How to Get Out of the U.S. Military

Leaving the service with an honorable discharge can open new doors.
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There are several ways to get out of the U.S. military. You can fulfill your contract, retire or, if approved, exit the service through unplanned discharges due to unexpected life events or the inability to complete your military obligation. In the worst cases, the U.S. military can forcibly remove you due to misconduct or failure to adapt. Most of the time, your performance will decide the type of discharge you receive.

1 Going The Distance

One way to leave the military is to complete your service requirement. Enlisted soldiers sign up for a specific number of years under an enlistment contract. After you fulfill your obligation, you can reenlist. If you don't reenlist, then you will separate from the service. Officers, however, join for an indefinite amount of time. As an officer, you can resign your commission at your discretion given no current policies exist ordering the halt of exiting soldiers. However, you must first serve eight years.

2 Entry Level Separation

If you've served less than 180 days and can't adjust to military life, contact your commander. If he agrees you're not a good fit, you might get an entry-level discharge, which carries no discharge classification. You won't be considered honorably or dishonorably discharged. The Army believes the entry-level discharge is a "way out" for some, and that employers probably won't view it negatively. However, some employers may consider a failure-to-adapt discharge as a clue to a bigger problem. If questioned, briefly state you weren't a good fit, then expound on why you're an excellent fit for the position you want. If you're an officer, you're considered probationary for the first five years of service. If you're separated for poor performance void of misconduct, you'll receive an honorable discharge. If you've passed five years, you can resign in lieu of termination. Warrant officers are considered probationary for the first three years.

3 Medical Discharge

Report all medical issues to your chain of command. In some cases the military will discharge you if the condition, mental or physical, prohibits you from doing your job. You can either be medically separated or medically retired, depending on the severity of the condition. If you're classified as medically retired, you will keep retirement benefits and receive a monthly retirement check. If a physician diagnoses you with a medical condition that precludes your ability to perform your duties, you will be evaluated by a medical evaluation board to determine your fitness for duty.

4 Bad Behavior

Depending on the crime, an enlisted soldier found guilty in a court martial proceeding can receive a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge. An officer found guilty will receive neither. However, if punishment warrants separation, the military will dismiss him from service. Separation proceedings occur after completion of prison time, if applicable. The dishonorable discharge is considered the highest punitive discharge and is usually reserved for those committing serious crimes such as rape and murder.

5 Requesting Voluntary Discharge

You can request an administrative discharge due to an unexpected life event. For example, the military might approve a hardship discharge if your duties inhibit caring for an ill family member. For enlisted soldiers, requests for separations due to pregnancy are automatically approved. If the pregnant soldier is an entry-level recruit, she will receive an entry-level discharge. An officer's request for discharge due to pregnancy can be denied.

6 Considerations

Successfully fulfilling your contract allows you to receive an honorable discharge. If you separate earlier for reasons other than misconduct, you will receive either an honorable or general discharge under honorable conditions. You might receive an other than honorable discharge if you're administratively separated for less-than-perfect conduct. Procedures for separation can vary with each service, but all follow the same types of discharges.

Michelle Dwyer is a U.S. Army veteran writing fiction and nonfiction since 2003. She specializes in business, careers, leadership, military affairs and organizational change and behavior. Dwyer received an MBA from Tarleton State University/Texas A&M Central Texas and an MFA in creative writing from National University in La Jolla, Calif.