U.S. Military Rules for Being Recalled to Active Duty

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Recalled to Active Duty

Joining the military actually comes with many options, however, the most common option to serve in the active duty ranks where you are a full-time military member of any branch of service.

Military Service is divided into the following categories:
Active Duty - When active duty you are a full time employee of the United States Department of Defense. You get paid a salary, work the hours the military requires, where the military requires of you to work anywhere in the world. You also have access to all the benefits of medical, dental, vacation, and reduced costs of living to name a few of the benefits.

Reserves - When in the Reserves, a member will also be able to work as a civilian in another profession, but train for a salary on regular intervals throughout the year. Being called up is highly likely depending upon the job your unit does.

National Guard - The National Guard is maintained by the individual states, but also available for federal use when needed. Calling up the National Guard is also common depending upon the mission of the unit. Also for natural disasters within the United States, the National Guard will be called up by the Governors of their state.

Inactive Reserves (also known as IRR - Individual Ready Reserves) - As a member of the IRR or Ready Reserves you receive no pay, nor do you spend any time doing anything within the military. No drilling, training, or any of the benefits of service apply to former military members within the IRR. But yes, you still can be called for service by the President.

All enlistments in the United States military incur a minimum eight-year service obligation. Any time which is not spent on active duty, or in the active (drilling) Reserves or National Guard must be spent in the inactive reserves, or Individual Ready Reserves (IRR).

Before signing an enlistment contract, think of it like any other employment commitment. Besides swearing the oath of enlistment, you're signing a legal, binding document when you join the military.

Be sure to read your enlistment contract carefully, and know the pertinent details about pay, and other terms and conditions. These are lengthy, detailed contracts, so raise any questions you have with your recruitment officer before you sign on the dotted line. 

Active Duty Enlistment

For example, if one enlists for four years active duty in the Army, and then gets out, he or she is placed in the IRR and is subject to recall to active duty for four more years (total of eight years military obligation).

If one enlists in the active (drilling) National Guard or Reserves for six years, and then gets out, he/she is placed in the IRR for two years and is subject to possible recall during that time.

These provisions are spelled out pretty clearly in the enlistment contract. Paragraph 10a of the enlistment contract states:

FOR ALL ENLISTEES: If this is my initial enlistment, I must serve a total of eight (8) years. Any part of that service not served on active duty must be served in a Reserve Component unless I am sooner discharged.

The traditional enlistment contract calls for four years of active duty, but this can vary depending on a few factors. Some Army enlistment contracts have active-duty components of two, three or six years. These depend on what kind of training the recruit is receiving; some programs require more active duty commitment than others. The Navy also has shorter-term active duty commitments based on the nature of the training received.

What is Stop Loss

It's also important to be familiar with the rules of stop-loss, that is, how military personnel can be required to stay past an agreed-upon date of separation in the event of a national emergency. Created after the Vietnam War, stop-loss, or involuntary extension of an enlistment contract is a controversial provision. It has been put into effect in recent years in several conflicts, including following the Sept. 11, 2001 , terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

Rules for Military Retirees and Recall

Retirees (those who spend at least 20 years in the military and draw retired pay) can be recalled to active duty for life. However, the policy established in DOD Directive 1352.1 - Management and Mobilization of Regular and Reserve Retired Military Members, makes the recall to active duty unlikely for those who have been retired for more than five years, and those over age 60.

Before enlisting, know the specific rules for the job you want to do in the military, and what the expectations are for your term of service.

How Does Being Recalled Work?

The President of the United States has “Presidential Reserve Callup Authority.” This means that when needed the President can be recalled to military service to support military operations. Typically, this is done with a state of emergency. If a state of emergency the President can recall members for an indefinite period of time. If there is no state of emergency, the President is limited to call less than 200,00 Reserves and IRR members for a period of less than 400 days. Currently the United States is in a “national state of emergency” so if needed the IRR recall has very little limitations.