What Is an Entry Level Separation (ELS) in the Military?

A Look at the Basic Military Discharge Characterizations

Military soldier with bag in airport, low section
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Lot's of folks apparently misunderstand the term "Entry Level Separation." When it comes to military service, it's a cold, hard reality that there will be some who come to the conclusion that the military is not for them. Some of those enlisted servicemen and servicewomen begin research into how to get out of the military before their service is complete. It is often within that context that veterans like myself are asked, "How can I get an Entry Level Separation?"

What Entry Level Separation Is and What it Isn't

An Entry Level Separation, however, is not something that you can ask for. It's not a separate discharge program; it's simply one of the available service characterizations that a commander can designate when someone is discharged.

When an enlisted person is discharged, their service is characterized, based on their conduct and performance. The possible characterizations include Honorable, General (under honorable conditions), Under Other Than Honorable (UOTHC), and Entry Level (ELS). T​here are two other possible service characterizations for enlisted personnel: Bad Conduct and Dishonorable, but those two discharge types are punitive, not administrative, and can only be imposed by a court-martial.

Honorable Discharge

If the military member completely meets the standards of conduct and performance expected of military members, the commander will characterize their service as "honorable" upon discharge.

A person with an Honorable discharge is considered a veteran (in most cases) and is eligible for veterans benefits.

General (Under Honorable Conditions)

Despite the use of the term "under honorable conditions," a general discharge is not on the same level as an "Honorable" discharge. Ultimately, it still indicates that the person screwed up and got kicked out of the military, but their conduct wasn't quite serious enough to warrant the most severe administrative discharge characterization, the UOTHC.

Those who receive a "general" discharge are eligible for most veteran benefits, except those benefits that require an honorable discharge (such as the G.I. Bill).

Under Other Than Honorable Conditions (UOTHC)

This is the worst service characterization that can be given for an administrative discharge. It means that the servicemember did not meet the expected levels of conduct and/or performance required of military members. Usually, a person with a UOTHC discharge is not eligible for veteran benefits, but the actual decision is made on a case-by-case basis by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).

Entry Level Separation (ELS)

This characterization is often misunderstood, as some people think that it's some kind of special separation program that allows them to quit if they have less than 180 days of service. It's not. ELS is simply another type of service characterization. If the servicemember has less than 180 days of service and is discharged, the commander can indicate that they didn't have enough time to adequately measure this person's conduct and performance by characterizing their service as "Entry Level." That's all an ELS is.

Instead of giving an Honorable, General, or UOTHC, the service is essentially "uncharacterized." An ELS is not honorable, it's not general, it's not anything. It means that the commander didn't have enough time to make a fair decision as to the overall service characterization. Not surprisingly, a commander is not required to characterize your service as Entry Level if you have has less than 180 days of service. If your commander feels it's appropriate and feels he or she knows enough about your conduct and performance, your commander still has the option to characterize your service as honorable, general, or UOTHC instead. This is often done in cases of misconduct or failure to meet or maintain standards. Usually, someone with an ELS has not been in the military long enough to qualify for most veteran benefits.

More Information on Types of Military Discharge

For more information about types of early military separation or discharges, be sure to check out these related articles:

Early Discharge from the Military

Getting Out of the Military

Administrative Military Separation

Is it Possible to Upgrade Your Military Discharge?

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