The Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP)

How The Delayed Entry Program Works

••• Official Army Photo

When you walk into a recruiter's office, do not be nervous they do not immediately ship anyone out to bootcamp. It takes time to get paperwork processed, medical reviews completed, ASVAB scores loaded for every recruit. Typically, a recruit has many months before he/she joins and leaves for basic training. The program recruits will join as they wait for their ship date is the Delayed Enlistment Program while he/she qualifies medically, academically, legally, and passes the security clearance.

That's where the Delayed Enlistment Program (sometimes called the Delayed Entry Program) comes in. It is also called the Future Soldiers Program in the Army. Individuals going onto active duty, enlist first into the DEP. This is an actual enlistment into the inactive reserves, with an agreement to report for active duty (to ship out to boot camp) at a specific time in the future. Under current regulations, one can remain in the DEP for up to 365 days.

A recruit signs a DEP enlistment contract that is legally binding. It says that you must report at the place and time stated or face being ordered to active duty as a Reservist.

While in the DEP or Future Soldiers Program, you will be encouraged to join in activities at the local recruiting office including meetings and classes. Recruits may decide on the DEP so they can prepare to meet the height and weight standards or graduate from high school.

Can You Legally Get Out of a DEP Contract?

Short answer - YES. But, you have to be ready to play hardball with the recruiters and stand firm with your reasoning. From the recruiter's point of view, the work the recruiting office has done for you to this point will be wasted. As a result, you may have a few angry recruiters "talking" you back into the program and shipping out as scheduled.

If an applicant who signed a DEP contract failed to show up to ship out to basic training, the military could order the individual to active duty. If the individual refused, the military could legally court martial the individual.

In reality, this never happens. It is the Department of Defense's policy that anyone can request to be released from the Delayed Enlistment Program, but the request must be approved by the Secretary of that branch of service. The policy is included in DOD Directive 1332.14.

Consequences of a DEP Entry-Level Separation Discharge

A DEP discharge is officially known as an "Entry Level Separation" (ELS). An ELS is not characterized. It's not "Honorable," it's not "General," it's not "Under Other Than Honorable," it's not anything. DEP Discharges do not result in an RE (Reenlistment Eligibility) Code that will prevent joining the same (or another) military service in the future.

If you are not ready or prefer to go to college first, you can get out of DEP, but be prepared to have the recruiters saying you cannot do it or other warnings and threats. Sometimes this happens as usually an ELS with a recruit is a burning of a bridge with that recruiter staff - at least for the short term. But they are legally bound to let you go after you produce a written letter to the recruiting commanding officer.

Minor Negative Issue With ELS from DEP

A DEP discharge has one negative effect: If you are discharged from the DEP, and later want to enlist in that same service, you will require a waiver. While waivers are usually granted, you may lose certain benefits, such as the ability to chose what job you want, or what date you will ship out to basic training. 

A discharge from the DEP has no negative effects if you later wish to enlist in a different military service—only if you wish to enlist in the same service that discharged you from the DEP.

DEP Discharge and Citizenship

There is a federal law (8 USC, Section 1426), which states that if an immigrant alien, living in the United States, refuses military service on the basis of not being a U.S. Citizenship, they forever relinquish their right to become a U.S. Citizen. The Navy requires non-citizen recruits entering the DEP to acknowledge this law in writing. However, if they drop out of the DEP for any other reason than not being a citizen (for example, to join a different service, to attend college, or even just because they changed their minds), this law doesn't apply.

DEP Discharge Procedures

All requests for discharge from the DEP need to be in writing. The letter must clearly state that you are requesting to be discharged from the DEP, and state your reasons why.

While one can use any reason at all, it's best to use one of the reasons that are specifically mentioned in the recruiting regulations. These reasons are:

  • Apathy or Personal Problems
  • Failure to Graduate High School
  • Hardship
  • Dependency
  • Marriage
  • Medical disqualification or psychiatric disorder (Note: Using this reason may preclude later enlistment if you change your mind, or enlistment in a different service)
  • Pregnancy
  • Acceptance of scholarship or pursuit of higher education
  • Enrolled in training to become or receive appointment as an ordained minister
  • Determined no longer qualified for an option for which enlisted in the DEP and declines alternate.
  • Enlistment misunderstanding
  • Enlistment in another service
  • Erroneous enlistment (Note: Using this reason may preclude later enlistment if you change your mind, or enlistment in a different service)
  • Conscientious objector (Note: Using this reason may preclude later enlistment if you change your mind, or enlistment in a different service)

Recruiters themselves do not have the authority to discharge individuals from the DEP. Only Recruiting Commanders have that authority.

So, your letter needs to be addressed to the Recruiting Commander (but you can give the letter to your recruiter). Your recruiter is required by regulation to forward the letter to his/her commander.

The Recruiter is required to try and talk you out of it. This is known as re-selling. However, regulations prohibit the recruiter from using threats such as "You'll go to jail." Recruiters who are caught using such tactics can be punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Some recruiting stations have those requesting a DEP discharge meet with the recruiting commander or a discharge board, where you will be pressured to change your mind. Such meetings are not mandatory.

DEP Discharge Processing

Most DEP discharge requests should take no more than about 30 days to process. In the few cases where the request is delayed or disapproved, you will normally be discharged from the DEP automatically anyway, shortly after the shipping date arrives and you fail to ship to basic training. You cannot be in the DEP for longer than 365 days, so at the end of a year, you are automatically discharged from the DEP, even if the service fails to do a voluntary discharge, or fails to discharge after the shipping date has come and gone.


Your DEP discharge request approval or denial should be in writing. You will not receive a DD Form 214 (record of discharge) for a discharge from the DEP. You will instead receive a simple, short letter stating you have been discharged from the DEP Program.

Recruiter Ethics

So, what should you do if a recruiter (or even a recruiting commander) uses unethical tactics to try and intimidate you, or to delay your DEP discharge request? First and foremost, you should use the chain of command. If it's the recruiter who is trying to intimidate you or unreasonably delaying the process, request the name and phone number of his/her supervisor. Keep doing that (up the chain) until you get a satisfactory response.

It may help to let them know that you are perfectly willing to make an official written complaint to the appropriate "Inspector Generals" (IG).

The Recruiting "IG" officials are responsible for investigating allegations of recruiter misconduct, or violations of recruiting regulations and policies. The Recruiting IG addresses are:

Reporting Unethical Behavior