Deciding to enlist in the United States military is a serious choice, but a bit different than applying for most other types of employment in non-military professions. The military does not accept every individual interested in enlisting. Those interested in serving their country must meet qualifications set forth by federal law and regulations set forth by each of the United States military branches.
Specific qualifications apply to the military profession that do not apply to civilian jobs. For example, the courts/Congress have held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which prescribes that everyone is treated equally in the eyes of the law with regard to civilian employment, is not applicable to the military profession.
The qualifications for enlistment in the armed forces are noted below.
- Minimum Age Requirements – 18 years old, although 17 is permitted, with parental consent.
- Maximum Age Requirements – this varies by the branch of the military for new enlistees but may be adjusted for compensating skills/experience/education.
- Army – 35
- Navy – 34
- Air Force – 39
- Marines – 28
- Citizenship – must be a U.S. citizen or be a legal permanent resident (Green Card Holder) physically living in the U.S.
- Physical requirements (i.e., height and weight restrictions) – which historically has been shown to be the primary cause of why individuals cannot enlist immediately.
- Medical requirements – certain medical conditions may disqualify applicants; see the MEPS info page.
- Credit History requirements – applicants with unpaid debt or poor credit, may find their security clearance eligibility reduced or eliminated.
- Drug History – any current, past, or potential drug abuse history is disqualifying.
- Criminal History – this is a more complex issue and discussed below.
How can an Arrest Hurt your Military Career?
First, it is imperative to note that in the six branches of the United States Military (Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, & Army National Guard), each sets forth their own set of moral character requirements. Military recruits face a screening process known as the Moral Character Screening of Credit & Criminal Background.
The standards process is designed for discerning which of the potential enlistees may become serious disciplinary issues or harm a mission or military member.
This intense screening process includes the review of –
- Adverse criminal records
- Adjudication records from juvenile agencies, and
- Applicable credit issues, if any.
It is noted that this screening process is quite rigorous and ofttimes includes long-detailed interviews and investigations, based on the severity of the offense. And note, you are required by federal law to disclose any past arrests or charges in accordance with Title 32, Chapter V, Section 571.3(c)(2)(i) of the Code of Federal Regulations.
This title denotes that any applicant applying to the military is required to disclose any criminal cases and juvenile records that are open, finalized, sealed, or expunged. And while this requirement may differ under state law, the failure to be honest by choosing NOT to disclose this information places you in a precarious position of violating federal law.
If you have a criminal record and would like to enlist in the military, you must obtain a Criminal Record Waiver. If you would like professional help obtaining this waiver, it is a prudent idea to speak a military defense lawyer, because, fortunately, possessing a criminal record does not automatically prohibit you from military service.
According to Section 571.3, the military can choose to offer waivers on certain offensesat its discretion. However, note that a criminal record waiver is not mandated if the applicant has been arrested but not charged, or if the pending charges were dismissed without a guilty finding.
Overall, these criminal waivers are used for –
- Minor Traffic Offenses – where fines were >$100
- Minor Non-Traffic Offenses – for those with 3+ convictions, etc.
- Juvenile Offenses – all cases – expunged or otherwise must be disclosed or face a federal offense.
- Misdemeanor Offenses – must be disclosed if cited, held, arrested, or pled to lowered charge, etc.
Those individuals who wish to enlist in the military but have a felony offense in their background face the most significant challenge. The reality is that the military has its own definition of what a felony is, which, unfortunately, may differ from the state in which the offense has occurred.
Note, though, that the following situations are the most challenging to overcome in terms of criminal record waivers – unless there are unusual circumstances that surround the event –
- A felony conviction as an adult.
- A juvenile felony conviction that involved violence.
- The sale of illegal drugs.
- Anyone barred from carrying a firearm due to a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction.
- Most sexual offenses.
The military has the authority to reduce a felony or approve a waiver to create an individual’s path to enlistment seamless. The military employs several analytics techniques and factors when determining the approval or denial of a criminal record waiver request – but once denied, there is no process to appeal its decision.
As such, it is critical for you to know what you are doing when you decide to enlist in any one of the six branches of the armed forces – and this is best accomplished with the professional legal help of a military defense lawyer.
Choosing to serve your country should not be your last resort profession, as the nature of the work is competitive and requires professionalism.