Army Officer Military Service Obligation: What it is and How it Works

The Army has what is called MSOs, otherwise known as Military Service Obligations. These MSOs can be in the form of Active Duty Service Obligations (ADSO) or Inactive Duty such as Reserve Components.

We are going to examine Army Officer Military Service Obligation: what it is and how it works in today’s post. This subject is often misunderstood, and hopefully this post will help enlighten you on the whats and whys of Military Service Obligations.

Why The Army Has Military Service Obligations

The primary reasons the Army has MSOs are:

  • To get a return on the expenditure of public funds which include ROTC programs, Military Academy, training and education programs, etc…

  • To effectively manage Army resources.

  • To maintain a well qualified and experienced Army Officer force.

  • To accomplish assigned missions.

The fact is: it is just wise business. No business puts out an investment to get nothing in return. So, as an individual who is considering becoming an Officer in the Army, or for any existing Army Officers, you should always consider what the Military Service Obligation is before any of what I will list below happens. If you have planned to retire in 1 year, and you decide to take a class, you may find yourself having to go far past that year to meet your Army Officer Military Service Obligation.

Overall Officer Army Service Obligation

As an Army Officer entering the service, you will have to agree to a total of 8 years of commitment to the U.S. Army. This can be either as enlisted or Officer status, and either in active duty or a reserve component. Do keep in mind though that more time can be added for different things. When time is added through an ADSO, it is to run on a consecutive term and not concurrent with any other Military Service Obligations.

Commission Active Duty Service Obligations

Depending on the type of Commission an Officer receives, he/she receives an ADSO with it.

  • With Direct Commissions, it varies depending on the job the Officer was Commissioned into.

  • Those Officers who were Commissioned via an ROTC scholarship will have a 4 year ADSO.

  • Officers selected via a non-scholarship ROTC program will have a 3 year ADSO.

  • Those who attend Officer Candidate School have a 3 year ADSO.

  • Graduates of the United States Military Academy have a 5 year ADSO.

  • Those who are appointed as Warrant Officers have a 6 year ADSO.

Do Any Promotions Have A MSO Attached?

There are no ADSO for Commissioned Officer promotions, but any promotion to Lieutenant, Captain or Major requires the individual to serve no less than 6 months before they can voluntarily retire. For those Officer at Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel, they must serve in that grade for 3 years before he/she can voluntarily retire.

Warrant Officers who receive a promotion to CW3, CW4 or CW5 have a 2 year ADSO.

Change of Stations

When a Permanent Change of Station occurs, there are variable obligations attached. Some examples may be: Lieutenant Jones receives a permanent Change of Station to a base in Germany. He must complete the tour before he can voluntarily retire. Major Hughes receives a Permanent Change of Station from a TRADOC unit to an Army Staff assignment, she receives a 1 year ADSO.

Military Courses and School

The majority of courses and schooling the Army gives incurs a MSO if they are over 60 days long. The majority will receive an ADSO of 3 times the school length. So, Captain Forest goes to a course that lasts 90 days, he receives 270 days of ADSO. There are some courses that do not work on the 3 times scale and have a prescribed ADSO attached to them. It is wise to educate yourself on this before agreeing to take any course. Some examples are:

  • The Information System Management Course receives a 2 year ADSO and lasts 19 weeks and 4 days.

  • Initial Entry Fight Training receives a 6 year ADSO pass or fail.

  • The Aviation Safety Officer Course receives a 1 year ADSO.

  • Officers attending the Special Forces Detachment Officer Qualification Course receive a 3 year ADSO, but this can run concurrent to similar ADSOs.

As you can see, the variables are immense. You must remember that it is your career and life. It is your responsibility to know and understand the military obligation you will have before agreeing to anything.

Civilian Schooling

The Army and the Federal Government offer paid civilian courses and schooling for members, but this doesn’t mean they are completely free. Most carry an ADSO with them. As with the Military Schooling, many civilian training programs financed by the Army that are over 60 days long incur an ADSO of 3 times the course length. The only change with this is if an Officer receives tuition assistance, he/she will receive a 2 year ADSO.

ROTC Instructors

Those who take a position as an ROTC Instructor do not incur an ADSO, but they are required to complete the Academic Year.


What I have listed above is not by any means fully complete. There are so many variables within the United States Army, a large book could be written on this subject. To fully understand Army Officer Military Service Obligations, it is best to read Army Regulation 350-100. There also have been many Federal Laws made around this subject. You may want to see these links for the 10 U.S. Code:

  • 651

  • 653

  • 4348

And these are just a few. You can view the laws at this link.

Final Thoughts

I have heard many complaints about Military Service Obligations, but when you truly look at the big picture, isn’t it fair that since the Army and Federal Government is paying the way, they can just ask for a little in return?

I will reiterate, before you agree to anything, check what your Military Service Obligation will be. It is your responsibility to manage your career and your Army Officer knowledge.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any questions? Tell us about the Military Service Obligations you have had to fulfill. Do you believe they are fair? You can post any, and all below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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2 thoughts on “Army Officer Military Service Obligation: What it is and How it Works”

  1. This question is in regards to the initial entry flight training ADSO of 6 yrs starting at time of graduation from flight school.
    Can I be held back from transferring out of my army national guard Aviation unit to a civil affairs reserve unit? My current unit tells me I have to wait the 6 years before transferring out of the unit…

    1. I’d request the regulation that says that. In my AOC there were many classmates that failed out of school and incurred the same ADSO I did but certainly they don’t do the same job I do. While that’s purely anecdote, I’d just ask for the reg and then you know for certain. If they can’t produce make your move that will be your next check on what’s possible ;)

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