Can you quit the military? This is an important question to ask before you ship out to Basic Training, but it is also relevant in a variety of other contexts, too. For example, what if you decide the military is not for you, but you still have time left on a service commitment? Can you simply turn in notice that you’re departing and quit like you would any other job?
Quitting The Military: Some Basics
When you sign on the dotted line and ship out to basic training, officer candidate school, etc. you have signed a legally binding contract that obligates the military to certain things–your training, travel, pay, housing, and other details. The contract also requires certain things from the recruit including a basic term of service and the conditions of that military service.
Because you are signing a legally binding contract, it is not possible to simply turn in two weeks’ notice and be on your way. Leaving the military in such a manner is not possible. That said, there are important circumstances where it IS possible to leave the military. Especially if you have not finished basic training yet.
Until a new recruit takes the Oath of Enlistment at MEPS, they are not considered to be truly available for duty. That is one loophole that those shipping out to MEPS and basic training are typically unaware of. Did you get all the way through the recruitment process and to MEPS only to get cold feet at the last moment and change your mind?
If you have NOT been to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) and have NOT taken an Oath of Enlistment, you are free to quit the process at any time. Just because you arrive at MEPS does not mean you are fully committed with no chance of deciding not to commit after all.
It is considered professional courtesy to inform a recruiter as early as you possibly can to let them know you are changing your mind. Don’t make the mistake of burning your bridges with a local recruiter–what happens if you change your mind at a later time? Be professional as possible when trying to withdraw in this context.
What Happens After You Take The Oath Of Enlistment
If you have taken the Oath of Enlistment and have shipped out to basic training, you still haven’t fully committed…yet.
In this situation, you are a lot closer to being fully committed legally and physically to being in the military. That said, until you formally graduate from basic training, you may still receive a no-fault, entry-level military separation if you decide you don’t want to be in the military.
Getting out at this stage won’t be as easy as not shipping out at all–your training instructors are supposed help people work out temporary bouts of cold feet or hesitancy during initial training.
Those who decide they want out of boot camp may be required to wait out a certain period of time, often used to determine if you truly aren’t right for military service. It’s not always the case–some just have a more difficult transition into the training environment than others.
Anyone who departs the military prior to graduation from boot camp will be processed as an entry-level separation as mentioned above. What does this mean? You are NOT considered a veteran and you are not eligible for veteran’s benefits like the GI Bill. You would be required to finish basic training, complete any additional advanced training required, and accept your first military duty assignment before being eligible for such benefits as the GI Bill, VA home loans, etc.
At Your First Duty Station
Once you have completed basic training and report to your first duty station, you are officially serving in the United States Military. There are few, if any opportunities for an entry-level separation at this stage, and you are required to meet the terms of your enlistment contract or commission.
There are few provisions for early outs, quitting, or abbreviated tours unless the Defense Department decides it is in their best interest to let you go before your original commitment ends. What Are the options for someone who has graduated and is currently serving who wants to quit the military?
Administrative Separation is one option. This is usually initiated when a service member is deemed unable to adapt to military life. An Administrative Separation, also referred to as an “admin sep” can be approved by a chain of command in some cases. This process may be used as an alternative to punishment via the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Captain’s Mast, non-judicial punishment, etc.
Admin seps can be used against those who don’t manage their military travel credit card accounts as required, for failing to meet fitness or training standards, etc.
In some instances, Breach of Contract makes the military choose to separate a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine if there was deception used by the recruit when being screened by a recruiter.
Good examples of breach of contract include situations where the applicant concealed past legal trouble, drug experimentation, and even lying about not having dependents.
Medical and Hardship Discharges
Some are discharged because they are deemed medically unfit for military service (mentally or physically). This may not necessarily be punitive (in many cases it is definitely not punitive) and is an “early out” option that is not instantly associated with punishment, change of mind, failure to adapt to a military environment.
It is possible to apply for a hardship discharge and quit the military early if approved. There are situations where hardship is considered–especially when a family has only one surviving son or daughter–in such cases that sole surviving dependent may, as a member of the military, be offered special consideration.
A hardship discharge may be approved depending on the branch of service and the circumstances involved.
It is possible to apply for an early out of military service in cases where applicants are bona fide conscientious objectors. It is not easy, nor is it designed to be. DoD regulations insist that anyone applying for this status prove that they have had a genuine change in their thinking about military service and that the current state of mind of the applicant is not subject to change.
Being a conscientious objector is not an automatic early out. Some are assigned light duty in the interim; you may have to continue serving in a capacity that does not violate your objections. Your case will be reviewed in the meantime, but do not expect this review to begin or end swiftly.
DoD instruction 1300.6 addresses this issue clearly:
“An individual who desires to choose the war in which he or she will participate is not a Conscientious Objector under the law. The individual’s objection must be to all wars rather than a specific war.”
Furthermore, service members “may be granted an administrative separation, or restriction of military duties, due to conscientious objection before completing his or her obligated term of service” but this will be based “on the Service member’s respective Military Department’s judgment of the facts and circumstances in the case”.
Guard Or Reserve Duty
Some feel the need to quit the military early because they want to change the nature of their military service from active duty to Guard or Reserve status. In such cases, it is not uncommon for a command or unit to permit a soldier to do so, but much depends on mission needs, staffing requirements, and other variables.
Your command support staff may or may not be able to support such a move; many such successful transitions happen in peacetime or in times of reduced conflict. Each branch of military service has its own rules for this process, you will need to talk to a Guard/Reserve recruiter about current options and requirements.