Ask Stew: Age Limits for Joining the Military

Rct. Kenneth Phillips, 20, Platoon 2057, Fox Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, practices martial arts strikes during a warm-up before a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program endurance course (Photo By: David Bessey).

Seeking to serve later in life is nothing new to the military or for those who have a desire to serve their country even though they are pushing the age limits. There is an age range to join the Army (specifically) is 17 – 35.  That is an 18 year gap in which people who qualify can join the Army.  The Air Force has a max age of 39. The Navy has a max age of 34. The Coast Guard has a max age of 27, but depending upon the candidate and the rate he/she selects it can go up to 32. And the USMC has a max age of 28.  There are age waivers but they are few and very selective by each of the branches.  Here is a question about how an “older candidate” needs to prepare. 

Mr. Smith,

I am 30 years old and heavily considering joining the Military, through either the Army or National Guard. I have done a lot of reading on, and your articles have been of great help so far. 

Question 1: What is my likelihood of completing Basic Training at the age of 30? And the follow up to that is - is completion of Basic at 30 an extreme rarity? or is it relatively common?

I'm in relatively decent shape. My BMI falls within the limits for most service standards and I tested myself this morning just to see what my baseline was.  I ran 1 mile in 8:45, I then completed 30 sit ups in a minute, and finally 30 push-ups in a minute (although I could have pushed further here). 

Question 2: What about the officer route? I believe I am eligible for OCS which may be the route that I go - but to my understanding all of the PFT standards remain the same. 


The good news is that you are within age limits for the Army and you have time to get your physical fitness up to par. Since you are older, I would focus on getting higher scores just so you have some wiggle room on days you maybe feeling tired or sore due to a slower rate of recovery from your younger counterparts.  The better condition you are in the great chance you will have to graduate Basic Combat Training without injury or failing the standards. 

It is not overly common that people over 30 join the military, but it is not uncommon either. The age limits are there for a reason and many people have an urge to serve later in life.  Luckily for them the body can still handle it and the military allows people in their late 20’s and early 30’s to join. I would go to a recruiter when you are ready, not right now with your current BMI and PT scores. Go there ready to go to Basic and they will take you seriously.  If you show up and fail a PT test, have 20 lbs to lose, you may not get their full attention as they may feel you are not taking this seriously. However, there is more to preparation than just preparing for the PT test. You need to also prepare for longer runs and rucking (walking with a back pack).  This requires building your back and legs up stronger to handle the load bearing of the job and training. 

Here are some tips on training and recommended program options.

Army Running Programs PT Test Training (Pyramid, Super Sets) Mixing in Weights / Calisthenics / Running / Rucking Ace the OPAT / New ACRT Army PFT and Rucking Preparation

Do not forget to learn about recovery and mobility days as these two will help you as you prepare as well as going through training programs of the military.

Another note is to realize that these age limits and waivers change with the needs of the military.  If there is armed conflict somewhere in the world where the services are deploying on a regular cycle (Iraq / Afghanistan), and the military needs more people, the age limit may rise and the use of the age waiver may rise as well.  But for the officer ranks, since there are fewer officers in the military than enlisted, the standards can be elevated and the military will take only the most qualified and competitive people for the officer ranks. You should not go into any military training program with the minimum standards physically regardless of officer or enlisted.  Strive for higher standards in fitness as your life can depend on your fitness level one day. 

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