Not too often, but often enough, young members of the military find themselves wanting to get out of the military before their commitment is over. It is not uncommon at all during boot camp or basic training to want to go home, as many young teen-aged recruits miss their civilian life, family, and friends. There is no easy answer to the basic question since much depends on when and why you want to quit.
1. Seeking Early Separation From the Military
Unfortunately, there is no one easy way to get out of the military before your service is complete. Once sworn in at basic training, getting discharged once you are on active duty before your active duty commitment is up is no easy task. Joining the military is not like accepting any other job. When you sign a contract, you take an oath, you are legally (and morally) obligated to complete the terms of the contract, even if you don't like it. While "quitting" isn't an option, there are some ways you can be discharged from active duty, but they are rarely voluntary.
It's especially important to note that early separation or discharge from the military is different from military retirement and even disability or medical separations. A military discharge means that you are being released from your obligation to continue service in the armed forces and that you are relieved from any future military service obligations or recalls. Once again, these early discharges are rare.
2. Getting Out Of The Military Due To Depression
If a soldier is experiencing depression and is unable to perform their duties, they may be eligible for a psychological discharge. This decision is made by an army psychiatrist using the soldier's records and personal information. An honorable discharge may be granted if their records are favorable.
Types of depression that qualify for a medical discharge for depression:
Major Depressive Disorder (Disqualifying)
Persistent Depressive Disorder (Disqualifying)
Atypical Depression (Possibly Disqualifying)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (Likely Not Disqualifying)
Postpartum Depression (Likely Not Disqualifying)
Situational Depression (Likely Not Disqualifying)
3. Before And During Basic Training
Here’s a secret your recruiter won’t tell you. Until a new recruit takes the Oath of Enlistment at MEPS, they aren’t officially “in the military” in spite of the legally binding paperwork you sign. You have signed a contract, yes. But there are rules that provide for letting you go if you are not a good fit or fail to adapt to a military environment.
If you went through all the motions of signing up for a military service only to decide it is not right for you and 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.
It’s best to give your recruiter a courtesy call to let them know of your decision as early as possible. There is more than one reason for that, but for the new recruit it doesn’t pay to alienate the recruiter JUST IN CASE that recruit changes her mind later and decides to push ahead with the enlistment or commissioning. Being courteous and professional pays in these situations.
If you HAVE taken the Oath of Enlistment and have shipped out to basic training, you still haven’t fully committed to military service yet. You’re a lot closer to doing so, but until you formally graduate from basic training, you may still receive a type of “no-fault” military separation if you decide you don’t want to be in the military.
4. Getting Out During Boot Camp
These types of procedures are not easy–the drill instructors are trained to help people through temporary bouts of cold feet in basic training and you may be required to wait out a certain period where the training instructors try to determine if you truly aren’t right for military service or you’re just having a rough transition into the training environment.
But at the end of the day, you can quit military service without graduating from boot camp and go back home like nothing happened. The caveat here is that those who choose this route are NOT veterans, do not qualify for veteran benefits, and are not viewed to have served at all.
This has been a consistent feature of “early outs” from basic training for many decades. Remember, those who do not complete basic training can never be viewed as service members, prior military service members for purposes of going into the Guard or Reserve, etc.
5. After You Report To Your First Duty Station And Beyond
Once you have completed basic training and report to your first duty station, you are officially serving in the United States Military. You have signed a legally binding contract obligating you to fulfil the terms of that contract and there are no 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 date of retirement or separation.
That said, there are provisions for certain special circumstances that may give some the alternative they are looking for when it comes to getting out of the military early or quitting the military.
6. Administrative Separation
Administrative Separation is one of those–those who are in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, etc. and who cannot adapt to military life may be offered (or required to take) Administrative Separation (AKA “admin sep”) instead of being forced to complete the entire term of enlistment. An Admin Sep is not easy to get and is often used as an alternative to punishment via the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Captain’s Mast, non-judicial punishment, etc.
You could be given an administrative separation for failure to manage your military travel credit card properly, for not meeting initial physical fitness standards at your first duty station, failure to successfully complete professional military education, etc.
And admin sep is not automatically punitive, but many of the circumstances that require one make them seem punitive.
7. Breach Of Contract
In some instances, certain facts come to light about a soldier’s enlistment (and this is true no matter which branch of the military you serve in) that requires your command support staff to take a second look at the conditions of your enlistment.
You can be involuntarily separated for breach of contract–and what that often means for some recruits is that a lie they told the recruiter during the screening process is revealed to be just that–a lie. If you concealed past legal entanglements, drug use, or lied about having or not having dependents, these issues could all result in a determination of breach of contract that can lead to the recruit being involuntarily separated.
8. Sole Surviving Son or Daughter Military Discharge
Except during times of war or national emergency, you can request a discharge if you are a "sole surviving son or daughter." The most important thing to note about this discharge opportunity is who qualifies as a sole surviving child. Being an only child, or the only child born to your parents, doesn't qualify you for this status. Neither does being the only child because of a civilian sibling death. It only applies to a sibling who dies in service of his/her country as a military member.
9. Involuntary Discharges
While in most cases you cannot simply quit the military, the military services can certainly kick you out if you fail to measure up to their standards. Being released from military service by involuntary discharge is neither fast nor pleasant. In most cases, your commander must show "rehabilitative measures" have been taken before he or she can impose an involuntary discharge and that can mean Nonjudicial Punishment or Article 15, which can result in loss of stripes, loss of pay, restrictions, extra duties, and correctional custody before you are officially discharged. If you think you dislike the military before trying to get kicked out, try being a soldier who fails at everything and causes nothing but trouble for the chain of command.
There are several reasons that you could be processed for involuntary discharge. Those include, but are not limited to:
Failing Weight and Fitness Requirements
Illegal Drug Use
These are just some of the ways to get kicked out, but all will yield an "Other Than Honorable" or even "Dishonorable" discharge, which can have consequences for the rest of your life with future jobs and other freedoms. Don't go down this route.
10. Medically Unfit For Duty
Some are discharged because they are deemed mentally or physically unfit for duty. Like some of the other instances where there’s a decision to separate a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine from duty, this is not always punitive. In fact, far from it in many cases–but if the DoD chooses to let you go due to a medical issue (physical or mental) this is one early out option that does not carry the stigma of punishment, change of mind, failure to adapt, etc.
One common medical separation? Asthma. Some develop it later in life, others had it as a child and it “went away” only to recur later. Asthma isn’t the only condition that can lead to a medical discharge, but it’s a good example of something that may seem benign to the sufferer (as much as any medical condition can seem “benign”) but that the military has a particular issue with in terms of your being fit for duty.
11. Hardship Discharges
In some limited cases the military may approve a servicemember’s request for an early out due to family hardship. A sole surviving son or daughter may be given special consideration in this way, and there are other scenarios that may warrant a hardship discharge depending on the branch of service and the circumstances involved.
12. Conscientious Objection
While it is true that those who decide they are conscientious objectors after serving some of their enlistment or commission, getting out early as one is NOT easy.
The military places the burden of proof on the servicemember to show a real shift in thinking toward pacifism, or whatever objection is stated as the reason to get out of the remainder of a military contract. Some don’t understand that announcing a conscientious objection is not a golden ticket to an early out–you could be placed on light duty in the interim and be required to continue serving in uniform while your application is (slowly) reviewed and judged on its merits.
Don’t count on this process going quickly or to your liking–the road to an early out as a conscientious objector is NOT easy for anyone who wants to try.
DoD instruction 1300.6 addresses conscientious objectors directly, stating:
“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.”
The same DoD instruction adds, “A Service member 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.”
Furthermore, the beliefs leading to the objection to military service must have developed the objection AFTER joining–those who felt objections at enlistment time would not be eligible.
Some (and certainly not ALL) branches of military service may, depending on current guidance and other regulations, have a provision for early separation of a military member because they lack enough “retainability” to accept a new military assignment.
This retainability issue is one that is not consistently applicable but usually comes into play when a branch of military service is downsizing. The retainability issue can be used as a force shaping tool, giving military personnel planners the option to “early out” people who meet certain criteria.
In this particular case, if a military member is about to get a new assignment but does not have enough time left in the current enlistment to accept it, there may be a decision to make. The soldier can either re-enlist and solve the retainability problem OR refuse to re-enlist in which case (depending on circumstances, mission requirements, and other variables) the servicemember may be unprocessed immediately at the end of the current assignment.
14. Pregnancy Discharges
In the past, a female member of the military who became pregnant during active duty could request military separation and get it almost automatically. But today, women play a much larger role in the military than ever before, and the rules surrounding discharge for pregnancy have changed as a result. In short, pregnancy alone is no longer a reason for military discharge. While different branches of the military handle pregnancy differently, all are required to offer maternity leave.
15. Joining The Guard Or Reserve
In times when recruiting and retainability are not critical issues for the Department of Defense, your branch of service may permit you to get out of your current military contract early for the purposes of joining the Guard or Reserve. This is NOT a given, and much depends on the needs of the DoD. You will be permitted to do this at the convenience of the government and there will be service-specific procedures to follow in order to make the switch.