A little late to the party, but I will throw in my two cents......
I was an enlisted Army Reservist to help offset my undergrad loans and looked to Uncle Sam again when I entered medical school. As this was 1998, there was not OIF/OEF, so I ended up with a 3 year HPSP scholarship as the four year scholarships had gone quickly. Now there scholarship is even better with a sign on bonus and a higher monthly stipend as they typically cannot get enough slots filled given the current climate.
I left medical school / undergrad with about $90K in loans when combined with my wife's undergraduate degree. I drove a trusty, but un-cool Toyota through medical school and civilian internship and residency in internal medicine. We bought a fixer upper home just after graduation from medical school and got lucky with market timing on the sale when I entered active duty three years later, having worked on its rehab when time allowed. That paid off the all o student loans. My wife also worked in sales while I attended school and internship and residency, making about twice my salary after medical school, so that did help to defray the household costs and those associated with the kids that "arrived" in those three years.
My first duty assignment in the Amry was Germany where we spent over 6 years. We did a lot of traveling, but that also included 27 months in Iraq and Afghanistan for me. In retrospect it was a formative experience. It is not too often that an IM doc gets to do a crich and run a morgue.....YMMV.
The pay from my first deployment bought our E93 with cash.
I am now back in the US and am heading to a combined MHA/MBA program on the Army's dime this summer. I get paid my normal "attending" salary to be a student, which is a nice bonus. I do plan on keeping my clinical skills current, but wanted to hedge the bets on the future of medicine by obtaining the managerial degrees. Other docs will get out after their initial "payback" commitment and that makes sense for many.
My experience is a unique one as my prior service is computed into my current pay, but I am in the high $170s with my monthly "housing allowance" thrown in there. We made a pact to not buy another house while moving around in the military but feed a "house fund" that would now cover the cost our first home in cash. Once you get used to living a bit frugally, it can stick...M3 excluded ;-).
It is not for everyone, but Uncle Sugar has been very good to me. At this point, I plan on hanging out for twenty, accumulating the pension while still dedicating 15% of my income to retirement. (I tend to hedge bets a lot.) I have friends in managed care who hate it, so as long as I don't take anymore trips to the desert, my ambulatory care life /patient load is actually better than theirs.
I would offer to the prospective student that it is amazing what some luck, sacrifice, and alternative school funding options can do for you in the long run. Driving a Camry may not be sexy, but every dollar not borrowed, is MANY dollars saved down the road.
I am intrigued by the many comments of the other attendings on this board as well. It is interesting to watch the world medicine from this "foxhole".