Is the National Call to Service a Two-Year Enlistment?

This Congressional initiative allows a shorter active duty period

Soldiers in formation
••• Dan Kitwood / Staff/Getty Images

As part of a Congressional initiative called the National Call to Service (CTS), all branches of the U.S. military introduced the option of shorter enlistment cycles for some military jobs. The goal of the program was to give people who might otherwise shy away from a regular four- or six-year active-duty enlistment the opportunity to serve their country.

But even before Call to Service went into effect in 2003, the Army and Navy already had some version of shorter enlistment cycles in place.

These were, and are, somewhat limited to specific recruits and specific duties. 

And to be clear, it's not really just a two-year enlistment. The actual time spent on active duty depends on the length of initial training required. CTS requires the services to develop a program for 15 months of active duty, following initial training.

More Than Just a Two-Year Enlistment

For example, if a recruit joins the Air Force, which has a boot camp that lasts about seven weeks and gets a job that requires nine weeks of job training, that person would incur a total active duty commitment of 19 months (four months for training, plus 15 months active duty after training).

However, for recruits who enlist in the CTS program, the active duty commitment is just the start. Like regular enlistment programs, recruits are obligated to the military for a total of eight years.

Following the active duty commitment, recruits will have to either reenlist on active duty or serve two years in the National Guard or Reserves.

After serving for the additional period, whatever time remains on that total eight-year commitment must be spent either on active duty, in one of the Reserves, in the inactive reserves, or other programs such as the Peace Corps or Americorps. Military members may also choose a combination of these to fulfill their eight-year requirement.

Note well, however: there are several military jobs, particularly those dealing with top-secret clearance or military intelligence which prohibit past or future enrollment in the Peace Corps, for security reasons.

Incentives for National Call to Service

Members who enlist under the CTS may be eligible for one of a few different incentives. These include a monetary bonus which they receive on completion of the two-year active duty portion of their service. Recruits may opt instead for a payment toward qualifying student loans, or an education allowance similar to the GI Bill, for either 12 or 36 months of education. 

Recruits are required to stipulate in the enlistment contract which of the incentives they will receive. If they fail to perform the required service, however, they'll be responsible for reimbursing the government for the cost of part or all of their incentive. 

Each of the services sets specific enlistment criteria for the CTS program, limiting it to certain jobs within each branch. Not all jobs are available under the program, some of which have special requirements, such as civilian certification or training, that recruits need before being considered for entry.