There are many reasons people want to rejoin the military after they’re discharged. Some miss the camaraderie and benefits of the work they did with their brothers in arms, while others may want to re-enlist because of the financial and insurance benefits. No matter the reason, it can be harder than most people think when it comes to getting back in. You can’t simply fill out an application like you did before and expect to start where you left off (in most cases). You may even have to go back into basic training. We’re going to offer a bit of insight that may help if you want to reenlist in the military, so you know what to expect.
Re-Entry (RE) Codes
Re-Entry, or Re-enlistment codes, play a huge part in whether you’re eligible to get back into the military. Every soldier will get a DD-214 when they are discharged from the military. For the Army, having a re-entry code of RE-1 (or any of the variants) are able to rejoin the military without any special conditions, whereas an RE-2 may be ineligible unless certain qualifications are met first. RE-3 codes generally mean they require a waiver dependent on the separation code that was given to them (we’ll get to that soon) when they were discharged. The RE code is a big factor in how much trouble you will have getting back in, and whether you can qualify for prior service. Sometimes an RE-2 condition may require you to go through basic training again, lose weight, or retake the ASVAB test (and score higher). This also depends on what branch of service you want to get into.
Separation Codes Matter Too
One thing many recruiters won’t tell you is how your separation code matters in terms of what hoops you’ll have to jump through. The separation code is a list which tells your recruiter what they’re going to have to prove to get you back into the military. Many times, a separation code will affect whether or not your recruiter is going to pursue your case. These separation codes go hand in hand with your RE code to determine your eligibility, as well as how easy it will be for you to get a waiver if needed. For example, if you get a JFV Separation code (physical condition, not a disability interfering with performance of duty), with an RE-3 re-entry code, you will need a General Surgeon’s waiver, and more than likely, you will have to see a slew of specialists in order to ensure that your condition is repaired or fixed and will pose no problem for you in terms of your job function.
The downside to this is that many recruiters won’t want to do the intense amount of paperwork involved in getting you back in when it is much easier to take on new recruits. There are some out there that specialize in getting soldiers back in and will jump through any hoops, and those are the recruiters you want. If your current recruiter is giving you the runaround, try going for another recruiter, or even join a different branch of service if possible.
What is Required to Re-enlist (Aside from RE Codes)
Despite the re-entry code, your type of discharge (Honorable, Other than Honorable, Bad Conduct, or Dishonorable) will greatly impact whether you’ll be able to get back in as well. There are special prior service placements that you’ll need to consider as it also depends on whether the branch of service you’re trying to join has a position to fill that you can go into.
For example, the Army in recent years (from 2011-2018) primarily has positions to fill in Special Forces, which is an exceptional job. However, requirements are extremely tough for this branch, and if you were in a previous branch of military, or a different MOS (military occupation specialty), then you’re probably going to have to do basic training again, as well as complete Special Forces training. If you do not have to do basic training, you’ll still have to endure their Special Forces training course. Other branches of service may have different jobs available, but many are similar to this.
There are also age requirements when it comes to prior service, just like there are for new recruit enlistments, even though the age for prior service is often higher than joining the military for the first time. The age limits for prior service to join (and all other recruits) is as follows:
- Army: 35
- Navy: 35
- Marines: 35
- Air Force: 39
What About Basic Training?
When you want to re-enlist, in order to get prior service, you must have 6-months of post basic-training experience at minimum. You may have to go back to basic training even if you do have 180 days in the military if you were still in AIT or ADT. The branch you’re entering can also determine whether or not you’re going to do basic training again. Many military branches also consider the time you have spent away from service as a factor (even though many won’t tell you this).
With the Marines, you’re more than likely going to have to go through Boot Camp again, especially if you’re transferring from another branch. In the Army, other branch members (except for the Marine Corps) will have to attend a special course. Marines will only have to do the course if they have spent more than three years out of service. The Navy requires that basic training is literally a case-by-case basis, and if someone’s joining the Air Force with prior service, most soldiers will attend a familiarization course, although some of the soldiers will have to go through basic training again anyway.
The Coast Guard is a special case in which a non-Coast Guard branch that has served 2 or more years of active duty service will only have to go to a 30-day basic camp, while anyone else with less than two years will have to do the full training course.
Who Can’t Re-Enlist?
As we’ve mentioned above when it comes to the requirements, there are special exceptions when you receive honorable discharge from a military service branch. However, when it comes to most branches there are things to know. If you fall under one of these categories, there’s a good chance you may not get back into the military. Keep in mind, some of these conditions may occur while you were in service the first time, or after you got out, but they may still disqualify you:
- Mental conditions – PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression
- Any discharge other than those labeled “Honorable”
- Gastric or congenital conditions
- Severe dental problems (and braces)
- Bad hearing or ear problems
- Diabetes (even gout)
- Limitations of motion in hands, knees, arms, and legs
- Heart conditions which may pose a threat to your health
- Severe vision loss
- Kidney or urethral problems
- Height issues (being too short or too tall)
- Weight and body build issues (body mass can be a problem, especially body fat percentage)
- Severe medical lung conditions
- Severe allergies
- Spinal problems
This list could go on, but these are some common topics that may hinder your re-enlistment.
Be Squared Away
If you want to re-enlist, perform a good checklist to make sure all your paperwork is what the military calls “squared away.” Talk to a recruiter, make sure you can perform the jobs they have available, and be sure that you won’t require too much paperwork or waiver bending and you should be fine.
Justin Williams is a certified Microsoft Specialist and U.S. Army Veteran. Serving in 2008, he was a Multichannel Transmission Systems Operator with the 15th Signal Brigade. After an Honorable Discharge, he struggled to get access to military benefits for service-related injuries. Justin has committed to helping other veterans navigate the system and get the most out of their hard-earned veteran status.
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