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How to Get Out of the Military Early (Hint: You Can’t)

We’ll keep this short and sweet: ain’t no such thing as an easy way out of the military. 

Here in the US, when you join our armed forces, you’re taking a sacred oath, sort of like when you get married. (Without in-laws, of course—unless you count Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty.) 

And if the words “sacred” and “oath” don’t communicate the intensity of this bond clearly enough, suffice it to say that a military career is a serious commitment, one that you can’t simply walk out on at the drop of a hat. 

Nevertheless, if you’re interested in how to get out of the military early—and on good terms—there are several different routes available that don’t entail going AWOL or getting a dishonorable discharge, some of which may be applicable to your unique situation. 

Let’s check them out, shall we? 

Getting a degree 

If you’re planning to pursue a degree, and you’re within three months of your military separation date (another term for your “Expiration of Term of Service,” or ETS—the date upon which you can be discharged from active duty), then you may be eligible for early release. 

This is contingent upon several different factors, including: 

  • Which branch of the military you’re in 
  • What type of degree you’re pursuing 
  • Whether or not your request falls within 90 days of your ETS 

Depending on the factors outlined above, you could—emphasis on “could”—qualify. 

But bear in mind that Army and Marine Corps regulations do not allow for education-based early release requests, and that not all academic pursuits are created equal in the eyes of the military. 

Odds are they’ll look more favorably upon your request if you’re going to medical school, as opposed to, say, a 12-month Swiss yodeling course in the Alps. 

Enduring a lasting hardship 

If you’ve endured a major traumatic event—such as the loss of a spouse or close family member—or some other comparable experience that renders you incapable of serving, then you may qualify for a hardship discharge. 

As we’ll read in the conscientious objector status section below, it is quite difficult to receive a hardship discharge, since the criteria for what qualifies as a “lasting” and “valid” hardship vary wildly from circumstance to circumstance. 

Pursuing conscientious objector status 

If you’ve undergone a dramatic spiritual transformation that has totally recalibrated your moral and ethical compass, and if that moral and ethical compass points in the exact opposite direction of your military duties—and if you can prove all of this beyond a shadow of a doubt—then you might, just might, qualify for conscientious objector status. 

Needless to say, this is an almost impossibly difficult task. 

But, if you fall into this category and feel compelled to pursue conscientious objector status, it is possible to submit an application to your commander for consideration. 

Like we said upfront—generally speaking, once you sign on the dotted line, there ain’t much else you can do but ride out your full Term of Service with as much dignity, diligence, and focus as you possibly can. 

Our best piece of advice? Take a vacation instead. Use the time to relax and unwind. Chances are, you’ll come back refreshed and ready to ride out the rest of your term. Or maybe not; in which case, suck it up – you’re not getting out early. 

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