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How to Back Out After Joining the Military

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If you recently enlisted in the military, you probably did so through the delayed entry program, which legally obligates you to see your commitment through. But if you change your mind about a military future – whether it's because you decided to go to college, chose to follow another career path or have to prioritize something in your personal life – don't worry. There are ways to get out of your enlistment.

How Delayed Entry Works

The delayed entry program (also called the delayed enlistment program or future soldiers program, when referring to the Army) enlists individuals into the inactive reserves under the agreement that they report for active duty (basic training) later on. This is the most common way people now join the military, and though the inactive reserves portion of enlistment can last as long as a year, individuals enlisted through delayed entry are legally bound by their contract.

If you decide while you're in inactive reserves that you don't want to go into active duty, you have to approach the situation carefully. You could technically just not show up for basic training, but at that point, the military could order you to active duty as a reservist. If you refuse, the military could then court martial you – it's not a likely response, but it is possible.

There is a less risky way to get out of delayed entry: Request release from the program via an entry-level separation discharge.

Retracting Military Enlistment

The Department of Defense maintains that anyone can be released from delayed entry if the secretary of the branch of service for which they applied approves the request. If your request is approved, you'll receive an entry-level separation (ELS) discharge.

You don't have a right to an ELS, and therefore you have to convince the command that it's in the military's best interest to give you one. You must give reason that the military's time and money would be wasted on you.

Write your commanding officer a letter clearly stating that you want a discharge from delayed entry, presenting a list of problems that might justify your release. Consider using issues specified in the recruiting regulations for whichever branch of military you enlisted in. These reasons could include:

  • Hardship
  • Marriage
  • Dependency
  • Apathy or personal problems
  • Medical disqualification or psychiatric disorder (which could compromise your ability to enlist at a later date)
  • Pregnancy
  • Pursuit of higher education
  • Unqualified for the option in which you enlisted
  • Enlistment misunderstanding
  • Erroneous enlistment (which could compromise future enlistment opportunities)
  • Failure to graduate high school
  • Pursuit of becoming an ordained minister.

Identify your problems as specifically as possible without identifying evidence of misconduct. The more evidence you can provide that you aren't worth military resources, the stronger your case for discharge will be. If you can find a trusted third party to approach the command and vouch for the issues you've presented, that will help, as well.

You're eligible for an ELS for the first 180 days of active military service, as well, but the process becomes much more complicated at that point, so you're better off requesting to retract your enlistment while you're still in delayed entry.

Most of the time, an ELS won't compromise your ability to enlist at a later date if you choose to do so, unless you provided reasons that could preclude future enlistment.

The Discharge Process

If you successfully convince the command that your discharge would be in their best interest, the process should be complete within a month; you should receive approval for discharge from delayed entry in writing.

Remember that you can only be in delayed entry for 365 days anyway, so if the command fails to approve or deny your request for discharge in that time frame – or if you refuse to go into active service in that time and the military doesn't take action against you – you'll be automatically discharged at the end of a year.

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