You have spoken to the recruiter, you asked all of your questions, you chose your branch of service and now you are ready to enlist. After completing the required steps of the ASVAB, physical and background check, there is one more important step – signing the enlistment contract.
In all likelihood, you will not ship out on the day you sign your contract. Instead you will be given a future date that you will ship to basic training for your branch of service. Initially, you will sign a commitment contract that basically assigns you to inactive service until your ship date. You are not entitled to any pay or benefits under this contract. When you actually ship, you will sign your final enlistment contract, DD Form 4, Enlistment/Reenlistment Document – Armed Forces Of The United States. This is the one that counts.
If it isn’t in the contract, it doesn’t exist.
Read that statement very carefully. It doesn’t matter what the recruiter said, what the clerk at MEPS said or what someone else promised you would occur. It only matters what is stated in your contract.
Unless everything you were promised is in your enlistment contract, do not sign the document. Once you have signed, it is a done deal and there is very little that can be done to change it.
In fact, when you sign you acknowledge that the contract is the binding agreement and any promises made to you not included in the contract are invalid.
What should be in your contract?
It is important to note that not every part of your military service has to be spelled out in your contract.
There are certain benefits and incentives that are authorized by law and therefore do not have to be specified in the contract. This would include things such as the fact that you will receive base pay, be assigned housing and have access to medical care.
However, there are many other specifics that should be in your contract. Let’s review what you should look for before you sign (and please realize this is not a comprehensive list but the main components nearly everyone will have):
- Your job. The enlistment contract should clearly state your job or MOS. It should also include any additional schools you would like to attend, such as airborne. Be aware, for instance, that special operations will have certain language included in the contract if you want to pursue that career choice. For example, those who wish to be Rangers need an option 40 contract. Do not count on being able to volunteer at a later date. While it’s possible to volunteer, you are guaranteed the opportunity if it is in your contract.
- Education incentives. Depending on your own educational goals, you have several options for education incentives. This includes the Post 9/11 GI Bill, college loan repayment and a few other options. You may also be offered a college fund which is additional money on top of your GI Bill. This incentive is generally offered to those who are enlisting for jobs that have been hard to fill. .
- Enlistment bonus. An enlistment bonus is often a substantial sum of money that is offered to the enlistee upon completion of training. This can be based on the chosen MOS, additional training, contract length or a combination of these things. Bonuses can vary greatly from one month to the next and depend on the needs of the military. If you have been promised a bonus, make sure your contract includes the bonus amount. When you arrive at your first duty station, the finance office will not care what you were promised by your recruiter or MEPS coordinator. They will only care about what your contract states you are due to receive. It must be in your contract or it doesn’t exist.
*It is important to note that it is not up to your recruiter how much your enlistment bonus is. They do not have any control over the amount of the bonus so it isn’t something that you can negotiate with him. Choosing to serve for a longer amount of time or choosing a different MOS may change your bonus amount. But regardless of how much negotiating you do, the recruiter can’t increase your bonus. There are set amounts available based on your enlistment choices. With that said, always ask about everything that is available to you if an enlistment bonus is important. Sometimes very simple changes to your contract can result in significant changes to your signing bonus.
- Your enlistment period. Regardless of your contract period, you are committing to eight years of service in the military as long as you are not prior service. Even though it may only be three or four years of active duty, you will serve the remainder of the time on inactive status. During that time, you can be recalled to active duty at any time. Your contract will include language about the total eight year commitment as well as how many years you are committing to originally serving on active duty.
- Rank. If you are being promoted to a higher rank due to prior service or education credits, this should be stated in your contract.
- First duty station. Some recruits will request a certain duty station based on their MOS. They will make this as a condition of their enlistment. If it is possible to serve at this duty location, the military has the option to include this in the contract. However, know that it must be in the contract otherwise it is not valid. As a side note, the wish list in AKO is not the same thing and does not carry the same weight as being listed in the enlistment contract.
If you are unsure about signing the contract, take along someone else with you to review it before you sign. If possible, take along someone who is either in the military or has served in the past. This can help to ensure that you have everything included in your contract that has been promised to you. Be sure to read the contract in its entirety before you sign it.
And once again, if it isn’t in the contract, it doesn’t exist. This statement really can’t be said enough.