Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious offense in every state. Conviction can bring financial penalties, loss of driving privileges and even jail time. Given the plethora of evidence implicating drunk driving in countless fatal and devastating accidents, drivers everywhere have little excuse to be ignorant of the consequences of impairment behind the wheel. A DUI (or DWI, i.e. driving while intoxicated) verdict impugns the driver’s character. That said, can you join the military with a DUI?
Eligibility to Serve
The U.S. Armed Forces became an all-volunteer entity in 1973. Prior to that year, most recruits were drafted, and had little choice in the matter. A primary goal of this change was to improve the overall quality of the men and women who serve. Today, most authorities acknowledge that soldiers are better educated, trained and prepared for the rigorous duties of national defense.
Applicants must demonstrate the abilities to perform physical exercises at a certain number of repetitions within a fixed period of time. They must likewise prove rudimentary abilities in communications, literacy and problem-solving. After all, the U.S. military is not simply a jobs program. These trainees may have to fight a war.
A top priority among recruiters is selecting people who exhibit discipline and integrity. In addition to standards of intellectual and physical fitness, these character traits address issues of trustworthiness and reliability. Candidates, therefore, disqualify themselves if they possess a documented history of sexual assault, attempted suicide or acute mood disorders, to name a few.
A Problem for Recruiters
When asking, “Can you join the military with a DUI?” inquirers enter into a less certain realm of enlistment standards. The answers are, in fact, yes, no and maybe. Which one you get depends largely on frequency, history and the nature of the conviction. Formally and officially, the military services take a dim view of alcohol and drug disorders. Multiple convictions are probably deal-breakers for the aspiring soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.
For one thing, a DUI conviction might be smoke signaling the fire of addiction. Of course, many people get DUI convictions without alcohol dependency. Still, a DUI increases the probability, at the very least. Another reason to exclude DUI/DWI recipients is the status of their driver’s licenses. So many military billets require the operation of a vehicle so a suspension or revocation makes the candidate of limited utility. Finally, if the DUI is a felony conviction, the military applicant will face too many obstacles in obtaining a security clearance.
The Coveted Waiver
Yet all is not lost for the one-time malefactor. True, the armed forces are tougher on DUIs than private employers. Some convictees manage to get their convictions expunged from public records, which goes a long way with many corporations and businesses. Not so with the uniformed services. They will know about it and hold it against you. At the same time, leniency is possible under the right circumstances.
- The DUI is a misdemeanor and not a felony conviction.
- The conviction is for a first offense.
- Nobody was hurt as a result of the drunk driving.
- The penalties are resolved and the driving privileges are restored.
- The resolution occurred at least a year prior to military application.
If these criteria are satisfied, then the recruiter can seek to obtain a waiver for the candidate. This is not just a matter of signing a piece of paper. The candidate must draft a letter of explanation and regret, rich in factual detail. Furthermore, letters of recommendation from employers, clergy, professors and others familiar with the applicant’s character are also necessary. These offset the taint of the DUI conviction. So, can you join the military with a DUI? It is possible, but not without effort.
What Else Affects the Prospects of a Waiver?
To be frank, other variables besides proof of good character can make the candidate’s chance more feasible. Some recruiters are savvier than others, and are better at processing the paperwork quickly and expeditiously. While this may not seem fair, it is simply a fact of life. Inexperienced recruitment personnel could bungle the effort.
Another factor that bears heavily on waiver issuance is need. In an era when demand for soldiers exceeds supply, the leadership must adjust and tweak admission standards in order to make their quotas. When targets are met easily, the brass can afford to be more selective. To be sure, waivers have as much to do with intramural military issues as with the fitness of the candidate.
How Does a DUI Affect Current Service Personnel?
Thus far the question of “Can you join the military with a DUI?” focused on fresh aspiring recruits. What about those already serving? What happens when they are convicted of driving under the influence? Subject to both state law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the offender can face all kinds of censures. Moreover, the host country has its own discipline for those serving abroad. These possibilities should prompt serious reflection before getting behind a wheel.
Within the service, a drunk driver can suffer demotion, loss of pay, extended duty and even forced separation from the respective branch. For those allowed to stay, a stringent substance abuse education program is imposed. An official reprimand is permanently affixed to their service records. Beyond these measures, military culture imputes dishonor upon enlisted personnel and officers who bring embarrassment to their comrades in arms. Multiple infractions will almost certainly result in dishonorable discharge.
The key to getting into the military with a DUI on your record is having enough positives to balance out this glaring liability. Neither do you want to add to the list of legal debits as you make an application to one of the military branches. Making this mistake an isolated footnote to your personal history is an optimal strategy to pursue. It is the likeliest path toward taking the oath.