It is a story as old as security clearances themselves: military recruiters promising recruits their military occupational specialty (MOS) of choice, only for the MOS to be switched in boot camp based solely on someone’s subjective opinion that the recruit won’t be able to obtain the required security clearance.

This leads to recruits feeling duped, angry, and bitter – not helpful sentiments when mixed with weapons, and potentially fertile ground for foreign intelligence agency recruiting.

the boot camp bait-and-switch

Unfortunately, the practice, which I call the boot camp bait-and-switch, is becoming increasingly common as the military’s recruiting crisis becomes more acute. These days, enlistment waivers for issues like past criminal conduct and drug use are on the rise, with service branches forced to become more accommodating in order to supplement dwindling numbers.

That may be good news for some recruits willing to accept any MOS; but potential enlistees signing up on the assumption of a particular MOS need to understand the risk that comes with such a waiver. Approval to enlist and a security clearance eligibility determination are two entirely separate processes; the former has no impact on the latter. If the issues in the enlistee’s background were serious enough to prevent enlistment without a waiver, the chances of subsequently obtaining a security clearance can be low.

Expectations Vs. Reality

The reality is that many enlisted jobs[1] do not require a security clearance, and the military has wide latitude in changing a recruit’s MOS. This makes a bad combination for enlistees signing up because of a particular MOS, who may find that the waiver process was an illusory promise. It got them into the military, but instead of doing intelligence work or serving in the military police, they’re cooking or scrubbing toilets for their entire term of enlistment.

There is, of course, no less honor in cooking or scrubbing toilets, but that doesn’t make it any less bitter of a pill to swallow for recruits expecting something entirely different. And although this outcome can occur with or without an enlistment waiver, my experience is that the waiver process seems to exacerbate the likelihood.

The Security Clearance Process and the Desired MOS

Fortunately, enlistment in the military doesn’t have to mean a wild shot in the dark at the desired MOS. Although the security clearance adjudicative process can be subjective and sometimes counterintuitive, an experienced security clearance attorney can often help applicants understand their odds of success and potentially even help improve their chances of obtaining the clearance.

Taking the time to understand how the government views certain issues and what might be done to mitigate concerns before enlisting is a smart strategy that can pay off in a big way. If nothing else, it can often allow recruits to make a more informed decision about whether they choose to enlist (thereby assuming the risk of an undesired MOS) in the first place.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Although the information is believed to be accurate as of the publication date, no guarantee or warranty is offered or implied. Laws and government policies are subject to change, and the information provided herein may not provide a complete or current analysis of the topic or other pertinent considerations. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 


[1] All officers require a security clearance of at least Secret level.


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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at