How to Back Out After Joining the Military

by Tony Guerra

People enlist in the U.S. military every year, and most do, in fact, enter and serve out their contracts. However, given the large number of people enlisting in the U.S. military it's no surprise that some will regret having done so. Generally, once you sign a military enlistment contract you're legally bound by its terms and conditions. But even though the military doesn't widely advertise it, it's sometimes possible to enlist and then subsequently back out of your contract.

Delayed Entry Program

Normally, every person enlisting in the military first enters what's called the delayed entry or delayed enlistment program. DEP enlistment contracts are available in all U.S. military service branches and are used to bring enlistees into the military's initial entry training system at a controlled pace. In truth, there's simply no way for the military to accommodate all potential enlistees at once. DEP brings people into the military by placing them in holding status until their actual entry occurs.

Retracting Your Enlistment

When entering the military's delayed entry program, you swear an initial enlistment oath and sign a DEP contract. It's the policy of the Department of Defense, though, that anyone can request a release from their DEP enlistment contract. If you want to back out of your DEP agreement, inform your recruiter and write a letter requesting release to the commander of the recruiting district in which you enlisted. When asking for a release from the DEP, make it clear nothing will change your mind.

Entry-Level Separations

You can strengthen the letter you write requesting release from your DEP contract by providing a good reason for doing so, such as a desire to attend college. Send your letter requesting release from your DEP obligation via registered mail, return receipt requested. Once you're released from the DEP, you'll receive what's called an entry-level separation. Entry-level separations are purely administrative in nature, and one for retraction of a DEP enlistment obligation would be neither a dishonorable nor an honorable discharge.

Recruiters and Enlistment Oaths

Recruiters have mission goals or enlistment quotas, and they don't like to lose enlistees from the DEP. Unfortunately, military recruiters sometimes use hard-sell tactics on DEP enlistees to convince them not to retract their enlistments. By law, however, you're technically not a part of the military until you swear your second oath of enlistment when you report in at the end of your DEP period. Additionally, the U.S. military is all-volunteer, and it doesn't wasn't want people in uniform who don't really want to be there.

About the Author

Tony Guerra served more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy. He also spent seven years as an airline operations manager. Guerra is a former realtor, real-estate salesperson, associate broker and real-estate education instructor. He holds a master's degree in management and a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies.

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