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What is Delayed Enlistment?

By Amanda R. Bell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Delayed enlistment, often referred to as the delayed entry program (DEP), is a program utilized by the U.S. military to prepare new recruits for service; it provides a set amount of time between enlisting and actually reporting for duty. Those considering joining the military often use delayed enlistment to hold their spot in training, while giving them time to gradually adjust to military life. In some cases, delayed enlistment provides recruits with the opportunity of backing out before they are completely under contract with the U.S. government.

In the U.S., the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force provide recruits with the option to delay their enlistment. Those planning to delay entry into the military often take their testing and schedule their report date for boot camp. The delayed entry program can provide recruits with up to one year between signing the required paperwork and when they have to report for duty.

During the delayed entry program, those enlisting in the military often begin physical training to prepare themselves for boot camp. For those who do not quite meet the physical requirements for military service, recruiters often set up training schedules during the delayed entry program to help the recruit reach the physical fitness requirements before entering boot camp. If the requirements are not met, the contract between the recruit and military is typically terminated.

There is often a wait time of several months to enter boot camp. As a result, most people enlisting in the military partake in delayed enlistment for at least one or two months before boot camp; it is rare for a person to sign paperwork and leave immediately for training. Those who wish to hold their place for a specific time, especially recruits planning on enlisting right out of high school, often join the DEP to ensure they can report to duty at the right time for them.

As the majority of people joining the military are young, delayed enlistment offers them and their families the opportunity to attend military functions in their area and get used to the idea of serving in the armed forces. The DEP can also provide new recruits with the opportunity to travel or visit family before reporting for duty. Although delayed enlistment is a contract, those who change their mind during the waiting period can often get out of enlisting.

Once reporting for duty, recruits are required to serve for their full contract unless otherwise decided by the government or the military branch they serve. While those participating in delayed enlistment are also technically required to hold true to their word, there is an option to get out of enlisting. Recruits that change their mind typically have to write a letter to their commanding officer (CO) detailing why they are no longer able to meet their commitment. In the majority of cases, the military allows people to get out of their contract; the military is not, however, required to do so. Delayed enlistment is still technically considered enlisting in the military and not reporting to duty can result in prosecution.

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