you did in the Air Force.

I was a Physical Therapist in the Air Force, so part of the medical field. I held many positions, from Staff PT to managing a large rehab department.

On a day-to-day basis, how did your stuttering affect your experience?

It was a challenge some days, however as we know stuttering can make you very resilient. I enjoyed being pushed so overall I did very well. Stuttering can limit you if you allow it to limit you. What I found is that people often do not understand why a person stutters. This misunderstanding can allow you to educate individuals on the reasons why you may stutter. Whenever I have had a conversation to educate it does lessen any perceived tensions that the stutterer may feel.  

How did your superior officers respond to your stuttering? What about your colleagues?

I never had an issue or any sort of negative feedback because of my speech.

What was the biggest challenge of stuttering in the Air Force?

I won several Air Force and Department of Defense level awards. These awards often required me to travel and present. One Department of Defense award required the award winner to present at a DoD conference with all service leadership present. Surgeon Generals were present for the Army, Navy and Air Force. There were over 4,000 other military leaders in attendance. This presentation was stressful; however, as I prepared to go on stage I saw other award winners that were just as stressed and they did not stutter. That helped put things in perspective and I did very well.  

What accomplishment are you most proud of from your service?

I was named Air Force PT of the year four different times.

What advice would you give someone who stutters who is considering a career in the armed forces?

I highly recommend the service. I am partial to the Air Force, but all branches offer excellent opportunities for success. Enlisting in the Air Force is different than joining the Air Force as an Officer. If a person who stutters would like to be a military officer, it is very doable. I retired as a Lieutenant Colonel and AF Officers are required to lead. You will be asked to lead groups, present in meetings and be a public speaker. These duties can be a challenge, but I found that the more I spoke in stressful situations the more comfortable it became. (This is true for folks who do not stutter as well.)

I would be aware, however, that some Officer career fields have requirements that the person cannot have communication or hearing issues. For example, Pilots or ED physicians must be able to communicate without hesitation. But for the majority of Officer career fields, a person who stutters would not have any issue.

Enlisted service members who do not want a career that requires public speaking can work with their recruiter to ensure they are placed appropriately. Again, the military will offer plenty of opportunities to grow within your individual career.  

Further reading

Troy is not the only person who stutters who has found great success in the military!

Here’s one article published by the Army itself, demonstrating their support for personnel who stutter.

We also posted back in 2010 about another client who stuttered as a Marine.

Here are two podcasts featuring an Army veteran and a Coast Guard pilot talking about their experiences.

And check out this great video from the National Stuttering Association to hear more success stories!

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The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY, Atlanta, GA, and Minneapolis, MN, and services are also available online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.

Jogging photo by Spc. Laura Stephens, U.S. Army.

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