Getting the Scoop on MEPS

MEPS Honolulu
U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Christopher J. Mahoney, left, director, Strategy and Plans Division, shakes hands with Marines attached to U.S. Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) Honolulu, Nov. 4, 2017. (Cpl. Hailey D. Clay/U.S. Marine Corps)

Officially, MEPS is the Military Entrance Processing Station, but nobody ever calls it that. Everyone calls it MEPS. MEPS is managed by the U.S. Army, but it's not owned by the Army. It's owned by the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security. MEPS' job is to ensure that you're mentally and physically eligible for military service, according to military regulations and federal law.

Other people who work at MEPS aren't actually a part of the MEPS command. These recruiting personnel are in charge of your actual enlistment process. They work directly for your service's recruiting command (just like your recruiter does), not for the folks at MEPS. They just share the same building as the MEPS folks, because the process works easier that way.

Getting the Medical OK

Another physical? Yes, but not to worry -- this one is much, much simpler than the physical you went through the last time you visited this puzzle palace. Like the last time, you will complete a bunch of medical history forms, and you'll see the MEPS doctor. However, this time, MEPS is concerned only about medical problems that have surfaced since your last visit to MEPS. You don't have to remember what childhood diseases you've had or the name of your doctor when you were in the third grade. All you have to do is remember what medical conditions you've had since your last visit, which was probably less than eight months ago.

Warning: If you have had a medical condition (especially a serious one) occur since your last MEPS visit, make sure that you tell your recruiter about it; don't surprise everyone by bring it up for the first time at MEPS. Many medical conditions require a waiver to be issued by the recruiting command, and this process can take several days. If you tell your recruiter in advance, then she can get the ball rolling, reducing the chance of any delays in getting to basic training.

Signing a New Contract

First, almost immediately upon arrival at MEPS, if you enlisted for full-time active duty, you'll be discharged from the military delayed enlistment program (DEP). Enjoy your first military discharge while it lasts (about 30 seconds!). You'll immediately sign a new enlistment contract, placing you on full-time active duty. If you enlisted in the Reserves or the National Guard, you don't have to be discharged and then enlist all over again.

If you're enlisting on active duty, this second enlistment contract is the one that counts. It doesn't matter a hill of beans if you were promised an enlistment bonus or a specific job in your DEP contract. The only contract that the military will honor is the final enlistment contract.

Warning: Make sure that your final enlistment contract includes everything the recruiter promised you. This contract is the one the military will enforce, not the DEP contract, and certainly not any verbal promises given by your recruiter. I should mention that this contract includes only the items that are special for your enlistment, such as enlistment rank, guaranteed assignment, enlistment period, guaranteed military job, extra college money or enlistment bonus. It does not include entitlements that are guaranteed under federal law, such as your military pay amount (it's based on rank), GI Bill education benefits, or shopping and medical benefits. Everyone in the military is entitled to these benefits, so they won't be in the contract.

From Basic Training for Dummies, copyright © 2011 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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