Age Limits Within Military Service Branches

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Every branch of service has a maximum age limit to join the military. However, the age to enlist is not black and white. In fact, it is quite grey with different rules, regulations, and waivers to be accepted for various jobs at a wide range of ages.

The federal law that can be manipulated in a case by case basis states that the minimum age for enlistment in the United States military is 17 (with parental consent) and 18 (without parental consent). The maximum age is 35. The Department of Defense policy allows the individual services to specify the maximum age of enlistment based upon their unique requirements. The Air Force tends to have an older upper limit for enlistment, whereas the Marine Corps' cutoff age is younger than the other branches of the service.

Each branch of the military has set maximum ages for those without any prior service enlistment. For those with prior enlistment, the circumstances will vary significantly case by case, so it is best to check with the branch you want to reenlist into to find out your eligibility.

Military service branch age limits
The Balance

The individual services have set the following maximum ages for non-prior service enlistment.

Active Duty None-Prior Service

  • Army: 35 (must ship to basic training prior to 35th birthday. The Army experimented with raising the age limit to age 42 for a brief period of time, but effective April 1st, 2011, the Army has reverted to the lower age limit.
  • Air Force: 39
  • Navy: 34
  • Marines: 28
  • Coast Guard: Age 27. However, the age can be raised to age 32 for those selected to attend A-school directly upon enlistment (this is mostly for prior service).

Some programs within the branches of service also require age limits to begin training. For instance, the Navy Pilot is 27 years old. Navy SEAL maximum age is 28. For Navy SWCC, the maximum age is 30. Of course, all have a waiver range for highly qualified applicants. 

Reserve Non-Prior Service

  • Army Reserves: 35
  • Army National Guard: 35 
  • Air Force Reserve: 34
  • Air National Guard: 40 
  • Naval Reserves: 39
  • Marine Corps Reserve: 29
  • Coast Guard Reserves: 39

Age Waivers for Enlistment

Age waivers for non-prior service enlistments are very rare. Generally, these are approved for those who started the enlistment process within the required age limits but were unable to complete the process and ship to basic training before their birthday. In these cases, only a couple of months of age was waived. However, in a world of the increased need for certain skills, the military will waive prospective candidates and even recruit people with language, cyber, medical, or other skills to name a few. 

For certain professional jobs within the military like nurse, doctor, lawyer, or chaplain, the age limit can go much higher depending upon the needs of the military.

There have been years in the Navy where Catholic priests, surgeons, and nurses have joined well into their forties and even their fifties to fill the needs of the Navy, especially during wartime deployments.

Prior Service Enlistments

The age limit for prior service enlistment for most of the branches is the same as above, except that an individual's total previous military time can be subtracted from their current age. For example, if an individual has four years of credible military service in the Marine Corps and wants to join the Air Force. The Air Force could waive the individual's maximum enlistment age to age 31 (Maximum age of 27 for the Air Force, plus four years credible service in the Marines). The same is true for other programs within the military, even the special operations programs that tend to seek younger candidates. 

For the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserve, the maximum age of enlistment for prior service is 32, after computing the prior-service age adjustment.

For the Army and Air National National Guard, the maximum age for prior service enlistment is 59, as long as the member has enough years of prior service to be able to complete 20 years of creditable service for retirement by age 60.