U.S. Military Enlistment Standards (Part 2)

Part 2 - Meeting the Standards to Enter the Military

Army recruiter with potential candidate
Army recruiter chats with potential Army recruit in New York. Chris Hondros/Getty Images News/Getty Images

There are many hurdles one must climb when seeking to serve in the military. From criminal involvement, drug and alcohol use, height and weight standards, and medical issues can all be disqualifying or require a waiver to enter at best. Below is the continued article from Part 1. The list is long and this article only touches on all the standards used by the military when selecting recruits and candidates for the privilege (not the right) of serving.

Drug/Alcohol Involvement

 The United States Military does not condone the illegal or improper use of drugs or alcohol. It is DOD's stated contention that illegal drug use and abuse of alcohol is:

(1) Is against the law.

(2) Violates the high standards of behavior and performance expected of a member of the United States Armed Forces.

(3) Is damaging to physical, mental, and psychological health.

(4) Jeopardizes the safety of the individual and others.

(5) Is fundamentally wrong, destructive to organizational effectiveness, and totally incompatible with service as a member of the U.S. Military.

(6) Is likely to result in criminal prosecution and discharge under other than honorable conditions.

All applicants are carefully screened concerning drug and alcohol involvement. As a minimum, you can expect the recruiter to ask:

a. "Have you ever used drugs?"

b. "Have you been charged with or convicted of a drug or drug related offense?"

c. "Have you ever been psychologically or physically dependent upon any drug or alcohol?"

d. "Have you ever trafficked, sold, or traded in illegal drugs for profit?"

If the answer to the last two questions is "yes," then you can expect to be ineligible for enlistment. If the answer to the first two questions is yes, then you can expect to have to complete a drug abuse screening form, detailing the specific circumstances of your drug usage. The military service will then make a determination as to whether or not your previous drug usage is a bar to service in that particular branch of the military. In most cases, a person who experimented with "non-hard" drugs in the past will be allowed to enlist. Anything more than experimentation may very well be a bar to enlistment.

While not a "hard and fast" rule, one can expect that any admitted use of marijuana over 15 or so times, or any admitted use of "hard drugs," will be disqualifying, and require a waiver.

In any case:

1. Dependency on illegal drugs is disqualifying.

2. Any history of drug use is potentially disqualifying.

3. Any history of dependency on alcohol is disqualifying.

Even if enlistment is authorized, many sensitive military jobs will be closed to individuals who have any past association with illegal drug or alcohol use.

In the Air Force, anyone who admits to smoking marijuana less than 15 times does not require a waiver. More than 15 times, but less than 25 requires a Drug Eligibility Determination (basically, a trained Drug & Alcohol Specialist will examine the exact circumstances of the use). An approved Drug Eligibility Determination is not the same thing as a "waiver," in that it will not preclude enlistment in most Air Force Jobs. 25 or more uses of Marijuana in a lifetime is disqualifying, and requires a waiver.

As a minimum, recruits will undergo a urinalysis test, when at the Military Entrance Processing Station, (MEPs) for their initial processing, and again when reporting for basic training.

Moral Standards (aka Criminal History)

The United States Military Services make every attempt to assess the moral quality of potential recruits, and several categories of moral offenses may preclude enlistment. This is primarily accomplished based on criminal record.

I should note here that there is no such thing as a "sealed record," or an "expunged record" as far as the military is concerned. The recruiting services have access to law enforcement and FBI investigative records, which -- quite often will list arrests in these categories.

Even if an offense is not found during the recruiter criminal background check, it is likely to come up during a possible (probable) security clearance criminal records check. If an applicant fails to disclose criminal history and it is later discovered, the individual may be charged under federal law, or the Uniform Code of Military Justice for False Statement, and/or Fraudulent Enlistment. (See the article, I Cannot Tell a Lie).

Military applicants are required by law, as part of the enlistment process to disclose any and all incidents that resulted in arrest or in charges being filed. When determining whether or not an offense "counts" for enlistment purposes, the services are primarily interested in whether or not the applicant actually committed the offense, not whether or not a "legal" conviction resulted.

Any offense that resulted in either conviction, or any kind of "adverse adjudication" counts.

When it comes to criminal offenses, enlistment qualifications, and waivers, the following definitions apply:

Conviction. The act of finding a person guilty of a crime, offense or other violation of law by a court or competent jurisdiction or other authorized adjudicative authority. This includes fines and forfeiture of bond in lieu of trial.

Adverse Adjudication (adult or juvenile). Any conviction, finding, decision, sentence, judgment, or disposition other than unconditionally dropped, unconditionally dismissed, or acquitted. Participation in a pretrial intervention program as defined below must be processed in the same manner as an adverse adjudication.

Pretrial Intervention/Deferment. Every state has a program by which offenses are diverted out of the regular criminal process for a probationary period. While the programs vary from State to State, they all require the defendant to meet some requirement (e.g., reporting or non-reporting probation, restitution, or community service), after successful completion of which the charge is disposed of in a way that does not result in a final adjudication of guilt. Charges disposed in this manner must be processed as an adverse adjudication.

Stet Processes. A judgment that all further action in a case be stayed. Frequently referred to as a "stet", it is often used by prosecutors to dispose of criminal action without actually having to try a case on its merits. A "stet" may be considered as equivalent to dropping charges if the prosecutor does not contemplate any further proceedings on the case and the case has not been handled through a pretrial deferment program. A letter from the district attorney is required to verify a stet.

Nolle Prosequi. Commonly called "nol pros". A formal entry on the record that the prosecutor will not prosecute the case any further. A "nol pros" may be considered equivalent to dropping charges if the prosecutor does not contemplate any further proceedings on the case and the case has not been handled through a pretrial deferment program.

Army. The Army divides criminal offenses into one of four categories. Applicants with six or more minor traffic offenses (where the fine was $100 or more per offense), or three or more minor non-traffic offenses, or two or more misdemeanors, or one or more felonies, requires a waiver. For detailed information, see our Army Criminal History Information Pages.

Air Force. The Air Force divides criminal offenses into five categories. Category 1 offenses are considered the most serious (felonies), and category 5 offenses are the most minor. Applicants with one or more convictions or adverse adjudications from category 1, 2, or 3 offenses require a waiver. Those with two or more convictions or adverse adjudications in the past three years, or three or more convictions or adverse adjudications in a lifetime for a category 4 offense also require a waiver. Air Force applicants with six or more convictions or adverse adjudications in any 356 day period within the past three years from a category 5 offense also require a waiver. For complete information, see our Air Force Criminal History Information Pages.

Marine Corps. The Marines divide criminal offenses into one of six categories. In general, a waiver is required for: five to nine minor traffic offenses; two to five more serious traffic offenses; two or more Class 1 minor non-traffic offenses; two to nine Class 2 minor non-traffic offenses; two to five serious offenses; or one felony. Individuals with ten or more minor traffic offenses, six or more serious traffic offenses, ten or more Class 2 minor non-traffic offenses, six or more serious non-traffic offenses, or more than one felony are not eligible for a waiver. For details, see our Marine Corps Criminal History Information Pages.

Navy. The Navy divides criminal offenses into four separate categories. Applicants with six or more minor traffic violations, three or more Minor Non-Traffic Violations/Minor Misdemeanors, one or more Non-Minor Misdemeanors, or one or more felonies, require a waiver. For complete information, see our Navy Criminal History Information Pages.

Let me mention that although, technically, felonies can be waived, the services almost never do this. This is especially true if the crime involved sale of narcotics, sex crimes, or violence. Additionally, those convicted of "domestic violence," by federal law, are prohibited from owning or possessing firearms. That pretty much makes the individual worthless for military purposes, so such waivers are not likely to be approved.

Whether or not a waiver will be considered or approved depends on several factors, including the exact circumstances of the offense, how old the applicant was at the time, how long ago the offense occured, and how bad that particular military service needs that particular warm body at that particular point in time. In general, during years when the services are having few problems attracting qualified recruits, fewer waivers are considered and approved. During years when the services are having a difficult time finding enough qualified volunteers to meet their quotas, one can expect more waivers to be considered and approved.

One also needs to understand that the wavier approval process is somewhat subjective. What I mean by that is there is some human being (usually a commander), in the chain of command who will ultimately approve or disapprove the waiver request. If, for example, that person recently had their house burglarized, they are probably not going to feel very "generous" towards any waiver request involving burglary or theft. For more detailed information, see our Criminal History Waiver Information Page.

Enlistment As An Alternative To Prosecution

Applicants may not enlist as an alternative to criminal prosecution, indictment, incarceration, parole, probation, or other punitive sentence. They are ineligible for enlistment until the original assigned sentence would have been completed.

Mental Aptitude

The primary method of determining if someone has the mental aptitude required to be an enlisted member of the United States Military is the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude. Test (ASVAB). The overall test score determines whether or not you are qualified to join the military, and individual composite scores derived from the ASVAB test determine what jobs you may qualify for. For more information about the ASVAB, see my feature article, ABCs of the ASVAB.

Height Standards

The cause for rejection for Armed Forces male applicants is height less than 60 inches or more than 80 inches. The cause for rejection for Armed Forces female applicants is height less than 58 inches or more than 80 inches.

Weight Standards

The services don't really have "weight standards." What they have are "body fat standards." However, it takes extra time and effort to measure body fat, so the services use weight charts to do an initial screening. Individuals who weigh more than the limits on the chart are measured to ensure they fall within the service's body-fat standards. There are no waivers for exceeding required body fat limits.

Height / Weight and Body Fat Standards (all services)

Medical Screening

The medical officials at MEPs do not work for any of the individual services. They work for DOD (MEPS). Their job is to use a set list of medical standards to determine whether or not one is medically qualified to perform military duties. Using these set standards, the MEPs medical officials either certify a candidate as medically qualified, or medically disqualified (there's no "in-betweens"). For a list of medical standards that DoD considers disqualifying, see our Enlistment/Accession Medical Standards Information Pages.

​However, while DOD sets the overall standards, each of the military services are allowed to individually waiver the standards, depending upon the particular needs of the service. If the medical officials at MEPS disqualifies an applicant, the chief medical official will usually make a recommendation about whether or not he/she recommends that the service waiver the disqualification. The doctor normally makes this recommendation based upon his/her professional opinion as to whether the precise nature of the medical disqualification will significantly interfere with the proper performance of military duties (either now, or in the future). The waiver request is then considered by medical officials assigned to the individual service. If the chief medical official at MEPs recommends a waiver, the chances of receiving the waiver from the service concerned is pretty good (although still not a certainty). If the chief medical official at MEPs does not recommend a waiver, the chance of receiving an approved medical waiver is slim.

Before even sending a candidate to MEPS, the recruiter will complete a DD Form 2807-2, (Applicant Medical Prescreening Form). The Form was developed to help recruiters screen out applicants who are obviously not medically qualified for military service. Use of the form helps the military to avoid needless expenditure of funds, and discourages applicants from further processing if they are obviously unqualified (e.g., missing a limb, missing an eye).

Miscellaneous Provisions

In general, the following additional conditions will render one ineligible for enlistment, and waivers will not normally be granted:

1. Intoxicated or under influence of alcohol or drugs at time of application, or at any stage of processing for enlistment.

2. Having history of psychotic disorders or state of insanity at time of application for enlistment.

3. Questionable moral character.

4. Alcoholism.

5. Drug dependence.

6. Sexual perversion.

7. History of antisocial behavior.

8. History of frequent or chronic venereal disease.

9. Previously separated for unfitness, unsuitability, unsatisfactory performance, misconduct or bar to reenlistment, with 18 or more years of active Federal service completed.

10. Applicants for retirement and persons receiving retirement or retainer pay, except for combat-wounded personnel.

11. Persons unable to present written evidence (official documents) of prior service claimed, until such service has been verified.

12. Persons whose enlistment are not clearly consistent with interests of national security.

13. Last discharged or separated from a component of a U.S. Armed Force, with other than honorable discharge, or general discharge.

14. Criminal or juvenile court charges filed or pending against them by civil authorities.

15. Persons under civil restraint, such as confinement, parole, or probation.

16. Subject of initial civil court conviction or adverse disposition for more than one felony offense.

17. Civil conviction of a felony with any one of the following:

18. Subject of initial civil court conviction or other adverse dispositions for sale, distribution, or trafficking (including "Intent To:) of cannabis (marijuana), or any other controlled substance.

19. Prior Service with an RE-Code of "4."

20. Persons with a Bad Conduct or Dishonorable discharge.

21. Persons with prior service last discharged from any component of the Armed Forces for drug or alcohol abuse, or as rehab failure during their last period of service.

22. Three or more convictions or other adverse dispositions for driving while intoxicated, drugged, or impaired in the 5 years preceding application for enlistment.

23. Confirmed positive result for alcohol or drugs (test administered at MEPS) (May be waived by some of the Services).

24. Persons with convictions or other adverse dispositions for 5 or more misdemeanors preceding application for enlistment.

25. Alien without lawful admittance or legal residence in the United States.

26. Permanently retired by reason of physical disability.

27. Retirement after 20 years of active Federal service.

28. Officers removed from active or inactive service by reason of having attained maximum age or service.

29. Discharged by reason of conscientious objection.

  • a. Three or more offenses (convictions or other adverse dispositions) other than traffic.
    b. Applicants with juvenile felony offenses who have had no offenses within 5 years of application for enlistment may be considered for a waiver in meritorious cases.