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Your Army ETS Timeline Explained

Your time in the Army felt like a lifetime during your contract — now, you’ve blinked and it’s time to prepare to leave the military. You could re-enlist, but you’re ready for the next chapter of your life.

Are you ready to start the process? Do you know when and how to start ETSing?

If you answered these questions with a “no”, or if you’re curious about how to properly ETS from the Army, this guide is for you. 

We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about your Army ETS timeline and how to prepare for life in the civilian world.

Table of Contents

What Does “ETS” Stand For?

The military world is full of codes and abbreviations, including ETS. 

What does it stand for? 

Expiration – Term of Service (ETS). 

Basically, your ETS date is the date in which you are released from active duty service — unless you choose to re-enlist. But if you’re here, reading this, you likely aren’t re-enlisting. 

But, here’s something to note: even though you’re being released from active duty service, soldiers still must complete their military reserve obligations.

What Does A Typical Army ETS Timeline Look Like?

For enlisted soldiers, the ETS process begins 180 days prior to the effective date of separation. Don’t wait until the last minute to begin taking steps to ETSing. 

Save yourself the stress.

 As soon as you find out your official ETS date, begin figuring out what you can get started on. Typically, it’s best to start the process 18 months prior to your separation date. 

The timeline for a typical ETS looks something like this:

ETS Army - 18 Months Prior

During this time, you want to start making choices about your future. What job are you going to have when you leave the military? Will you be buying a home? Going to college? 

This is the prime time to make sure your finances are in order. Will you be taking advantage of your GI bill? Do you have a savings built up that you can depend on until you find a job?

ETS Army - 12 Months Prior

A year before your ETS may seem like loads of time, but it will go quickly. Start thinking of what your ideal job is going to be once you leave the military. What interests you? What skills do you have? 

Have you started your resume? Does it need to be updated or revamped? 

This is also the time where you’ll want to keep track of your paper trail — have your orders been approved? Do you have appointments you need in order to ETS scheduled?

ETS Army - 6 Months Prior

It’s time to start your job search. Reach out to companies you’d like to work for — even if they don’t have a job listing. Your skillset might be exactly what the company needs to add to their team. 

Are you moving back to your home of record? Although it may be too early to actually schedule your move, you may be able to attend your counseling. 

ETS briefings are mandatory for soldiers separating from the Army. This briefing must be attended at least 120 days prior to your separation date.

We’ll discuss more about this briefing later.

ETS Army - 3 Months Prior

You’re in the final countdown to starting a new phase of life. 

As the countdown continues, and the excitement and nerves rise, prepare as swiftly as possible for your ETS date. 

Three months prior to ETSing, you should: 

  • Review your finances. 
  • Gather your medical records, as well as your families. 
  • Learn about insurance policies — life, health, dental, etc. 
  • Go to any last-minute appointments that you need — separation physical, dental work, briefings, etc. 

ETS Army - 1 Month Prior

At ADU we like to call this phase the “It just got real phase”. 

Your last month in the Army is all about cleaning the house and making sure you are prepared for the final day of your military career. 

If you haven’t already done so, and depending on your post or base requirements, you may need to attend a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) that was created to help military members with their transition out of the military.  

During your last month of service, you should also make sure you: 

  • Have filed your DD214
  • Reviewed and received all of your medical records
  • Have your awards, certificates, etc.

What You Can Expect On Your ETS Date

You made it. It’s here — your day has come to start the next chapter of your life. 

Your ETS date can be an emotional day, but for many soldiers, it starts off like any other workday: PT and formation in the morning, then waiting for the Personnel office to hand you your DD214 (if you haven’t already received it). 

Make sure all of the information on your DD214 is correct. You’ll need this document in the future, especially if you are trying to get a government job outside of the military — you may receive a preference for many jobs. 

You’ll complete any unfinished business, possibly attend a farewell ceremony, go home and hang up your uniform. Just like that, your years in the service have come to an end. 

You’re likely filled with excitement, sadness, maybe even a bit of nervousness — but a new adventure awaits.

3 Steps To ETS Out Of The Army

Prior to your ETS date, there are several things that must be done

Aside from letting your chain of command know that you are planning to leave the military and that the date is approaching, there are several steps to take.

In this section, we’re discussing the three most important steps to ETS out of the Army.

#1: Attend An ETS Briefing

As mentioned above, every active-duty soldier is required to attend an ETS briefing at least 120 days prior to their separation date.

If you have terminal leave saved and you plan on using it, you must attend this briefing no less than 180-240 days prior to your ETS date. 

During this briefing, soldiers are provided information about out-processing and the benefits available to them outside of the Army. 

Topics covered include…

  • Dental care
  • Medical care
  • Education
  • Transitioning
  • Finance

Do you know how long you’ll have medical coverage after your ETS date? Do you have a plan for when you become ineligible for Tricare? This briefing helps make the transition from military life to civilian life a little easier to navigate.

#2: Get Your Affairs In Order

After you attend your ETS briefing, you’ll likely have a better idea of what you need to get done prior to leaving the military. 

As you get closer and closer to your ETS date, getting your affairs in order will become vital to a smooth transition from the Army.

What affairs are we referring to?

  • Do you have a job lined up after you leave the military?
  • Are you planning on buying or renting a home? Do you know where you’re going to be living?
  • Have you applied to the college you’re going to go to? 
  • Have you filled out all of your out-processing paperwork? 
  • Etc.

Do you need to take leave to get things done? Or will your chain of command give you the time to do it during the workday? 

Finding A New Job

In 2019, of the 284,000 unemployed veterans, 56 percent of them were between the ages of 25 and 54. Securing a job after you leave the military is an intimidating feat.

We’ve heard from many soldiers who are left wondering: 

What do I want to do outside of the military? 

Being a soldier is the only job I’ve ever had… Who will hire me with only the skills I’ve learned in the military? 

The skills and knowledge you’ve gained from your time in the service make you an asset to many companies. You just have to know how to position yourself. 

If you’re unsure about what career path you want to take outside of the military, we recommend creating a list of “ideal jobs” to start the process. 

From there, we can help you narrow down and learn about the job for you.

Figuring Out Your Finances

One of the biggest things to ask yourself is this: 

Are you financially able to support yourself for an extended period of time after your ETS? 

Figuring out your finances will make the transition out of the military easier on your entire family. It is never too early to start preparing for the bills that you may have after leaving the military:

  • Rent or a mortgage
  • Utility bills
  • Insurance bills
  • Etc. 

If you are concerned about finances and have not reached your ETS date, there are resources available to you. 

The Army Emergency Relief may be able to assist you with your needs, as well as the Veterans of Foreign Wars Unmet Needs program.

Securing A New Home

When it comes to securing a home, there are several factors to consider:

  • Will you be renting or buying a home? 
  • Are you building a new home? 
  • Do you have your first and last month’s rent covered already?

Your answers to these questions are important in order to figure out your next move when securing a home.

If you’re planning on building your home — which is a realistic option if you’ve already secured a job — you may want to start the process as early as possible. 

If you’re going to be renting a home —  will you be taking leave to check out places to live before your ETS date, or do you plan on looking at places once you ETS? If you are going to be looking for somewhere to live after your ETS date, secure a place to stay in the meantime.

#3: Prepare For Life In The Civilian World

Life in the civilian world tends to come as a sort of culture shock to soldiers after spending years in the Army. 

Paying rent and utilities, having to find health insurance, paying taxes, searching for a job — it’s all a little different outside of the Army. There’s no commander coming to make sure your responsibilities are taken care of — it’s all on you now.

Outside of preparing for expenses, many soldiers don’t realize how different their lifestyles may become. Physical training every morning is no longer mandatory — will you be signing up for a gym membership? How do you intend on maintaining a healthy lifestyle in the civilian world? 

If you haven’t already secured a job, do you know where to look for one? Websites like Indeed and LinkedIn are great places to network, get your resume to businesses you’re interested in working for, and potentially land your dream job.

How ADU Can Help You Make The Most Of Your Army ETS Timeline

Our mission at American Dream U is to help our military members, as well as their spouses, with their transition out of the military — landing their dream life — whether that is by…

  • Furthering their education

  • Landing their dream job

  • Starting their own business

… we’re here and ready to help every step of the way. Let us help you make your dream life your reality. 

Still unsure of if you are ready to ETS or re-enlist? We can help you weigh your options and see what is available to you outside of the service.


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