Joining the Military: What You Should Know Before Committing

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Oath of enlistment ceremony held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Newly enlisted members of the U.S. Armed Forces take the oath of enlistment during a joint service enlistment ceremony at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 19, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Barlow/U.S. Army Reserves)

Joining the military is a big commitment, not to be taken lightly. Most first-term enlistments require a commitment to four years active and two years inactive (Individual Ready Reserve, or IRR). But the services also offer programs with two-, three- and six-year active duty or reserve enlistments. It depends upon the service and the job you want.

1. Get it in writing

Upon enlisting, you sign an enlistment contract that determines your initial commitment, bonuses, job training guarantees and other incentives. Make sure it's right.

2. Training commitments

The military offers a variety of advanced training programs. Some of these programs require additional service commitments, which may run simultaneously with existing obligations. Some require additional active duty time.

3. Permanent Change of Station commitments

Moving is a part of military life, and it costs the government money. If you have served more than two years, a PCS move may require you to accept an additional service obligation. This usually can be done through an extension to your current enlistment.

4. Re-enlistment

You will have plenty of opportunities to extend your stay in the military. Services offer an additional bonus to people who re-enlist with high-demand skills. The re-enlistment commitment will vary with the size of the bonus.

5. Officer commitments

Like all other commitments, they vary. A standard commitment for service academy graduates who do not receive rated follow-on training is five years. Graduates who accept pilot training are committed to active duty for nine years. ROTC also generally requires a five-year payback while other active-duty commissioning programs usually require a minimum of three years.

6. Getting out of your commitment

Getting out of a contract is difficult. The degree of difficulty varies with the needs of the nation and the availability of talent in your chosen career field. Simply put, plan on fulfilling your commitment.

7. Commitment phobia

You can serve your country without making any full-time commitment and receive many of the same benefits. In the Reserves and National Guard, your obligation is generally one weekend a month, plus two weeks of active duty a year.

The Army Guard and Air National Guard offer the "Try-One" enlistment option to active duty veterans and all prior service individuals who are joining the Guard for the first time. This program lets you try the Guard for one year without additional commitment.

Interested in Joining the Military?

We can put you in touch with recruiters from the different military branches. Learn about the benefits of serving your country, paying for school, military career paths, and more: sign up now and hear from a recruiter near you.

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