Most enlistments into the military are through the delayed enlistment process (DEP). The DEP is a legal, binding contract. By signing the contract, you state that you will report for active duty on a specified date. However, we all know that people change their minds. Although you have already made a promise that you would report for active duty, it is possible to get out of the contract.
Retracting an Enlistment
Your recruiter may tell you otherwise; however, it's the Department of Defense's official policy that anyone can request to be released from the DEP. Most DEP discharge requests are approved. If an applicant fails to show up to ship out to basic training, the military could order the individual to active duty. If the individual refused, the military could legally court-martial the individual. In reality, this never happens. Today's military is an all volunteer force. The services do not need, nor do they want individuals who are not volunteers.
Unfortunately, recruiters work on quotas. Even though most DEP discharge requests are approved, if someone gets discharged from the DEP, the recruiter has wasted all the hard work and paperwork to enlist the applicant. Understandably, a recruiter is not going to be happy with an applicant who changes his/her mind about joining. The recruiter's boss is also not going to be happy. Because of this, some frustrated recruiters (and even some recruiting station commanders) have been known to use unethical tactics to keep an applicant from dropping out of the DEP.
If you decide that you don't want to report for active duty, you should write a letter to the commander of recruiting in your area. The letter should state that you have decided that you don't want to go on active duty. You should clearly state in the letter that nothing will change your mind. It might be helpful to add other reasons, such as a desire to attend college or trade school, which played a part in your final decision. Send this letter certified mail, return receipt requested.
Remember, you aren't on active-duty unless you return to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) and take the second oath of duty on your reporting day. When you are officially released from your contract, the recruiting command will send you a letter stating you have been given an entry-level separation because you refused to enlist. This will end your association with the U.S. military and isn't considered a dishonorable or an honorable discharge.
Retracting an Enlistment in the Reserves or National Guard
The Reserves and the National Guard don't have a Delayed Enlistment Program. The very second you take the oath, and sign the enlistment contract, you are in the Reserves (or Guard). This means, if you change your mind, the discharge process is entirely out of the hands of the recruiting command. Instead, the process lies in the hands of the commanding officer of the unit you're assigned to. This makes the discharge process much more complicated.
A discharge from the Reserves or National Guard requires a full-blown discharge package initiated by the unit commander for the unit you're assigned to, even if you've not been to basic training, nor attended any paid drills. Your first step should be to make a request for discharge, in writing, addressed to your commanding officer. Your letter should clearly state your reason(s) for discharge. If your request is denied, you can simply refuse to report to basic training.
Questions for Your Attorney
- My recruiter is harassing me. What should I do?
- If I get out of my enlistment contract, will there be any doors shut or opportunities lost in the civilian world?
- How can I get out of the military after I report for active duty?