Joining the military is a big commitment - by both you and the military. This commitment is not to be taken lightly. Most first-term enlistments require a commitment to four years active and two years inactive (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 that you want.
1. Get it in writing. Upon enlisting you sign an enlistment contract. This contract 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. Some commitments run simultaneously with existing commitments; some require additional active duty time.
3. Permanent Change of Station commitments. You will move in the military. It's part of military life. Moving a servicemember 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 can usually 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 also 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 amount of difficulty varies with the needs of the nation and the availability of talent in your chosen career field. Simply put - you should plan on fulfilling any commitment you make.
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.
Bonus Tip: the one-year trial plan. Both 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.
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