What to Expect on Your First Visit to MEPS

U.S. Military Entrance Processing Station at Danny Thomas Boulevard and Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.
••• Thomas R Machnitzki/Wikimedia Commons

Joining the military requires two (or more) trips to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). At a very minimum, you make a trip to MEPS for initial processing, then the second trip to MEPS for final processing on the day you ship out to basic training. This article will focus on the average "first trip" to MEPS.

MEPS is a Department of Defense joint-service organization staffed with military and civilians.

Their job is to determine an applicant's physical qualifications, aptitude and moral standards as set by each branch of military service, the Department of Defense, and federal law. There are 65 MEPS facilities located throughout the United States.


Your trip to MEPS begins before you leave, with a medical "prescreening" performed by your recruiter. In performing this medical prescreening, your recruiter will help you complete DD (Department of Defense) Form 2807-2, Medical Prescreen of Medical History Report.

The recruiter sends the results of this screening to MEPS, in advance, to be reviewed by MEPS medical personnel. If the prescreening shows a medical condition which is obviously disqualifying, with no chance of a waiver (example, you are blind, or missing a limb), then your processing stops at that point. Some medical conditions require additional medical records. The prescreening is designed to identify those conditions so that your recruiter can help you obtain required medical records before your trip to MEPS.

This saves you from being "temporarily disqualified," requiring that you return later with the necessary records for full qualification.

While not all-inclusive, medical conditions which usually require medical reports (documentation from the physician, hospital, etc.) are:

  • Almost any surgery other than an uncomplicated appendectomy or hernia repair, or ligation of tubes, male or female. Absolutely any surgery of the brain, back, spinal cord, chest, upper abdomen, pelvis, and joints. A tissue report is required in the case of most biopsies (skin, breast, etc.) of tumors and lumps.
  • Any history of hospitalization other than the exceptions listed directly above, even if it was only 1 or 2 days for tests.
  • Any history of asthma after 13th birthday.
  • History of counseling (family, marriage, etc.).
  • Skin diseases other than mild acne and athletes foot.
  • Allergies if more than mild.
  • Back sprains.
  • Severe joint sprains.
  • Heart conditions.
  • Hepatitis, Mononucleosis.

The most useful medical records are the hospital records. Generally, they are the most easily obtained, of better quality, and are kept available for a longer time. Generally, the information needed is:

  • Discharge summary
  • Surgeon's report
  • Pathologist's report
  • History and physical
  • X-ray and laboratory report

Most doctors' letters are inadequate. Recruiters have been instructed to use the standard MEPS request form, as it lists the required information. All too many civilian doctors are unaware of current directives, have no concept of what military training and duty is like, and will be strongly biased in favor of the applicant. MEPS is aware of this and may require that a consult is performed with one of their specialists (military or contract).

Getting Ready for the Trip

Once MEPS has given the recruiter the "okay" on the prescreening, the recruiter will schedule your visit to MEPS.

Here are some general rules to remember that apply to your visit:

  1. Discuss any childhood medical problems with your parents and bring documentation with you.
  2. Bring your Social Security card, birth certificate, and driver's license.
  3. Remove earrings (they obstruct the headset used for the hearing test).
  4. Profanity and offensive wording or pictures on clothing are not tolerated.
  5. Hats are not permitted inside the MEPS.
  6. If you wear either eyeglasses or contacts, bring them along with your prescription and lens case.
  7. Bathe or shower the night before your examination.
  8. Wear underclothes.
  9. Get a good night's sleep before taking the CAT-ASVAB.
  10. Wear neat, moderate, comfortable clothing.
  11. Don't bring stereo headphones, watches, jewelry, excessive cash or any other valuables.
  12. Processing starts early at the MEPS -- you must report on time.

    Arrival at MEPS

    For most applicants, the initial trip to MEPS is a two-day process. On the afternoon of arrival, the applicant takes the Computerized ASVAB Test. If you've already taken the ASVAB before your MEPS trip, and received qualifying scores, and the ASVAB test is less than 24 months old, you won't be required to retest.

    If you do test at MEPS, exactly when you'll see your ASVAB scores is dependent upon the MEPS. When my daughters processed at the Omaha MEPS, they received their scores immediately after the test. I've been told that other MEPS don't give access to the scores until the next day, after medical processing.

    Once you've completed the ASVAB, if you do not live in the same local area where your MEPS is located, you will be taken to a contract hotel. Generally, you will be assigned a roommate. The lodging accommodations and meals are paid for by MEPS. You will pay only for extras, such as telephone calls, in-room movies, in-room Internet access, etc. (if available).

    MEPS arranges contracts with motel/hotels which are in the immediate vicinity of the MEPS. This means accommodations vary from location to location. I've visited some facilities where the motel accommodations were not the best (discount, Motel-6 type) and other MEPS where the accommodations are truly outstanding (4-star rating).

    When you check into the motel/hotel, you will be instructed to sign receipt of a list of rules. While this varies location-to-location, the rules include prohibitions for the use of alcohol/drugs, curfew provisions, noise restrictions, etc. In general, it shouldn't be anything you can't live with (you'll have much tougher restrictions in boot camp). You should know that if you get caught violating any of these rules, it could terminate your processing in the military.

    Your wake-up call the next morning will come very early (usually about 0445). You'll have scant time to dress, eat, and be at the designated location for the shuttle back to MEPS.

    The entire morning is usually scheduled for a medical examination. It is a "hurry up & wait," situation. You'll spend a lot of time "waiting your turn." I suggest bringing a book or magazine.

    The Evaluation

    The primary job of MEPS is to determine, under military regulations, policies, and federal law, whether or not you are qualified to serve in the United States Armed Forces, and -- if so, what jobs you may qualify for, under individual service regulations. The first step in that process, of course, is obviously the ASVAB. The ASVAB indicates whether or not you meet the basic general aptitude standards to join the military, and -- if so, what jobs you qualify for, under the standards set by the specific branch you're joining (see Enlisted Job Qualifications).

    MEPS personnel also determine whether you are medically qualified to serve. Additionally, representatives of the service branch you're joining will be at MEPS to determine your job qualification and security qualifications. While these individuals "work" at the MEPS location, they are not part of MEPS. They are assigned to the individual service recruiting activities. So, while the person giving you your ASVAB Test and medical physical are assigned to MEPS, and work jointly for all the services, the people doing your enlistment contracts, job selections, and security qualifications are not assigned to MEPS and are representing only their individual services.

    It's very important that you are completely honest during your visit to MEPS. If anyone (including your recruiter) has advised you to lie or withhold required information, and you heed that advice, it can have dire consequences later.

    At most MEPS locations, one of the very first things you'll do when you arrive in the morning is to take a breathalyzer test to ensure that you are not currently under the influence of alcohol. Any trace of alcohol in your system, at all, will stop your processing, on-the-spot.

    The Medical Evaluation

    The physical begins with the completion of the Medical Questionaire, DD Form 2807-1Report of Medical History. It is an abbreviated form of the Medical Prescreening Form that you completed in the recruiter's office. You're required to answer "Yes" or "No" in answer to questions about whether you have ever had any of the medical conditions listed. Note that there is no "I Don't Know" on this form. You've either had the condition (i.e., diagnosed by a medical professional), or you haven't had the condition. Every item marked "YES" must be fully explained in the remarks section of the form. If there are discrepancies between answers on this form and the answers you gave on the Medical Prescreening Form, your enlistment process will most likely stop, and you'll be returned to your recruiter to obtain additional medical records and information. It is why it is very important to make sure that you're completely honest on both forms.

    After completing the Medical Questionaire, you'll start the "process."

    You will take a blood and urine test (including a test for drugs). Females will be tested for pregnancy.

    Your blood will be tested for HIV, Hemoglobin, Hematocrit, RPR, and Alcohol. There are also two different urine tests; one is the legal drug urine and the other tests for pH, blood, protein, and specific gravity.

    You'll take a hearing test, and an eye exam, including depth perception and color vision. (Note: Lack of depth perception & color vision is not a disqualifying factor for military service, but many military jobs require normal depth perception and color vision). Air Force personnel will take a strength test (required for job qualification).

    You'll undergo a weight check. See below links for weight charts of the specific branch of service you're processing to join:

    If your weight exceeds the standard listed by the service you are trying to join, you'll undergo a body-fat-measurement. If your body-fat exceeds the standard set by the service you are trying to join, you'll be temporarily disqualified (Note: You will continue with the physical, however).

    Body-fat standards for each of the services are:


    • Male 17-30 - 24%
      Male 21-27 - 26%
      Male 28-39 - 28%
      Male 40+ - 30%
      Female 17-30 - 30%
      Female 21-27 - 32%
      Female 28-39 - 34%
      Female 40 + - 36%

    Air Force:

    • Male 17-29 - 20%
      Male 30 + - 24%
      Female 17-29 - 28%
      Female 30 + - 32%


    • Male - 22%
      Female - 33%

    Marine Corps:

    • Male - 18%
      Females - 26%

    At one point in the examination, you will be required to strip down to your underwear (aren't you glad you wore those) along with the other recruits (Sorry, guys, but male recruits & female recruits are separated). You'll then be instructed (as a group) to perform a bunch of funny exercises, as follows:

    • Applicant: Stand relaxed with arms to the side, heels together, feet spread at a right angle of 90 degrees.
    • Physician: Observes each examine for: a. General body habitus b. Clinically significant scars and skin abnormalities c. Pes Planus, Pes cavus, hallux valgus, hammer toes, and other food deformities d. Pelvic tilt e. Scoliosis and kyphosis f. Leg length discrepancies
    • Applicant: Make full arm circles by extending arms forward, rotating above the head, back, and down to complete full circles. Repeat until told to stop.
    • Physician: Observes each examine for: a. Limitation of motion, subluxation of shoulders b. Pain or apprehension
    • Applicant: Fully extend arms out laterally at right angles to the body, palms up and elbows locked.
    • Physician: Observes each examine for: a. Full extension of elbows b. Deltoid weakness
    • Applicant: Flex elbows and touch thumbs to shoulder. Repeat rapidly until told to stop.
    • Physician: Observes each examine for Degree of flexion of elbows, coordination.
    • Applicant: Extend arms to the ceiling and lower sharply to the side of the body without slapping the sides. Repeat until told to stop.
    • Physician: Observes each examine for: a. Position and movement of scapulae b. Subluxation of shoulders
    • Applicant: Extend arms in front, palms together, thumbs up; throw away arms forcefully to the rear, slightly above shoulder level, and simultaneously raise body onto toes. Repeat until told to stop.
    • Physician: Observes each examine for: a. Symmetry and coordination of shoulders, clavicles, and arms b. Pain or apprehension c. Subluxation of shoulders d. General coordination and balance
    • Applicant: Stand relaxed, extend arms above head, locking thumbs together, bend over forward and touch the floor with fingertips, if able, keeping the knees straight.
    • Physician: Observes each examine for: a. Scoliosis b. Other spin abnormalities
    • Applicant: Stand up straight, extend one leg forward, lifting feet from the floor, toes down, then up; then relax toes and rotate feet at the ankle. Repeat until told to stop.
    • Physician: Observes each examine for: a. Range of motion of toes and ankle b. Coordination and balance
    • Applicant: Flex right thigh at hip, brining the knee up; flex lower leg at the knee; then forcefully lower the foot, kicking down and forward. Repeat until told to stop. Then repeat the maneuver with the knee up and flexed, this time kicking down and rearward. Repeat until told to stop.
    • Physician: Observes each examine for: a. Knee joint integrity and stability b. Pain or apprehension
    • Applicant: Repeat last two maneuvers, above with the opposite leg.
    • Applicant: Stand on toes as high as possible, and walk on tiptoes five steps forward. Turn and walk on tiptoes five steps to the original position.
    • Physician: Observes each examine for: a. Range of plantar flexion b. Balance c. Coordination d. Weakness
    • Applicant: Stand and walk on heels five steps forward, with forefeet as high as possible. Turn and walk on heels five steps to the original position.
    • Physician: Observes each examine for: a. Range of plantar flexion b. Balance c. Coordination d. Weakness
    • Is the condition progressive?
    • Is the condition subject to aggravation by military service?
    • Will the condition preclude satisfactory completion of prescribed training and subsequent military duty?
    • Will the condition constitute an undue hazard to the examine or to others, particularly under combat conditions?

    If a waiver is required, it is initiated and processed by the service you are trying to join, not the MEPS. Whether or not a waiver will be approved, and how long it takes for approval/disapproval varies greatly. Each and every waiver is considered individually, and approval/disapproval depends on many individual factors, including the recommendation of the medical profile officer, and the current requirements/needs of that particular military service.

    Expect the above medical examination process to take up most (if not all) of the morning.

    Job Selection

    At this stage, you work with your Service Counselor/liaison to select a military job. Depending on the needs and wants of the Service and your desires, this can be a very short or long process.

    Keep in mind that not everyone gets a guaranteed job at this point. It depends on the needs and general policies of the service. For details on the job selection process, see What the Recruiter Never Told You.

    Pre-Enlistment Interview

    Once you have selected a job, the Service counselor will complete their required paperwork and bring you, (and your paperwork) to the MEPS Control Desk to initiate the enlistment processing.

    At this time, you will undergo a Pre-Enlistment Interview (PEI). During the PEI, the MEPS Military Processing Clerk (MPC) sits with you, “one-on-one” and in private. The MPC will fingerprint you and ask you questions concerning possible law violations, drug/alcohol abuse, and other issues that may affect your entry into the Armed Forces. Also, the MPC will brief you on the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) Fraudulent Enlistment Policy, and Restrictions on Personal Conduct while in the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP).

    During the PEI, if you have an additional disclosure (a potentially disqualifying item not already reported), it must be resolved before further processing continues. Once the PEI is completed, the MPC prepares your enlistment contract for you to review and sign with your Service counselor.

    If you need any additional testing for your job choice (example, the Defense Language Aptitude Battery), it will normally be done at this time. (Special Note: Some MEPS only give the DLAB on certain day(s) of the week. If you are primarily interested in a language aptitude job, you may wish to check with your recruiter to ensure he/she schedules your MEPS trip for one of these days. It may save you from having to make an extra trip to MEPS.)

    Enlistment Oath Ceremony

    After you and your Service counselor sign the contract, you will return with the contract to the MEPS Control Desk for the Oath of Enlistment Ceremony.

    At designated times throughout the day, control desk personnel or an MPC will take applicants with completed contracts to the MEPS Ceremony Room to prepare them for the Oath of Enlistment Ceremony. MEPS personnel will teach you to stand at “Attention” and review with you the Oath of Enlistment. Also, they will ask you if you have any questions pertaining to the UCMJ, Fraudulent Enlistment Policy, and the DoD Separation Policy.

    Once you've been prepared, a commissioned officer will be notified to report to the Ceremony Room to conduct the Oath of Enlistment. During this time, the officer may ask you some questions (how you perceived the service and meals he/she received at the MEPS noon meal facility or at the hotel, whether you've been briefed on the UCMJ, etc.). Once the officer has determined that the applicant is ready to “swear-in,” he/she will administer the Oath of Enlistment and sign, with you, in the appropriate blocks of the enlistment contract (contract signing will be performed in another room from the Ceremony Room). It signifies your entry into the DEP. If you have family, friends, or your recruiter present at the ceremony, they will be allowed to take pictures. If don't want the ceremony interrupted by picture-taking, there is usually no objection to staging a mock ceremony at a later time for picture-taking purposes.

    After the ceremony, the MEPS control desk will check-out the applicant to his/her Service who will check-out the applicant for the day.

    Your first trip to MEPs will be a long day. So, make sure you get lots of sleep and eat right. Bring a book or magazine, and understand that there will be much "hurry up & wait." There is no other way to process the number of applicants that a MEPS must process each day.