There are times when the grass of civilian life is always greener than your military days. Yet, when you get into the real world, you might decide that a military career is more up your alley and decide to want to rejoin the military.
Many prior service members become keen about re-enlisting. This is whether in a different branch or the same one they’re used to and it’s definitely possible. Especially with an honorable discharge, there are a few ways you can attempt to reenter the military.
But beware – it’s not an easy road.
In this article, we’ll go into the requirements in order to be eligible to rejoin the military, what Prior Service is, and what you can expect when starting the process.
Am I Eligible to Rejoin the Military?
When looking to join the military for a second time, it depends on a couple of things. The first is whether or not the branch you’re looking to join has a spot for your MOS or rating. Additionally, you’ll need to have a certain Military Reenlistment Eligibility Code (RE).
Your RE is found on your discharge documents, Form DD214 in the bottom section in boxes 24, 26, and 27. This lets you know whether you’re eligible, need a waiver, or are ineligible.
Box 24 states what type of discharge you received: honorable, other than honorable (OTH), bad conduct, or dishonorable. In general, an honorable discharge is the only type of discharge that you won’t need some kind of waiver for if looking to rejoin the military.
Box 26 contains the separation code associated with your discharge. These are three-letter codes that tell the reason for your discharge, some of which will prohibit you from rejoining the military, such as GKS, AWOL, GLF (drug use), and GMB (character or behavior disorder).
Box 27 includes your reentry code which will differ among different branches of the military. A reentry code of RE-1 is all clear for every branch but anything other than that may require a waiver or could make you ineligible for reenlistment.
Military RE Codes
Since each branch of the armed forces has different reentry codes with different rules, let’s break each of them down.
The Army has the simplest set for RE codes. In the Army, an RE code of RE-1 means you are eligible for reenlistment in all branches of the military without a problem. An RE-3 means you will have to get a waiver in order to reenlist. An Army RE code of RE-4 or RE-4R (retired) are ineligible for reentry into the military.
Still, highly trained Army veterans may be able to find work in the military as contractors.
The Navy and Coast Guard have a complicated series of RE codes. Same as in the Army, an RE-1 code means you’re definitely eligible to reenlist. However, the specifics get more complicated from there. For example, some RE-3 codes require a waiver while others are fully ineligible.
As many people know, the Air Force tends to be the most difficult branch of the armed services to join. Therefore, it makes sense that it’d also be more complicated to reenlist. If you have an RE-1 code, you’re all set but starting from RE-2 you could need a waiver or could possibly even be ineligible to reenter.
The Marines also have a more complex RE code system. In general though, if you have an A after the number like RE-2A, for example, you are qualified to reenlist. This is considering that you meet all the other necessary requirements.
As always, check with recruiting command for whichever branch you’re looking to reenter for the most up-to-date codes and whether or not you are eligible.
In-Processing and Prior Service
Many veterans assume that since they’ve served in the military before, it’ll be a breeze to get back in. Even if you find out you’re eligible for reenlistment, processing can actually be a lot more difficult the second time around.
The in-processing for those returning to active duty is a lot more involved than in-processing a brand-new recruit. Some people chalk it up to recruiters not wanting to deal with the extra paperwork, but in reality, it is more difficult to find a place for you when you have Prior Service.
It’s important to understand your prior service lengths because each branch actually has a quota which limits the number of prior service enlistments that they allow each year (including those in the National Guard and Reserves who want to enlist in active duty).
The definition of Prior Service (in terms of enlistment) is not streamlined among all branches of the military. So, let’s dive a little deeper into what each branch considers Prior Service.
The definition of Prior Service in the Army is one of two things:
- 180 days of service, or
- Those who have graduated from military job training (MOS/AFSC/Rating) regardless of time in service
Those who have not completed military job training are classified as Glossary Prior Service which is processed in the same way as enlistees without any prior service.
In the Air Force, Prior Service refers to persons who have served at least 24 months of active duty service regardless of regular component or continuous service in the armed forces.
Those who have served less than 24 months of active duty are defined as Previous Service and are processed in the same way as new recruits.
Navy and Marine Corps
The Navy refers to Prior Service as serving 180 consecutive days or more of active duty service. Those with less than 180 consecutive days of service are considered Non-Prior Service (NPS) applicants. NPS service members are still, however, required to obtain an RE code that allows them to reenter the military if they so choose.
As for the Marine Corps, Prior Service is defined as:
- Individuals who have successfully completed basic training or recruit training sponsored by the former branch in which they served, or
- Individuals who have failed to complete basic training or recruit training and who have been given a Form DD214 with a positive RE code, or
- Individuals who have fulfilled their military service obligation within a reserve component.
Of all the varied definitions of Prior Service, the Coast Guard definition is particularly vague. It is defined here as an individual who has served some valid period of creditable service in any branch of the armed forces, including reserve components.
Again, double check with your recruiting command to clarify where you stand in terms of Prior Service when attempting to rejoin the military.
Do I Have to Do Basic Training Again?
Another common question among veterans who are hoping to reenlist in the military is whether or not they’ll have to complete basic training or boot camp all over again.
The short answer is maybe. Especially if you’re going from one branch to another, there will likely be some sort of training that’s at least reminiscent of a boot camp or basic training. Here’s how it works.
For the Marine Corps, even if you have Prior Service, you’ll pretty much be required to go through Marine Boot Camp.
For the Army, former members of other branches (except for veterans of the Marines) will attend a four-week Warrior Transition Course at Fort Bliss. Marines will have to attend this course, however, if their break in service is more than three years.
For the Navy, it is a case by case decision that determines whether or not you’ll attend basic training based on your previous military experience.
For the Air Force, those with Prior Service will most likely attend a 10-day Air Force Familiarization Course but a few might need to complete Air Force basic training.
For the Coast Guard, those who have Prior Service in a non-Coast Guard branch with more than two years of active duty service will attend a 30-day training called Pit Stop. All others will need to complete the full Coast Guard basic training.
Checklist for Rejoining the Military
To conclude, if you’re looking to reenter the military, here’s a basic checklist you’ll need to complete in order to start the process.
- Determine your discharge status.
- Figure out your Military Reenlistment Eligibility Code (RE Code).
- Speak with a recruiter to understand what Prior Service you’ve completed based on the branch you wish to enter.
- Apply for necessary waivers.
- Apply for the MOS or job you hope to get in the military.
- Attend basic training or transition/familiarization course.
Your recruiting command will have the most up-to-date information regarding your attempt to rejoin the military and it can be a difficult, lengthy process.
In general, the Air Force is the most difficult service in which to reenlist. The Navy and Marine Corps do accept Prior Service members but in small numbers. Except for in the Army, you can expect waiting times for up to a year in order to reenter the military, so just keep that in mind.