What are Military Delayed Entry programs or DEP? For those who consider careers in the military but are too young to qualify, or who are old enough to qualify but don’t yet meet certain standards (physical, education, etc.) the Delayed Entry Program of their chosen branch of military service may provide a way into the military experience while the applicant is still trying to meet the requirements for enlistment.
Each branch of the United States military has a delayed entry program, which may be referred to casually as a delayed enlistment program, or depending on the branch of service there may be a specific “branding” type name; the Navy’s Future Sailors program is one as well as the Army’s Future Soldiers program.
The Department of Defense Approach To Delayed Enlistment
In general, the DoD philosophy toward delayed enlistment programs includes two basics; the individual services are tasked with developing their own programs, but certain guidelines inform them.
For example, there are strict rules that govern how recruiters can approach high-school age potential recruits. Army regulations expressly forbid recruiters from coercing high school students who thought they wanted to join a delayed entry program but later change their minds.
Recruiters may be able to help someone who isn’t of legal age to commit to a military career by entering them into DEP, but those who decide to back out cannot legally be forced or intimidated into doing so.
Delayed enlistment policies respect the all-volunteer nature of the U.S. armed forces, and while this is no guarantee that an individual recruiter might not try to use pressure tactics to get an uncertain teenager to change their mind it DOES mean that parents and potential recruits alike have recourse with the chain of command should that actually occur in violation of the rules.
When you sign up for DEP, you have committed to ship out to boot camp on or by a certain date. You have signed legally binding documents that commit you to basic training, but until you actually graduate from basic training or boot camp, you have the option to change your mind at any time.
The chain of command does not make it hassle-free to quit (from their perspective the time and effort invested in you requires them to try to talk you into staying if they can up to a certain point) but as long as you haven’t graduated from boot camp, you do have the ability to change your mind.
DEPers Are Not Yet Military Members
When entering DEP you are NOT yet on active duty, you are not yet an official member of the uniformed services but ARE considered a member of the Inactive Reserve. Military enlistees are considered in trainee status, which is why you can change your mind about serving prior to graduation day at basic training.
As mentioned above, the specific procedures for getting into a delayed enlistment program will depend on the branch of service you are joining. If you have not talked with a recruiter yet it’s entirely possible that you might need to consider DEP in some cases but you may not have to bother with it in others. The following circumstances are important factors in whether or not DEP is required for you:
- You aren’t old enough to make a legally binding commitment to the military yet
- You have not graduated high school yet
- You did you graduate high school and are currently working on a GED or similar alternative
- You do not yet meet weight standards or fitness standards to enter basic training
- You wish to commit to the military but cannot ship out to basic training as soon as you would like
- You have commitments (legal or otherwise) that may require you to set a later date for boot camp. These commitments can include college classes, changes in family status (weddings, divorces, childbirth, etc.) and other variables
- You meet the qualifications to enter military service but the job you want is not yet available
Entering into a delayed entry or delayed enlistment requires you to first meet with a recruiter and begin the basic screening and interview process for enlistment. You will have meetings with your recruiter before you are asked to commit to DEP.
You are not automatically enrolled in DEP, and you are not obligated to any military service simply for discussing DEP-related matters with the recruiter. Once you have committed in writing to a delayed entry program you will have an official first meeting with your recruiter as a newcomer to DEP.
Those who sign up for these programs are sometimes referred to as “DEPers” and you may, depending on circumstances, be asked to assist your recruiter as part of your DEP commitment. You may even be asked to refer others who might be interested in joining; those who do so may earn recognition from the recruiting command for performance-based results in areas like these.
DEP Regulations and Processing
DEP rules and procedures are always subject to change depending on current guidance, federal law, mission requirements, etc. By the very nature of these programs, what you find printed about them online is likely not the entire picture due to such variables. You’ll need to ask a recruiter what the most up-to-date features of the program are to be fully informed. Not every branch of the service publishes (for public consumption) the same level of details about their delayed entry policies; ask a recruiter in any case.
The Army Future Soldiers Program
Those who commit to a delayed entry program with the Army are provided with an orientation program that includes a welcome kit, review of the enlistee’s commitments to the program and to basic training plus job assignments and other important details. But those interested in this program have some commitments to make.
One such commitment is acknowledging the restrictions on DEP enrollees required when you sign up for DEP and fill out DD form 2983, Recruit/Trainee Prohibited Activities Acknowledgment. Army Future Soldiers/DEPers will create a GoArmy account and access training modules provided on that portal. The recruiter will also discuss with DEPers:
- The importance of maintaining mental, physical, and moral eligibility
- Requirements for and scheduling of an Occupational Physical Assessment Test or OPAT
- A requirement for Future Soldier to contact the recruiter every 2 weeks
- A requirement to hold one office meeting with the Future Soldier monthly
- Discuss Future Soldier training schedules
- Discuss basic training requirements, packing lists, etc.
In most cases, recruits may be in delayed entry status as a Future Soldier for a few months to as long as one year. In general, you may not be on DEP status for more than 365 days. DEP enlistees can expect to participate in Army fitness programs while they wait to ship out.
Navy Future Sailors Delayed Entry Program Personnel
Navy literature for the families of those entering the Future Sailors program are informed that new recruits are “considered Navy Future Sailors from the time they contract until they report to their first permanent duty station.”
In this DEP program, recruits “may qualify for recognition if, during a rolling 12-month period, they refer the required number of applicants to a Navy recruiter” and those referrals turn into signed contracts.
The U.S. Navy says of this process, “The Navy needs good leaders at all levels. Even as a recruit you will have the opportunity to step up and take a leadership role as a Recruit Petty Officer or other designated recruit job.” The purpose of putting DEPers into these roles? The Navy official site, when addressing delayed entry, reminds, “Leadership is the practical application of the Navy’s Core Values.”
The Navy’s Delayed Entry Program, like the others, places an emphasis on preparing the recruits for basic training. In this case it’s via something called the Navy START Guide which all DEP enrollees are required to become familiar with. START includes information on basic chain of command issues, military expectations, what to bring to boot camp, etc. Following review of the START Guide these DEP enrollees are entered into a 72-hour orientation process.
Like the Army, Navy enlistees who are in DEP status may remain so for a few months up to a full year or 365 days total.
Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program
The Marine Corps official site for recruiting has some of the clearest and most easily discoverable information about DEP. The Marine Corps approach to DEP is to allow as much as 410 days (under certain circumstances, 365 days is the typical maximum) of delay with the express intent of that time being used for the recruit to graduate from high school or college, or “generally get your affairs in order” before basic training.
Features of the DEP program as described on the Marine Corps official site include:
- Earn a “guaranteed program in writing”
- Earn the opportunity for accelerated promotion as part of the program
- The Marine Corps “Buddy Program” which allows recruits to ship out to basic training with a friend
- The Marine Corps Recruiter is responsible for providing DEPers with “mentorship, guidance and support, while ensuring you are prepared for the rigors of recruit training”
- The Marine official site advises those interested in delayed entry, “You will participate in a strenuous physical regimen, to prepare you and your fellow poolees for the recruit training battles ahead”
- DEPers must take the “the Initial Strength Test” which is the Marine Corps comprehensive physical test “that you must eventually pass to begin recruit training”
Air Force Delayed Entry Program
The Air Force official site is a bit more succinct about the details of its delayed entry program and it’s also one of the few services to directly address using DEP to enter the military once a specific desired job becomes available. The Air Force official site states that DEP, “allows you to complete your application to the Air Force and reserve your Air Force job before an assignment is available.”
When enrolled in Air Force DEP, the general requirements are to stay in touch with the recruiter on a weekly basis, perform self-paced or self-directed physical fitness programs, and observe the basic rules of conduct for being in the program. Some Air Force recruiting units may or may not have organized fitness activities for their recruits; much depends on where you sign up, the proximity of the recruiter, etc.
Coast Guard Delayed Entry Program
Of all the military branches of service, the United States Coast Guard has the smallest amount of information on Delayed Entry options published online. Basically, when signing up for the Coast Guard you have the option of shipping out to basic training at the earliest available time or entering into the DEP program for up to 12 months in order to get personal affairs in order, graduate, etc.
If you need additional information on the Coast Guard’s policies for delayed entry, it’s best to speak to a recruiter.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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