People enlist into one of the military branches for a variety of reasons – to serve their country and for the education benefits are two of the more popular ones. In regard to these two reasons, there is a little-known option called the National Call to Service (CTS) program that is a different blend of both.

The CTS is a three-tiered enlistment option available to high school graduates having never served before – i.e., not open to prior service individuals. Enacted as part of the 2004 Defense Authorization Bill, it contains a unique military/civilian service option, along with choosing one from several different education benefits.

Enlisting for this option incurs an eight-year commitment – the same as it does in any of the military branches. However, the difference is usually only two years of it has to be served on active duty. The CTS option was not popular with most branches of the military when it first came out, but now with recruitment numbers dwindling, the military branches see it as a way to drive up the number of enlistments.

The Service Option

The service part of CTS consists of:

  • Completing initial entry training (IET) – basic combat training and advanced individual training
  • Serving 15 months on active duty post IET
  • Serving a 24-month period of post active duty in the National Guard or Reserves

That covers approximately half of the eight-year commitment. The other half can be served in one of the following capacities:

  • Going back on active duty
  • Continue serving in the National Guard or Reserves
  • Transferring to the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR)
  • Serving in the AmeriCorps, Peace Corps or other National Service program
  • A blend of the above options

The active duty, Selected Reserve and remaining commitment of service are served back-to-back with no break in service.

While touted as a “two-year enlistment” by some of the military branches, because in most cases it takes around two years to complete IET and 15-months of active duty, it can last up to 33 months if the job specialty selected includes a longer-than-normal school.

The Education Options

In return for a promise of service, enlistees receive a choice of one of the following education incentives:

  • A $5,000 cash bonus payable after the active duty tour, or
  • Up to $18,000 in student loan repayment, also payable after the active duty commitment, or
  • A monthly education allowance equal to the full Montgomery GI Bill monthly entitlement payment (currently at $1,857 per month) for up to 12 months of schooling (worth $22,284), or
  • A monthly education allowance equal to one-half of the less-than-three-years MGIB monthly entitlement payment ($754.50 per month) for up to 36 months of college (worth $27,162).

The CTS program provides an option allowing for a combination of military/civilian service. Military service teaches skills that can be used later in a career; civilian service, if chosen, helps those less fortunate in a rewarding way. And CTS enlistees have an education incentive to use as they see fit. A win/win for everyone!

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.