What Happens When You Go To MEPS to Ship Out?

Portrait of Female Soldiers in Parking Lot
••• The 2nd MEPS Trip. Sean Murphy / Getty Images

Most people who enlist on active duty make two trips to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). The first trip (described in our articles, MEPS at a Glance, and The MEPS Experience), is for initial qualification determination, and enlisting in the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP).

The second trip is for actually enlisting on active duty, and shipping off to basic training.

MEPS Contract Hotel

Like the first trip, depending on how far away you live from your local MEPS, you may be required to report to a specified contract hotel on the afternoon/evening before.

Meals and/or overnight lodging accommodations, if needed, will be arranged for you. Most applicants will share a room with another applicant and are expected to be considerate of other guests and hotel property. At some MEPS contract-hotels, you may be required to sign receipt of specific rules-of-conduct. If you're caught violating any of the rules, you may be returned home, without further enlistment processing. At the hotel, you are only required to pay for extras, such as telephone calls, and pay-per-view movies.

Just like the first day, the 2nd MEPS trip day begins early (around 6:00 AM). Like the first trip, there will be a lot of "hurry up and wait." The actual sequence of events may differ slightly from one MEPS to another.

Medical Check

Usually, the first thing that occurs is a height/weight check. Each of the military services have their own weight standards. If you exceed the weight standards, you'll undergo a body-fat-measurement.

If you exceed the body-fat requirements of the specific serving that you're joining, your processing stops, and you'll be returned home. Whether or not you are extended in the DEP, to ship at a later date (after you lose the weight) is up to the service you are trying to join. At times, you may be given the opportunity to extend in the DEP and ship at a later time, other recruiting commanders may simply discharge you from the DEP.

In any event, if you are over the body-fat standards when you report to MEPS, you're not shipping out to basic training.

Females will have to provide a urine sample to check for pregnancy. MEPS used to conduct a urinalysis drug test, but this is now accomplished by the individual services during the first or second day of basic training. Everyone will undergo a blood-alcohol test, however, to ensure that they are not intoxicated.

After the weight check, you will generally complete a form which will ask if there have been any changes in your medical condition since your first trip to MEPS. Depending on your answers, you may or may not actually meet with a MEPS doctor. If you have a new medical condition which is disqualifying, you may be sent home. Therefore, it's important that you let your recruiter know about any changes in your medical condition as soon as possible so that he/she has time to process a medical waiver BEFORE you make the second trip to MEPS. Medical waivers take time to process, and it is unlikely that one will be approved if you disclose it on that final day.

Initial Strength Test (Marine Corps Only)

If you're joining the Marine Corps, you'll have to pass the Initial Strength Test before you can ship out to boot camp.

(Note: At some locations, the IST may be given before your trip to MEPS).

Enlistment Contract Review

Following medical approval, you'll meet with a counselor from the service that you are joining. The counselor will go over your active duty enlistment contract with you. It's important that you go over this contract carefully. Regardless of what is in the DEP contract, this is the contract that will apply after you take the oath and go onto active duty. If your recruiter told you that you would be enlisting as an E-3, and this contract says you're enlisting as an E-1, then you're enlisting as an E-1.

Active duty enlistment contracts can generally not be changed after you sign them and take the oath (Note: There are some exceptions to this, but generally, contracts are renegotiated only when in the best interest of the service).


Emergency Data Card

Another form you will be required to complete is the DD Form 93, Record of Emergency Data. The DD Form 93, when completed, is an official record of beneficiaries designated to receive the 6-month death gratuity pay and allowances, in the event of death on active duty (The Serviceman's Group Life Insurance is a different program, which will be accomplished in basic training) The DD Form 93 also contains the name and address of the person(s) to be notified in the event of sickness, emergency, or death. The DD Form 93 is a mandatory document for all applicants accessing in the Armed Forces, except Coast Guard.


Pre-Accession Interview

Right before taking the active duty oath, you'll meet with a MEPS Interviewer and complete MEPCOM Form 601-23-5-R-E.

The interviewer will go over the form with you. The primary purpose of this session is to give you one final chance to "come clean" on any false information that may be included on your enlistment documents, or to provide information about any additional medical, drug, or criminal problems that occurred while you were in the DEP.

Some of the questions asked on this form are:

  • Have you used or sold drugs during your DEP enlistment?
  • Did you have trouble of any kind because of marijuana or alcohol during your DEP enlistment, or at any other time?
  • Have you told the Service Counselor EVERYTHING about illegal use or sale of drugs?
  • Have you told your Service Counselor everything about any problems you've had with law enforcement agencies?
  • Has anyone promised you anything that is not identified on your enlistment documents or annexes?
  • Did you have any physical problems during your DEP period that you did not disclose to the MEPS doctor?
  • Is there anything else the doctor does not know about, but should know, that could prevent you from completing basic training, such as major surgeries, allergies, reactions to bee stings, heart murmurs, asthma, migraine headaches, knee problems, back problems, psychiatric care and counseling, or attempted suicide?
  • Did anyone tell you to hide any information or lie about traffic tickets, juvenile or adult convictions, police records (sealed or stricken)?

After completing the form, and going over each answer with the MEPS interviewer, you will be briefed on the contents of Article 83, Article 85, and Article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Article 83 covers fraudulent enlistments. Articles 85 and 86 are concerned with Desertion and Absent without Leave (AWOL). All three articles are applicable once you take the active duty oath.

Military Separation Policy

You'll then be briefed on the Military's Separation Policy:

As military members, you occupy a unique position in society. You represent the military establishment. This special status brings with it the responsibility to uphold and maintain the dignity and high standards of the U.S. Armed Forces at all times and in all places. The Armed Forces must also be ready at all times for Worldwide deployment. This fact carries with it the requirement for military units and their members to possess high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and cohesion. As a result, military laws, rules, customs, and traditions include restrictions on your personal behavior that may be different from civilian life. Members of the Armed Forces may be involuntarily separated before their enlistment or term of service ends for various reasons established by law and military regulations.

Some unacceptable conduct may be grounds for involuntary separation, such as:

  • You establish a pattern of disciplinary infractions, discreditable involvement with civil or military authorities or you cause dissent, or disrupt or degrade the mission of your unit. This may also include conduct of any nature that would bring discredit on the Armed Forces in the view of the civilian community.
  • Because of parental responsibilities, you are unable to perform your duties satisfactorily or you are unavailable for worldwide assignment or deployment.
  • You fail to meet the weight control standards.

Although we have not and will not ask you whether you are a heterosexual, or a homosexual, or a bisexual, you should be aware that homosexual acts, statements that demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts, and homosexual marriages or attempted marriages are grounds for discharge from the Armed Forces.

This means that if you do one of the following, you could be involuntarily separated before your term of services ends:

  1. Homosexual acts. You engage in, attempt to engage in, or solicit another to engage in a homosexual act or acts. A “homosexual act” means touching a person of your same sex or allowing such a person to touch you for the purpose of satisfying sexual desires. (For example, hand-holding or kissing, or other physical contact of a sexual nature.)
  1. Homosexual statements. You make a statement that demonstrates a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts. This may include a statement by you that you are a homosexual or bisexual, or words to that effect. It also may include behavior that a reasonable person would believe was intended to convey the statement that you are a homosexual or bisexual.
  2. Homosexual marriage. You marry or attempt to marry a person of your same sex. You will not necessarily be discharged if you do or say these things solely to end your military service. You may, however, be disciplined.

The Armed Forces do not tolerate harassment or violence against any service member, for any reason.


The Oath of Enlistment

Following the pre-accession interview, and the separations policy briefing, you'll receive a pre-oath briefing (how to stand at attention, bending your elbow at a 90-degree angle, etc). You're then ready to take the active duty oath. Once you take the oath, you are on active duty. You are an active duty member of the United States Military.

Family and friends are certainly welcome to attend the oath ceremony. Usually, picture-taking is not allowed during the actual ceremony, but the folks at MEPS are glad to "stage" the ceremony afterward for picture-taking.

If you have lots of family and friends attending, it is sometimes possible to arrange a private ceremony, during which it is permissible to videotape the entire ceremony.

Flying Away

Following the oath, it's generally more waiting around until it's time for your flight to leave. You'll be given a sealed envelope that contains your necessary papers (medical records, enlistment contract, activation orders, travel orders, etc). You'll turn this envelope into NCO staffing the Military Reception Counter at your destination airport.

Usually, you'll be traveling with a group of others who are also shipping out to basic training.

If so, the service will generally put one individual in charge as the "group commander," to ensure that everyone arrives at the final destination. At the designated time, MEPS will transport you (and the others) to the airport, and put you on a flight to your basic training location.

Your actual departure time will vary from one location to the next. It depends on what specific flights the military has contracted with for scheduled seats at the specific airport that serves your MEPS location.

Then, the Basic Training Experience begins........