I recently received an email from a reader who was interested in what type of discharge he would receive if he failed out of Army Advanced Individual Training, or AIT (also called Technical School or Tech School by other branches). Here is his full question, and my answer:
Question: I’m in AIT and on my 9th week here and I realized that the Army is not for me. Do you know what discharge I would get for failing out? I have one negative counseling and it was for being late. Will the discharge affect my career outside the military?
Answer: The first and most important thing I can tell you is that technical training is not the same as the operational military. Things are much different, and in most cases, much better, once you leave training. Start with Basic Training: you learn all the basics of being in the military—discipline, customs and courtesies, how to dress, how to march, how to maintain and fire a weapon, teamwork, and on and on. You will be whipped into shape both physically and mentally.
By default, Basic Training must be rigorous and rigid in its format and teaching. You will be yelled at. You will be put under stress. You will be force fed your branch’s history, and structure, and way of life. In short, you must learn all you can learn about living and functioning in your branch of service in just a few short weeks. It is stressful because it has to be. It is stressful because the military needs to weed out those who aren’t cut out for the military way of life. They aren’t trying to weed out people who decide one day they don’t want to be in the military—they are weeding out those who can’t physically or emotionally meet the criteria. You made it through Basic Training, and that is an accomplishment.
What You Really Need to Know About AIT & Tech School
Here is something your recruiters probably never told you: AIT and Tech School are in some ways an extension of what you learned in Basic Training. You see, the Army or any other branch of service just can’t let you cut loose right after leaving Basic Training. If they did, they would have a huge problem on their hands. Trainees would go crazy and unlearn everything the Army just put them through. Instead, the Army must ease their training population into the active duty service. And this means they must enforce standards on their trainees that won’t be found outside of a training environment. Things like falling into formation at O-Dark-Thirty for crazy fun runs. Marching to class. Remaining in uniform 24-7 for the first few weeks or months of class, confinement to base, room inspections, and all kinds of details that seem over-the-top to trainees. It also means more yelling, quick-paced learning, lots of tests, and lots of stress.
In many ways, the military keeps the stress level high on purpose. There are several reasons for this: They need to keep students focused on completing their training. Otherwise students will let their newly found discipline slack, and they will fail out of their training and be kicked out of the military. That costs everyone a lot of time and money.
The quick pace is designed to put students through the course as quickly as possible—again to see if they can handle it, but also because it costs the military a lot of money to train their troops. Finally, the stress level is high because each branch needs to see if their trainees are physically, mentally, and emotionally tough enough to handle the stress the military will throw at them. You are training for war, after all. And if you can’t handle the stress of AIT or tech school, how can you handle being in a war zone?
Can You Fail out of AIT / Tech School?
The answer, as you well know, is yes. You can fail AIT or Tech School. But I’m not going to recommend it, for several reasons. First, it takes a lot to fail out of AIT. If you fail a section, they will simply roll you back a couple weeks and you will repeat those weeks of training. During that time you can expect tutoring or extra homework to make sure you pass.
If that isn’t enough and you fail the same section more than once, you may fail your AIT. At that point, the Army is simply going to reclass you into a different MOS. This can take several weeks, or even a couple months. During your waiting time, you will have the honor of performing details around the squadron, including fun tasks such as cleaning, checking passes, and whatever else they can find for you. All the while you have to watch everyone on your squadron graduate and move on to the operational Army while you wait around for your next assignment. Not only will this be boring and make you hate the Army more, it will feel demeaning to bear the social stigma of being someone who couldn’t hack it through the training.
Then you get your assignment and get shipped off to your next Tech School. At that time, you start over at the beginning in a new career field. It’s likely you will also have to start your restrictions back at week one (meaning you must wear the uniform 24/7, must remain on base, etc), until you reach the same level as the rest of your classmates.
What happens if you fail a second AIT? At that point they may look to separate you from the service, or they may try one more time to reclass you into another career field. Either way, it will take several more weeks for them to process you. That’s several more weeks that you have to perform mind-numbing details. And that’s several more weeks you will be stuck in the training environment that you don’t like.
Did you join the Guard or Reserves? In that case, you may or may not be reclassed into a new job immediately. The Army may send you back to your unit for them to determine what to do with you. That could mean reclassing you into a new job, or it could mean kicking you out. Either way, it will probably not be a quick process.
What About Failing Your PT Test?
Sure, you can get kicked out of the military for failing your PT test. But don’t try it at AIT / Tech School. You wouldn’t be the first person to try it. All they have to do is look at your scores from Basic Training and where you are now, and they will see that you aren’t trying. All that means is you will get put on remedial physical fitness training, which will be monitored, and you will have to test every week or every other week until you pass. It will be very difficult to fail your test under these conditions. Sure, you could fail on purpose, but that’s not a good idea. I’ll cover that when we discuss discharges.
What Type of Separation Do You Get from AIT / Tech School?
And now to answer your question… There are a couple types of discharges you could get if you are forced to separate from AIT / Tech School. The most common type of separation is an Entry-Level Performance and Conduct Separation, which is also commonly referred to as “failure to adapt.” This is an uncharacterized separation, meaning it is neither good, nor bad.
But here’s the deal: you can’t request a “failure to adapt” discharge. This can only be initiated by your Commander. Here’s the other thing you need to know: to grant this discharge, the Commander must view your actions as unintentional. In your case, he must believe you simply cannot pass your training. A commander will not grant this type of discharge if he believes you are intentionally failing your coursework.
If your Commander believes you are purposely failing through AIT, then it’s possible you may receive a non-judicial punishment, a court-martial, or a more punitive discharge. If you are very lucky, that could be a general discharge. But more than likely, it would be an Other than Honorable Discharge. This can have a negative impact on your future employment potential, especially if you want to ever work for a state or federal government, both of which will require you to disclose any and all military service, including your discharge status.
Final note on discharges: yes, it is possible to get a discharge upgraded. But don’t listen to the barracks lawyers who “know everything about everything,” including how to get out the military and get your discharge upgraded. It can be done, but it is usually a lengthy process and requires you to prove there was an error during the discharge process. In short, don’t count on it.
(Here is the Army Reg on Enlisted Separations; read this to understand the types of discharges, and what they mean for you).
Say Goodbye to Military and Veterans Benefits
If you are like most people who joined the military, you probably did so for several reasons, including a sense of honor and duty to your country, to face and pass a major challenge, and possibly for the numerous benefits you are eligible to receive through your military service. But most of those benefits are only available while you are serving, or after you serve a minimum amount of time. You won’t qualify for most, of not all, of the major military and veterans benefits if you throw in the towel during training.
Say goodbye to your Tuition Assistance benefits, and the opportunity of earning a free college degree while you are on active duty. Say goodbye to the Montgomery GI Bill and all the money you paid into it if you signed up for the MGIB in Basic Training. Say goodbye to the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the opportunity to transfer it to your wife and/or children (this could be a huge benefit, even if you aren’t married or don’t have children right now). You can also say goodbye to a variety of other benefits, including access to home loans through the VA loan program, job training, and various veterans benefits programs.
Do You Really Want to Set This Precedent for the Rest of Your Life?
I’m all for freedom of choice. We make decisions big and small everyday. And these decisions define us in the long run. I chose to join the Air Force. It was difficult at times. Sometimes very difficult. But I don’t regret that decision at all. In fact, I’m proud I pressed through, even when times were hard. I am a better man because of it. And I believe you will be too, if you stick with it.
Here’s the deal. Basic training is tough. So is AIT / Tech School. But it’s designed that way for all the reasons listed above, and more. The military wants to weed people out. They want people to quit, because it means their force is stronger than it would be if they opened the doors to everyone.
But how will you handle quitting? Knowing that you went back on the oath you swore to your country when you enlisted? Knowing that you could have performed better, but you chose to take the easy way out? Will taking the easy way out now make it easier for you to quit when things get hard in the future? Because they will. You will face difficult times many times in your life. The decisions you make now will impact your future decisions.
Only you can answer these questions. But I would encourage you to stick with your training, graduate from AIT, and enter into the operational military. You will quickly see that life on the other side of training is much different than living and working in a training environment. You will also gain the satisfaction of staring down a difficult task, and defeating it. Give it a shot. It’s much easier and more beneficial than purposefully failing your way out of the military.