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Life is full of milestones, and military graduation gifts are often used to celebrate one of the most significant. When someone you know is finishing up boot camp, officer candidate school, or another military course, they’re not just getting a pat on the back for completing the training curriculum — they’re embarking on a career, an adventure, and service with a responsibility up to and including their own life. Wanting to express your pride and gratitude is natural and good.
For those of you who haven’t served in the military, it’s not always easy to know what kinds of gifts will end up being useful. Luckily, we do, and we have a few suggestions — both serious and humorous — to make shopping easier. These are sure to put a smile on someone’s face, but don’t forget that one of the best military graduation gifts you can give is a round of drinks at the nearest bar.
- Best Overall: Southwest Airlines Gift Card
- Best Budget: Challenge Coin Display Case
- Best Military Watch: Casio G-Shock GW6900-1
- Best Ballistic Glasses: Oakley M Frame
- Best Multitool: Leatherman Wave+
- Best Military Boot Socks: Darn Tough Tactical Socks
For new grads out of boot camp, the transition to military life is really just beginning. Daily life is just as demanding, but instead of having every move dictated to them, they’ll have an increasing responsibility to handle business on their own. On top of that, there are basic challenges like managing finances and making time for family. It’s natural to get tunnel vision in your work. Being physically separated from friends and family doesn’t help. If you can take some of the stress out of flying home, that will be a big help.rnrnSouthwest Airlines has more than 120 airports to choose from and passengers get to check two bags for free. Airfare tends to be on the more affordable side of things, too. One gift card probably won’t pay for a round-trip flight, but it will definitely ease the strain of taking time off work and shelling out hundreds of dollars to come home for a few days. I can tell you from personal experience that I don’t remember many gifts I got during my time in the military, but I sure remember every trip home.
- Available in $50, $100, $150, and $200 denominations
- Redeemable online, over the phone, or in person
- Southwest services more than 120 airports
- Between low junior enlisted pay and limited time off, traveling home to see family can be a challenge. Chipping in for airfare can make a big difference.
Can be saved and spent whenever it’s helpful
Take advantage of Southwest’s affordable prices and flexible reservations
The first two checked bags are free
Keep it someplace safe because it can’t be replaced
Still contingent on getting time off
For those of you outside the military, this one might seem strange; it might not make sense to your boot camp graduate, either. But trust me, challenge coins are a thing and they’re a popular means of chronicling your service and comparing your experience with friends. Basically, challenge coins are given as gifts. Your young service members will get them from various schools, commanders, and dignitaries throughout their military career. Legend has it that if you challenge someone to present a coin, whoever has the most junior one has to buy a round of drinks.rnrnOver time, this display case will fill up and become a great way to reflect on their service. The shelves are removable and the backing is padded, so they can also use it to show off various awards and rank insignia along the way. This one might take some time to fully appreciate, but they’ll be glad to have it down the road.
- Measures 11 inches wide and 13.75 inches tall
- Removable shelves provide channels for two rows of coins each
- Case front uses durable acrylic rather than glass
- Every service member accumulates challenge coins, awards, and other keepsakes. This is a nice way to display them on the obligatory I-love-me wall.
Room for up to 45 challenge coins
Removable shelves make room for larger items
Pin awards and rank insignia directly to the backing
There won’t be much to put in there at first
Should ideally be wall-mounted
We’ve written countless words on watches at Task & Purpose, and you can read all about dive watches, field watches, G-Shocks like this one, and even narrow your search by price. They’re all good picks. This one, though, is one of the most popular for everyday use and many service members have gotten attached to it. The GW6900-1 uses a waterproof resin case that’s tough enough to take military-grade abuse without missing a beat. The already impressive battery life is augmented by solar charging so your service member’s reenlistment will come before the battery needs to be changed. With several alarms and a stopwatch, they’ll be on track to be 15 minutes early to be 15 minutes early.rnrnSentimental gifts are great, but so are ones that can make everyday life easier. This one does both because it’ll be a small reminder of you every time they check the time. It just might give them the watch bug. More may follow, but the one you gave them will never be replaced.
- Radio-controlled timekeeping and automatic calendar to 2099
- Solar charging
- 200-meter water resistance
- Casio G-Shock watches are legendary in the military for their durability, reliable timekeeping, and affordable prices. Start things right with one of the best military watches there is.
Keeps time with the atomic clock via multiband radio
Stretches battery life with solar charging
Resin case is waterproof and famously tough
Not overly stylish out on the town
Relies on disposable batteries
Everyone in the military is going to need ballistic eye protection every now and then. The good news is that it will be issued to them. The bad news is that if they lose, break, scratch, or otherwise allow their eye pro to show any signs of use whatsoever, they’ll probably have to reimburse the government at a price that you and I would not consider to be reasonable. There might even be adverse paperwork involved. The best approach is to keep the issued glasses tucked away someplace safe and use a personal pair that’s military-approved — which brings us to the Oakley M Frame.rnrnThese ballistic glasses are better-performing and more comfortable than what Uncle Sam doles out. They meet military and civilian standards for ballistic protection and an anti-fog coating keeps the view clear even in hot, humid weather. If your service member wants to swap out lenses, they can do that with this frame. Such is the joy of gear that works; isn’t it amazing?
- Meets MIL PRF-31013 and ANSI Z87.1 ballistic standards
- Lenses use anti-fog coating and filter out UV light
- Replace lenses without tools
- The more time you spend on the range, the more important your shooting glasses become. These Oakleys will perform better and last longer than whatever gets issued.
Better than issued eye protection in just about every way
Clear and tinted lenses are interchangeable
Designed to be compatible with helmets and night vision
May only be used for annual qualification
You could say that multitools are a common thread across the military. It doesn’t matter what branch, what MOS, or what rank you are; you probably have at least one multitool you rely on. There are more options than even we can keep track of, but Leatherman still makes some of the best. The Wave+ is one of the manufacturer’s more compact multitools, but it incorporates a lot of the same tools and design cues you’d find on its full-size counterparts.rnrnWith 18 tools, strong stainless steel construction, and a weather-resistant black oxide coating, this is a serious contender. All the tools can be accessed without unfolding the tool, and they lock in place for safe operation. It’s big enough to do real work in the field and small enough to ride in a cargo pocket on base. The Wave+ is a winning combination and there’s a reason Leatherman says it’s the brand’s best seller.
- Contains 18 commonly-used tools
- Stainless steel construction with a black oxide finish
- Locking tools are accessible from the outside
- Everybody needs a good multitool — especially people in the military. The Leatherman Wave+ is a great blend of quality materials, functional utility, and value for your money.
Super portable and capable of performing most daily tasks
Heavy-duty build quality can handle life in the military
Solid bang for the buck
A little bit large for EDC
Hinges can be a little stiff at first
How many socks do you think you’d need for a week in the field? Double that. You’re halfway there. Service members burn through socks faster than most people can imagine, and that problem is exacerbated by cheap socks. Not only are bargain-basement socks bad for finances, they destroy feet by soaking up sweat and sliding around inside the boot. These socks from the aptly named Darn Tough couldn’t be more different. They use premium materials, smooth seams to minimize hot spots, and they last way longer than other socks. In fact, Darn Tough guarantees its socks for life.rnrnIf you’ve never given this much thought to a pair of boot socks before, that’s ok — you’re not alone. Darn Tough has gained a fiercely loyal following among service members, hardcore hikers, and other people who live on their feet. These are available in six sizes and four colors that are chosen for people in uniform. As a kid, socks were a very underwhelming present. As a member of the military, they’re genuinely exciting. Give the gift of healthy feet with socks that your service member will be happy to put on in the morning.
- Nylon, wool, and spandex blend
- Mid-calf height
- Available in black, brown, tan, and green
- I cannot emphasize enough how important good socks are in the military. These are way more comfortable and will last much longer than most boot socks.
Wicks sweat away from the skin and dries fast
No cotton, so it performs well in all temperatures
Fine threads and smooth seams reduce hot spots
Somewhat thin for cold climates
Relatively expensive (but worth it)
Things to consider before buying a military graduation gift
There are basically two schools of thought here, folks. You can give a gift for basic training graduation that will be useful in everyday military life, or you can commence the time-honored tradition of ruthless mocking. If you’re feeling really generous, you can do both; that’s perfectly acceptable.
We rounded up our favorite gag gifts. If you want something a little more useful, you can always check out our list of the best military books or read about the best range bags we’ve tested.
Army graduation gifts
The Army’s budget is so extravagant that it’s hard to buy soldiers something they aren’t already issued — or that’s how it seems to the other branches, anyway. Go ahead and celebrate graduation from boot camp with a gift basket of every soldier’s favorite goodies: boot socks with no visible logo, a classy spittoon, and a few cans of their beloved Rip It.
Navy graduation gifts
The U.S. Navy has a long, strong history of military tradition. Sailors love to celebrate this rich tapestry of oceanic exploits by singing the sea service’s official song, made famous by the Village People. This vinyl copy sounds great with or without live vocal accompaniment and doubles as beautiful wall art.
Marine Corps graduation gifts
Marines have a lot of inside jokes and unofficial traditions, but most of them are too vulgar, dangerous, or outright illegal to speak of openly. One safe bet is the reputation for being a bunch of knuckle-dragging, crayon-eating neanderthals. Lean into the stereotype with a delicious variety pack of your young Marine’s favorite snack: name-brand Crayolas. One box for now, one for later.
Coast Guard graduation gifts
Coasties will give you all kinds of reasons for joining the Coast Guard. The truth, though, is that anyone who joined after 2006 was inspired by the heroics of Ashton Kutcher’s character in The Guardian. Help them decorate their barracks room with this tribute to their hero. They might act like they don’t get the reference, but you and I will know they do.
Air Force graduation gifts
Everyone likes to tease the Air Force for being the least physical branch of the military, but you try playing video games all night after spending all day in an office chair — it’s no picnic. Ease the hellish agony of substandard furniture with a heated, massaging office chair wrapped in elegant (fake) leather.
Space Force graduation gifts
This one is a goldmine for jokes at the newest military branch’s expense. You could go with astronaut food, some kind of Buzz Lightyear reference, or the infamous Space Force Ka-Bar. Normally, a knife wouldn’t be a gag gift, but it’ll get a chuckle out of any (it pains me to use this term) Guardian. “A knife! Like, for fighting people! Oh my gosh, can you imagine?”
Life in the military has plenty of challenges, but being separated from family and friends is a big one — especially for new service members. You can’t make anyone’s job easier and you can’t issue additional leave, but a Southwest Airlines Gift Card will take some of the financial stress out of coming home.
For this gift guide, I looked back on my early days in the Marine Corps. I thought about the challenges my young Marines faced and how we all found ways of rising to the occasion. Some of the gifts on this list were inspired by long nights in the field. Others are items we relied on every day. A few are lessons that occasionally need to be learned the hard way. My goal was to create a shortlist of gift ideas that service members can genuinely use. They’ll make life in the military easier and be a reminder of your support every time they’re used.