National Guard ETS Process: Key Considerations

In today’s post, I will discuss the National Guard ETS Process. I will cover this from a small unit leadership perspective and from a soldier perspective.

Finding the answers and guidance on how to ETS, or End of Term Service, is difficult…more so than one would expect. There isn’t much information on the internet, and reading an AR policy can be tedious, and what is out there tends to be written by gung-ho re-up types. While reading this article, please keep in mind this process will vary from state-to-state. The best thing to do is talk with your small unit leaders and figure out what is required in your unit. Here is a short insight to how you will ETS from the National Guard.

The National Guard ETS Process & Timeline

180-Days Out

While the Active component attends a mandatory ACAP briefing regarding civilian employment, this is often not utilized in the Guard. You may already have a civilian job. If not, you may want to start looking for one, especially if you were AGR and are not retiring. About 180-days out your unit should be tracking your ETS date and most likely than not, your Commander or Recruiting and Retention NCO will have a sit down with you to talk about extending.

Depending on the current situation of your unit, you may just sign that you are not going to “re-up” or possibly extend. I know that our Brigade was offering bonus incentives this past ETS go-around as we just received notice that we were deploying to Afghanistan. So, begin to look to talk with someone about 180-days out (or about 6 drills away from ETS).

90-Days Out

Some states may go ahead and draft your ETS orders at this point. Retirees should get their orders as soon as retirement request is approved. If not, inquire whether or not you will be receiving them and begin to make the necessary moves to ETS (as now you will be a lot closer to the date).  Some of these things include scheduling your last military physical (trust me, you will want to get this done and on the record), any outstanding counseling, prepare the necessary paperwork (i.e. DD Form 2656 if you are retiring) and take a visit to your S1 or Readiness NCO to go over your paperwork to ensure that it is 100% accurate. For example, take a look at your DA 201 File, SGLI, verify your PEBD, BASD, ERB/ORB, DOR, etc. If these things are not corrected before your ETS…well, you may be SOL. Once you ensure they are accurate…PRINT AND MAINTAIN A COPY!!! Especially your medical and dental records!

30-Days Out

Down to the wire now and you are anxious and a bit sad to be leaving. That’s normal. However, a few last items need to be addressed before you’re in the free and clear. First and foremost, you will be “clearing” your Unit. This means bringing in every single piece of gear and equipment that you have signed for and that is on your hand receipt. Can’t find it? Better bring your check book or visit an Army surplus store… This process (as long as your maintained your stuff) should be pretty smooth.

Your second to last drill weekend you will want to sit down with your Admin or Readiness NCO and ensure that any and all paperwork is good to go prior to you leaving. There may be some random forms floating around that they will need you to sign (again, depending on your Unit…) Once you are done with this drill then…. well, you’re done! Congratulations on a proud military career.

Tips for Soldiers About to ETS

In the paragraphs that follow, I’d like to share my best National Guard ETS tips for soldiers about to make that big step.

# 1: Have a Game Plan

I don’t think there is anything wrong with leaving the Army. We will all make that decision at some point in our career. That being said, it makes sense to have a game plan before you ETS from the National Guard. Make sure that you are 100% sure you want to leave. If you are still sitting on the fence and are undecided, it might be in your best interest to learn about the IRR, IMA, and ING programs, so you don’t leave the military entirely (in case you have a change of heart). The last thing you want to do is leave the Army without a plan and end up homeless living on the street, or end up moving back in with your parents.

# 2: Maintain a Good Attitude

There are few things I can’t stand more than the “short-timer’s attitude.” Just because you are close to your ETS date, don’t cop an attitude. Don’t act like you don’t care anymore. Don’t be sarcastic or disrespectful. Stay professional. Do your job and do it well, until the day your time is up. This is probably the one thing that people mess up the most.

# 3: Double Check All of Your Military Records

It would be in your best interest to double check your military records (personnel and training files) before you ETS. Make sure you have copies of everything you need. Double check everything is in IPERMS, updated, and accurate. If there is a discrepancy, get it fixed before you ETS. The last thing you want to do is try to find a missing certificate or piece of paperwork after you’ve left the Army.

# 4: Speak with an Army Career Counselor

Even if your heart is set on leaving the Army (that’s fine) make sure you sit down with a career counselor and listen to what they have to say. Find out what options are available to you, even if you think you won’t be interested. Pick their brain and see what they have to offer you. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

# 5: Find Out About Your Veteran Benefits & Entitlements

Speak with the career counselor, your S1, your chain of command, and the subject matter experts about what your entitlements and benefits are as a veteran. If you served honorably, you are entitled to certain things. You should figure out what those things are before you ETS, so you know what options are available to you in the months and years to come.

# 6: Have a Job Lined Up

I would highly suggest that you have a job lined up before you ETS. This could be a full-time or part-time position. If you don’t plan on working at a job, because you will be a college student instead, make sure you know the ins and outs of your education benefits. If possible, update your resume and sit down with a civilian job recruiter before you ETS, just to see what is available in the marketplace.

# 7: Inspect & Account for Your OCIE and Property

About two to three months before your ETS date, make sure you do an inventory of your OCIE and any property you might be signed for. If anything is missing, get it replaced before the final inventory. Update your shortage annexes and hand receipts. Doing these inspections ahead of time will save you time and money when you turn everything in.

Tips for Small Unit Leaders

As a small unit leader, your job is to retain GOOD Soldiers. Don’t focus on retaining everyone. Some people should ETS. However, there are few things worse than seeing a “good” or “superstar” soldier leave the military. As a commander or senior NCO, if you have a soldier about to ETS from your unit, you should do the following things:

Find out why they are leaving. Do an exit interview with them. Be a good listener. Ask questions and listen. Don’t get confrontational or judgmental. You might discover the Soldier would easily change their mind if you have an open conversation with them. Even if they are set on their ETS decision, you will gain valuable insights that might help you improve your unit.

Find out what their game plan is. Find out what they plan on doing after the military. It’s our job as a leader to genuinely care about our soldiers as people, not just as soldiers. Make sure they have some type of game-plan in place, so they don’t end up homeless or destitute. As a leader, you should ensure every soldier leaves the military in a better situation than they were in when they first joined!

Ask if they need help with anything. Ask if there is anything you can do to help them have a smooth transition. This shows you care. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.

Keep the door open. Let them know the door is open if they want to return to the National Guard (assuming they are a good soldier). Don’t let them leave on a negative note or with a bad taste for the military in the mouth. You will be quite surprised how many people will COME BACK, or even change their mind last minute, if you show them you care.

Present them an award. Make sure your soldier gets some type of ETS award. It does not have to be fancy or expensive. I suggest getting them some type of service or achievement medal and a personalized gift. This “personal touch” will send them off with a “happy” feeling about you, your unit, and the National Guard. You can even do a cookout or “exit party” with them.

Final Thoughts

Again, folks, this is just a cursory overview of the National Guard ETS Process, and roughly how it works. To ensure that you ETS smoothly, talk with the proper people (S1, Readiness NCO, R&R NCO, Medical, etc.) and establish a game plan. Even talking with several Active Duty guys, not many people know exactly how the ETS process works, but there are ways to get through it.  Understand the process and you will be good to go!

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below. We will do our best to answer them for you. Thanks. Here’s a great book I recommend for transitioning to civilian life.

finding meaning after the military

Suggested Resources & Reading
  1. Military Career Tips
  2. How to Set Goals for Your Military Career
  3. How to Map Out Your Military Career
chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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1 thought on “National Guard ETS Process: Key Considerations”

  1. Thanks for sharing the National Guard ETS Process, Justin. I know that every state does it a little bit differently, but the tips you provided are a very good starting point. My only advice to people about to ETS is to make sure you have a game-plan and to make sure all of your paperwork is straight. It would also help to get a copy of all of your medical records and make sure you have any injuries or medical issues properly documented.


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