What is the DEP?
In these times, one cannot simply walk into a recruiter's office, sign some papers and ship off to basic training immediately. In general, the recruiting commands must reserve a "slot" for the recruit at basic training. Usually, such slots are booked up months in advance.
That's where the Delayed Enlistment Program (sometimes called the "Delayed Entry Program") comes in. Individuals going onto active duty, enlist first into the DEP. This is an actual enlistment into the inactive reserves, with an agreement to report for active duty (to ship out to boot camp) at a specific time in the future. Under current regulations, one can remain in the DEP for up to 365 days.
Can One Legally Get Out of a DEP Contract?
The DEP is a legal, binding contract. When the recruit signs the DEP Enlistment Contract, he/she is legally agreeing to the following:
(Paragraph 8a of the Enlistment Contract): "FOR ENLISTMENT IN THE DELAYED ENTRY/ENLISTMENT PROGRAM (DEP): I understand that I will be ordered to active duty as a Reservist unless I report to the place shown in item 4 above by (date) for enlistment in the regular component of the United States (branch of service)."
Note what this means. It means that if an applicant failed to show up to ship out to basic training, the military COULD order the individual to active duty. If the individual refused, the military could legally court-martial the individual, if they wanted to.
Now, let's talk reality. This never happens. Never. Not a single person has been involuntarily ordered to active duty, court-martialed, or otherwise prosecuted in civilian courts for being in the DEP and refusing to ship out to boot camp in *AT LEAST* the past 27 years. Not one single person.
Let me preface the rest of this article by stating that I personally have little use for someone who breaks their word. Recruiters work long hours and prepare reams of paperwork to enlist a recruit. The services spend big bucks (of my tax-money!) to process a recruit through the enlistment process. It's unfair to the hard-working recruiter, and unfair to the tax payers to sign an agreement to join the military, and then welsh on the deal. For that reason, I strongly encourage everyone who is interested in joining the military to make absolutely sure that's what you want to do, BEFORE signing the DEP Enlistment Contract.
On the other hand, it's DOD's official policy that anyone can request to be released from the Delayed Enlistment Program. I also have little use for any recruiter who uses lies or intimidation in violation of DOD policy and military recruiting regulations.
Department of Defense (DOD) Directive 1332.14, Enlisted Administrative Separations, and individual service recruiting regulations allow anyone in the DEP to request a separation from the Delayed Enlistment Program. Most DEP discharge requests are approved. Even in those few cases where a stubborn recruiting commander disapproves the request, if the applicant refuses to ship out to basic training, absolutely nothing happens to them. Today's military is an "All Volunteer Force." The services do not need, nor do they want individuals who are not volunteers.
Unfortunately, recruiters work on quotas. Even though most DEP discharge requests are approved, if someone gets discharged from the DEP, the recruiter has wasted all the hard work and paperwork to enlist the applicant, and is going to have to work hard to find a replacement. Understandably, a recruiter is not going to be happy with an applicant who changes his/her mind about joining. The recruiter's boss is also not going to be happy. Because of this, some frustrated recruiters (and even some recruiting station commanders) have been known to use unethical tactics to keep an applicant from dropping out of the DEP.