An Arrest Record Could Keep You from Enlisting

Training exercise handcuffs
Airman 1st Class Stephanie Gonzalez, 28th Security Forces Squadron patrolman, handcuffs an assailant during a suspect challenging training exercise, Nov. 24, 2009. Security forces members routinely conduct exercises while providing rapid, decisive and sustainable mission support. (Airman 1st Class Joshua Seybert/28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs)

Each service requires its recruits to meet rigorous moral character standards. In addition to the initial screening by the recruiter, an interview covering each applicant's background is conducted at the MEPS. For some individuals, a financial credit check and/or a computerized search for a criminal record is conducted.

Some types of criminal activity clearly are disqualifying; other cases require a waiver, wherein each service examines the circumstances surrounding the violation and makes a determination on qualification. Applicants with existing financial problems are not likely to overcome those difficulties on junior enlisted pay. Consequently, credit histories may be considered as part of the enlistment decision.

Basically, the more severe the crime, the less likely a waiver will be granted. If you are looking for a job with a high-level security clearance, any convictions whatsoever could be bad news. Also try to stay out of credit trouble. This will give you more opportunities to get the job you are looking for.

Legal and financial events in your past can be waved, but you need to mention them to your recruiter. Remember, there is no penalty for talking about your past with a recruiter. Read on to find out more about how run-ins with the law can affect your joining the military.

Here is what the military officially has to say about moral standards of enlistment:

  • Persons entering the Armed Forces should be of good moral character. The underlying purpose of moral character enlistment standards is to minimize entrance of persons who are likely to become disciplinary cases or security risks or who disrupt good order, morale and discipline. Moral standards of acceptability for service are designed to disqualify the following kinds of persons:
  • Individuals under any form of judicial restraint (bond, probation, imprisonment or parole).
  • Those with significant criminal records.
  • Persons convicted of felonies may request a waiver to permit their enlistment. The waiver procedure is not automatic, and approval is based on each individual case. One of the considerations in determining whether a waiver will be granted is the individual's ability to adjust successfully to civilian life for a period of time after his or her release from judicial control.
  • In processing waiver requests, the military services shall require information about the "who, what, when, where and why" of the offense in question; and a number of letters of recommendation attesting to the applicant's character or suitability for enlistment. Such letters must be from responsible community leaders such as school officials, ministers and law enforcement officials.
  • Those who have been separated previously from the military under conditions other than honorable or for the good of the service.
  • Those who have exhibited antisocial behavior or other traits of character that would render them unfit to associate with military personnel.

Interested in Joining the Military?

We can put you in touch with recruiters from the different military branches. Learn about the benefits of serving your country, paying for school, military career paths, and more: sign up now and hear from a recruiter near you.

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