Army Offers 15-Month Enlistment Option

The Army has created a 15-month enlistment option. The shortest choice had been two years.

Army offers 15-month hitch (USA Today, p. 1)

The Army, faced with a severe and growing shortage of recruits, began offering 15-month active-duty enlistments nationwide Thursday, the shortest tours ever. The typical enlistment lasts three or four years; the previous shortest enlistment was two years. Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the head of the Army Recruiting Command, said 2006 could be even worse than this year, a continuation of “the toughest recruiting climate ever faced by the all-volunteer Army.”

Recruits in the new 15-month program could serve in 59 of the more than 150 jobs in the Army, including the combat infantry, and then serve two years in the Reserve or National Guard. They would finish their eight-year military obligation in the Guard or Reserve, volunteer programs such as AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps, or the Individual Ready Reserve, a pool of former active-duty troops who can still be called to duty but aren’t affiliated with any military unit.

David Segal, a military personnel expert at the University of Maryland, said the 15-month enlistments are no panacea. Fifteen months, Segal said, is often not enough time to learn complex tasks in a high-tech Army.

Segal is right, as I’ve argued in relation to the idea of a military draft. My fear, however, is that the Army is using this as a bait-and-switch. Once someone has enlisted, regardless of the initial active duty commitment they’ve agreed to, they’re subject to an eight year obligation. While the recruiters might be promising them fifteen months and then time in the IRR, the Army could stop-loss them and keep them on active duty indefinitely.


FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Uncategorized, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Just Me says:

    I don’t know that you can call it bait and switch since the full terms regarding commitment is in the contract the person signs. Now if they are dumb enough to sign without reading and understanding what the contract obligates them to, then that is there problem.

    My issue with a 15 month enlistment is that in most branches and kind of training is going to take up a large amount of that 15 months, so more than likely a lot of ratings would be denied the new enlistees, since they are only committing to 15 months active duty. Seems like by the time you would get the guy fully trained and ready, he would all but be in the last portion of his commitment.

  2. Anderson says:

    Now if they are dumb enough to sign without reading and understanding what the contract obligates them to, then that is there problem.

    Well, “dumb enough” appears to be exactly what the Army is counting on. I wonder whether these contracts are susceptible to attack on state-law unconscionability grounds.

  3. James Joyner says:

    JM: It’s not intuitively obvious from the enlistment contract that you’re commiting to eight years, theoretically all on active duty. Certainly, a smooth talking recruiter can explain that away as “only in a real emergency, like the Chinese coming across the border or something.”

    Anderson: Nope. State courts have no jurisdiction on military affairs. Since the contracts haven’t been ruled down yet, I suspect they’d survive federal judicial scrutiny.

  4. LJD says:

    I would be surprised if the short-term enlistment applies to technical MOSs with long training programs. Typically this would only apply to OSUT-based (4 month trainning) jobs, Infantry, Armor, etc.

    With all of the press on this subject, a recruit would have to be living under a rock to not know that the contract is for eight years, or that any stint in the reserves would include at least one active-duty tour. If you read the contract, there are several lines that amount to: if anything happens and the government decides to not hold up their end, that’s just fine.

  5. James Joyner says:

    LCD: No doubt. Still, the rather clear implication of a shorter contract is less obligation. It would be one thing to do that during peacetime, with the understanding that if the balloon went up, you’d have a base of recently trained soldiers to draw from. That’s what the IRR is for, after all. But if it’s just a ruse to get them to sign on the dotted line, with the full expectation that they’ll be forced to serve longer than 15 months, I find it morally problematic.

  6. LJD says:

    I see it as far less morally problematic than some of the tactics that have been used by a few bad apples in the recruiting game. Perhaps there should be some sort of public service announcement for those who have cotton in their ears….



  7. Just Me says:

    James when my husband enlisted in the Navy, he knew that he was committing to six years active duty and two years reserve. It was pretty clearly in the contract. I think anyone who signs any contract without fully understanding what they are signing is pretty stupid.

    But how much time you spend on active duty, and reserves is clearly in there. Every single enlistment committs you to some combination of 8 years active and reserve duty.

  8. James Joyner says:

    JM: No, that’s precisely not the case. Everyone who signs up is obligated to 8 years of service, yes. But, despite what the recruiter tells you, the active/reserve ratio is not set in stone. Traditionally, it has been treated that way: If you sign up for 3 years active, you can either become a drilling reservist or go into inactive status (or some combination) for the remaining 5 years. Now, though, we’re at war and calling many of those people up or not letting them ETS to begin with.

    So, a 15 month obligation and a 4 year obligation may well amount to the same thing. That’s obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to this issue but maybe not so obvious to the average 18-year-old who wants to do a short stint in the service and then get out and go to school.