US Military Enlistment Standards: How Old is Too Old?

Each branch of the service had different upper age limits

Fresh Recruits Take Oath Of Enlistment At NYC's Only Military Base
Chris Hondros / Getty Images

One would think that age to enlist in the US military would be a simple category. One is either old enough, or too old, right? Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work that way. Under federal law, the minimum age for enlistment in the United States military is 17 (with parental consent) and 18 (without parental consent). The maximum age is 35.

However, Department of Defense policy allows the individual services to specify the maximum age of enlistment based upon their own unique requirements.

The Air Force tends to have an older upper limit for enlistment, whereas the Marine Corps' cutoff age is younger than the other branches of the service.

Each branch of the military has set maximum ages for those without any prior service enlistment. For those with prior enlistment, the circumstances will vary significantly case by case, so it's best to check with the branch you want to reenlist with to find out your eligibility.

The individual services have set the following maximum ages for non-prior service enlistment:

Active Duty None-Prior Service

  • Army - 35 (must ship to basic training prior to 35th birthday. The Army experimented with raising the age limit to age 42 for a brief period of time, but effective April 1st, 2011, the Army has reverted to the lower age limit.
  • Air Force - 39
  • Navy - 34
  • Marines - 28
  • Coast Guard - Age 27. Note: up to age 32 for those selected to attend A-school directly upon enlistment (this is mostly for prior service).

    Reserve Non-Prior Service

    • Army Reserves - 35
    • Army National Guard - 35 
    • Air Force Reserve - 34
    • Air National Guard - 40 
    • Naval Reserves - 39
    • Marine Corps Reserve - 29
    • Coast Guard Reserves - Age 39

    Age Waivers for Enlistment

    Age waivers for non-prior service enlistments are very rare. Generally these are approved for those who started the enlistment process within the required age limits, but were unable to complete the process and ship to basic training before their birthday.

    In these cases, only a couple of months of age was waived.

    Prior Service Enlistments

    The age limit for prior service enlistment for most of the branches is the same as above, except that an individual's total previous military time can be subtracted from their current age. For example, let's say that an individual has four years of credible military service in the Marine Corps and wants to join the Air Force. The Air Force could waive the individual's maximum enlistment age to age 31 (Maximum age of 27 for the Air Force, plus four years credible service in the Marines).

    For the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserve, the maximum age of enlistment for prior service is 32, after computing the prior-service age adjustment.

    For the Army and Air National National Guard, the maximum age for prior service enlistment is 59, as long as the member has enough years of prior service to be able to complete 20 years of creditable service for retirement by age 60.

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