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.
MEPS is a Department of Defense joint-service organization staffed with military personnel and civilians. Their job is to assess 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.
Prescreening at MEPS
Your trip to MEPS begins before you leave, with a medical "prescreening" performed by your recruiter.
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.
Some medical conditions which usually require medical reports include:
- Almost any surgery other than an uncomplicated appendectomy or hernia repair, or ligation of tubes, male or female
- A tissue report is required in the case of most biopsies (skin, breast, etc.) of tumors and lumps.
- Any other history of hospitalization
- Any history of asthma after age 13
- History of counseling (family, marriage, etc.)
- Skin diseases other than mild acne and athletes' foot
- Allergies if more than mild.
- Back sprains.
- Severe joint sprain
- Heart condition
- Hepatitis, Mononucleosis
The most useful medical records are hospital records.
Most doctors' letters are inadequate. Recruiters have been instructed to use the standard MEPS request form, as it lists the required information. Civilian doctors may be unaware of current military directives and requirements.
Preparing for MEPS
Once the prescreening is approved, the recruiter will schedule your visit to MEPS. Here are some general rules to remember:
- Bring documentation of any medical issues with you
- Bring your Social Security card, birth certificate, and driver's license
- Remove earrings (they obstruct the headset used for the hearing test)
- If you wear glasses or contacts, bring them along with your prescription
- Processing starts early at the MEPS, so be sure to 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 Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) tests. If you've taken the ASVAB within 24 months of your MEPS trip and received qualifying scores, you won't be required to retest.
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 hotel, and possibly be assigned a roommate. The lodging accommodations and meals are paid for by MEPS.
When you check into the motel/hotel, you will be instructed to sign receipt of a list of rules. While this varies by location, the rules include prohibitions for the use of alcohol and drugs, curfew provisions, noise limitations, and similar restrictions. If you are caught violating any of these rules, it could terminate your processing in the military.
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.
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.
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 first things you'll do is take a breathalyzer test to ensure that you are not under the influence of alcohol. Any trace of alcohol in your system will end your processing.
Medical Evaluation at MEPS
The physical begins with the completion of the medical questionnaire, after which you'll begin 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. 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. You will continue with the physical, however.
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 several exercises to assess balance and other physical attributes.
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 waiver is considered individually, and approval depends on many individual factors, including the recommendation of the medical profile officer, and the current requirements or needs of that particular military service.
Job Selection at MEPS
At this stage, you work with your service counselor to select a military job. The needs and wants of the service and your preferences will determine how long this process is.
Keep in mind that not everyone gets a guaranteed job at this point. It depends on the needs and general policies of the service.
Once you have selected a job, the service counselor will 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.
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). 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 (for example, the Defense Language Aptitude Battery), it will normally be done at this time.
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.
Once you've been prepared, a commissioned officer will conduct the Oath of Enlistment. Once the officer has determined that the applicant is ready to swear in, he or she will administer the Oath of Enlistment and sign the enlistment contract.
Your first trip to MEPs will be a long day. So make sure you get lots of sleep the night before. Bring a book or magazine, and understand that there will be a lot of "hurry up and wait."