What Is the National Call to Service?

This Congressional Initiative Allows for a Shorter Active Duty Period

Soldiers in formation
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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 let people who might otherwise shy away from a regular four- or six-year active-duty enlistment have 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 is joining the Air Force, which has a boot camp that lasts about 7 weeks and gets a job that requires 9 weeks of job training, that person would incur a total active duty commitment of 19 months (4 months for training, plus 15 months active duty after training).

However, for recruits who enlist through 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 yers in the National Guard or Reserves.


After serving for the additional time 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 (which doesn't require the weekend drill or annual training, but does mean the possibility of being recalled to active duty if needed, 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. 

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.